Missed chances haunt Giants in walk-off

Missed chances haunt Giants in walk-off

ST. LOUIS -- Though Colby Rasmus' 10th-inning leadoff homer accounted for the run that defeated the Giants, 2-1, it was merely the final event in a sequence that steadily unraveled San Francisco's chances Wednesday.

Looming on deck for St. Louis as Rasmus batted was Albert Pujols, currently the best player in humanity. Bob Howry, who threw the 3-2 pitch that Rasmus slugged into the right-center-field stands, almost certainly had no desire put a runner aboard for Pujols by issuing a walk. That influenced Howry's direct approach to the only hitter he faced.

One pitch before Rasmus belted his first career game-winning homer, Howry threw a 2-2 fastball that appeared to shave the strike zone. Umpire Bob Davidson ruled it a ball, prolonging Rasmus' at-bat.

Yet Rasmus' plate appearance shouldn't have lasted that long. Two pitches earlier, Howry induced a foul popup that third baseman Pablo Sandoval dropped in front of the Giants' dugout. It was San Francisco's third error on an evening when its 10-game errorless stretch dissolved.

So simply blaming Howry (0-4) for the end of the Giants' three-game winning streak would be too easy. There were other layers of significance to examine.

The Giants were wary of Pujols all night -- sensibly enough, given his Major League-leading 30 homers and 77 RBIs. They showed that they would do almost anything to avoid pitching to him in a meaningful situation as Matt Cain intentionally walked him twice with first base open in his first two plate appearances.

"This guy is unconscious right now. That's a no-brainer," Bochy said of the free passes. "You got the best hitter in the game up there with a base open. They've got good hitters behind him, but if you pitch to him and he gets a hit, you're kicking yourself."

Howry didn't linger to discuss whether the specter of Pujols influenced his approach to Rasmus. Steamed over the perceived third strike, Howry said, "Go ask the umpire" as he stalked out of the clubhouse.

But other Giants offered educated guesses regarding Howry's strategy with Rasmus. Catcher Bengie Molina said that he and pitching coach Dave Righetti quickly agreed as they discussed how to deal with Rasmus.

"He said that we should pitch the guy to get him out," Molina said.

Cain, who strengthened his chances of returning here for the July 14 All-Star Game by allowing one run and six hits in seven innings, said, "I bet [Howry's] thinking, 'OK, this guy has to get a hit. I'm not walking him.'"

Thus, Howry wasn't about to risk throwing ball four on the conclusive pitch to Rasmus. He and Molina settled on an outside fastball.

"I was trying to make it sink. When he throws a fastball away, it sinks," Molina explained. But, he added, "The ball stayed pretty straight."

As for the third strike that wasn't, Molina diplomatically said, "You could say it was a borderline pitch."

Even Rasmus concurred. "Man, it was close," he said. "But in my mind, I just didn't want to swing at anything down. ... He threw that one down a little bit and if [Davidson] would have rung me up, I wouldn't have been upset with it, because I just didn't want to swing at anything down and I thought it was down."

That was preceded by Sandoval's misplay of Rasmus' foul pop, which the wind blew closer to the stands.

"I got confused a little bit," said Sandoval, who had to skirt umpire Tim Tschida and Cardinals third-base coach Jose Oquendo as he launched his pursuit of the ball.

But Sandoval sought no crutches.

"There was no excuse," he said. "I have to catch that ball. 100 percent."

Sandoval insisted that he wouldn't dwell on his mistake. "Tomorrow's another day," he said.

His teammates also would be well-advised to forget this one as quickly as possible. Not only did Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright strike out 12 in nine innings, but whenever the Giants weren't whiffing, they often smacked line drives directly at St. Louis defenders. San Francisco went 1-for-16 with runners on base.

"We had a lot of opportunities to score runs," said Molina, whose bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the eighth inning drove in the Giants' lone run. "[Tuesday] we got soft hits and they were falling. This time we hit balls hard and they were outs."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.