First inning sinks Giants in road finale

First inning sinks Giants in road finale

ST. LOUIS -- The parabola of the Gateway Arch, this city's signature structure, accurately described the arc of the Giants' performance on their three-city, 10-game trip.

They won five of the first eight games, ascending with their most sustained hitting of the season and their usual stout pitching. Then they dropped the last two against the St. Louis Cardinals, including Thursday's 5-2 decision, as their offense waned and their typically reliable defense faltered.

"The adage is that you'll take .500," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "But we're not content with that."

This finale mostly lacked drama, as St. Louis scored three first-inning runs and added a pair in the fifth while chasing Barry Zito. Aaron Rowand hit a two-run homer in the eighth and the Giants actually brought the tying run to the plate, but Cardinals reliever Kyle McClellan induced Fred Lewis' inning-ending groundout.

"We still have to get these bats going," Bochy said after watching the Giants muster three runs and 15 hits in the final two games after recording double-figure hit totals in five of the previous six games.

Lewis' at-bat in the eighth bookended his uncomfortable evening he endured in his fifth start since June 10. St. Louis' first-inning rally accelerated when he couldn't come up with Skip Schumaker's opposite-field fly ball near the left-field line, which fell for a ground-rule double. That followed Brendan Ryan's leadoff single and preceded Albert Pujols' intentional walk, all of which loaded the bases with nobody out against Zito. Each of the next three Cardinals batters drove in runs, and the Giants never fully recovered.

Perspectives regarding Lewis' handling of Schumaker's hit differed.

Bochy was quietly but unmistakably critical. Asked if it was a catchable ball, Bochy said, "Yeah, I thought it was. It wouldn't have been an easy play, but it looked like [Lewis] took a circuitous route."

Lewis said that he was ordered to play relatively shallow for Schumaker, a left-handed batter facing the left-handed Zito.

"I probably would have [caught the ball] if I had been in my normal position," said Lewis, who never touched the ball. "... I had a chance to get it, but it tailed away from me."

Zito absolved Lewis from blame. "Off the bat, I thought it was a fly ball [for an out], but the wind was kind of swirling up there."

Rowand, the center fielder who admitted that he struggled to gauge the distance of Ryan's fifth-inning drive that fell for a double, defended Lewis most strongly.

"It's tough picking the ball up off the bat in this park," Rowand said. "I talked to one of [the Cardinals] about it. ... He said a lot of people say that. I don't know if it's the white Cardinals shirts behind home plate or what, but it's tough to judge a ball, depth-wise. ... You can't fault Freddie. He's doing the best job he can out there, as we all are."

Zito (4-8) approached his best between the Cardinals' scoring bursts. He retired 12 consecutive batters, striking out seven. That wasn't enough for him to deliver the victory that would have given the Giants a winning trip.

"It's frustrating because I love the team and I want to give my all for these guys," Zito said.

San Francisco conceivably faced an easy mark in St. Louis starter Todd Wellemeyer, who entered the game with a 5.68 ERA and a .317 opponents' batting average. But Wellemeyer (7-7), who reportedly is in danger of losing his spot in the rotation when injured right-hander Kyle Lohse returns, limited the Giants to five hits in seven shutout innings.

"He didn't leave anything over the middle of the plate," Rowand said, noting that Wellemeyer's slider was especially effective. "Everything he threw was a pitcher's pitch, and it's tough to do anything with a pitcher's pitch when he's hitting the corners and keeping the ball down."

The Giants shift their attention to a 10-game homestand, their longest of the season, which will carry them into the All-Star break. It represents a chance for them to affirm their status as a contender for either the National League West title or the Wild Card berth.

"It's important that we finish this half with the momentum that we've had the whole time," Zito said. "It's important that we go into the second half running."

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