Barry Zito's performance, marred by Edwin Encarnacion's third-inning grand slam and two of Chris Dickerson's four RBIs, was enough to drop the Giants to 9-26 against National League Central teams this season.
But the Giants' defense, or lack of it, was less excusable. Besides Sandoval's oversight, Zito mishandled a bunt in the same inning, resulting in an unearned run. Reliever Osiris Matos committed a similar transgression in the seventh inning by fielding a bunt and uncorking a wild throw for another unearned run.
"We self-destructed with some sloppy play," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who started an all-rookie infield.
The game turned after Jolbert Cabrera doubled to open Cincinnati's fourth. Paul Bako grounded sharply to first baseman Travis Ishikawa, who saw Cabrera unwisely heading for third base and threw to Sandoval. The hard-hitting Sandoval, whose four games at third base as a Giant represent his first experience there since 91 games at the spot in the low Minors in 2005-06, began running Cabrera back to second base. Sandoval flipped the ball to shortstop Emmanuel Burriss, forcing Cabrera to dash toward third base. Cabrera ran past Sandoval, and once he did, he was guaranteed safety, because nobody was covering third. Zito had correctly headed for first base once Bako hit the ball to the right side and wouldn't have made it to third in time if he were Usain Bolt.
The inning continued unraveling as Zito slipped fielding Volquez's sacrifice-bunt try, bobbled the ball and threw low to second baseman Eugenio Velez, who was covering first. That loaded the bases for Dickerson's two-run double. With one out and the bases reloaded after Brandon Phillips drew an intentional walk, Zito ended his evening by hitting Joey Votto with a pitch to force in a run. Reliever Billy Sadler allowed another run to score by walking Encarnacion.
The rundown, if properly executed, could have avoided all that. Sandoval's mistake was in not devoting more time and commitment toward chasing Cabrera back toward second base.
"He has to realize somebody's not behind him," Bochy said. "It developed so fast and he got rid of the ball so quick that there was no time for anybody else to get there."
Sandoval, who's also playing first base and catcher, said that shortstop Omar Vizquel and Burriss offered him instant feedback in the dugout after the inning concluded.
"That was my fault," Sandoval said. "I'm trying to do my best. Everybody makes mistakes. Nobody's perfect."
Zito, for one, was more than willing to acknowledge his flaws after allowing eight runs in 3 1/3 innings. He complained that his changeup was "flat," which had nothing to do with Sandoval.
"I'm ultimately accountable," said Zito (8-16), who finished the year 0-2 with a 21.31 ERA in a pair of appearances against the Reds. "It's hard for me to lay my head on my pillow and blame somebody else but myself. If I do my job and stick to my approach, it gives me the best chance at success. Things like that [Sandoval's mistake] are going to happen."
The Giants rebounded from deficits of 4-0 and 10-2, largely because Velez drove in three runs with a fourth-inning triple and a sixth-inning double off Volquez. Velez started only his fifth game since July 23 but is expected to receive more playing time. That could help his productivity.
"I see my average at .220, .222. That's hard for me," Velez said. "I've never seen that before."
Pinch-hitter Rich Aurilia added a two-run homer in the sixth off reliever Jeremy Affeldt, further demonstrating the Giants' pluck.
"That makes it all the more frustrating," Zito said. "I didn't shut them down."