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PHOENIX – They were two mighty blows, one after the next. They landed hard. They made lungs gasp, jaws drop and eyes glaze over with vacant disbelief in the Giants dugout.
The Giants saw something on Sunday afternoon that nobody had seen before. Madison Bumgarner became the first pitcher in major league history to hit two home runs on opening day.
Yet a much more familiar sight was so much harder to process. A Giants bullpen that blew a franchise-record 32 save opportunities last year got off to a cracking start, blowing not one but two save chances in a stunning, season-opening 6-5 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.
Bumgarner was a two-way wonder. He threw his hardest in two seasons, took a perfect game into the sixth and finished with 11 strikeouts in seven innings while also writing himself into the record books with a prodigious power display at the plate.
But Derek Law couldn’t hold a one-run lead in the eighth inning. And after the Giants nudged ahead in the ninth on Joe Panik’s triple and Conor Gillaspie’s sacrifice fly, neither could new closer Mark Melancon.
Melancon, who signed a $62 million contract in the offseason, did not allow a run in any of his 11 appearances this spring. That made the ninth inning even more unbelievable for a team that set a franchise record with 32 blown saves last season.
Melancon had two outs and the bases empty when Jeff Mathis hit a double, and the Diamondbacks strung together three more chopped and flared singles. Chris Owings got a liner to fall in right field as the Diamondbacks scampered onto the field in celebration.
It was wretched enough to lose that way on opening day. It felt like a monumental waste to give away a game that Bumgarner had grabbed by the collar with two meaty hands. They did not shake hands on a day when the Diamondbacks used their first relief pitcher before they achieved their first baserunner. The Giants took three leads and gave all of them back.
The worst part: it might have allowed some of last season’s late-inning toxic sludge to ooze into a fresh campaign.
As the Giants headed into a day off Monday, manager Bruce Bochy said he wasn’t concerned about any residue from the loss.
“Opening day? No, not at all,” Bochy said. “They’re men in there. I think you’ve seen how they handled things. It’s one game. We’ve got 161 games. If we start thinking about this too much, that’s going to compound the problem.
“No, I don’t worry about them at all. About Mark, or the club, or anybody. We’re pros and part of it is being resilient. We’ll put this behind us.”
Bumgarner hit a solo home run off Zack Greinke in the fifth inning. He lost his perfect game and the lead in the sixth when A.J. Pollock hit a two-run homer. But Bumgarner gave himself another lead when he connected in the seventh against left-hander Andrew Chafin. It was the first two-homer game by a Giants pitcher since Jim Gott in 1985
But Bumgarner had to work harder while protecting his 4-3 lead in the bottom of the sevent , barely surviving David Peralta’s drive to the warning track in left field. Bochy took him out after throwing 88 pitches.
“He just told me I was done,” Bumgarner said. “It’s different, you know, the first actual game that means something. He’s looking out for us. We want to go out and keep the ball but he’s looking out for our best interests. I’m sure he had plenty of reasons why he did that.”
Bochy sought to learn something about his bullpen, which is down to one left-hander following Will Smith’s season-ending elbow surgery. Law got first crack at a prime setup role and got scratched for singles by all three right-handed batters he faced. Paul Goldschmidt tied it when his ground ball found a seam on the left side of the infield.
Even though Melancon blew his own one-run lead in the ninth, Law attempted to shoulder the blame for stopping Bumgarner’s momentum.
“In a way I think it’s my fault,” Law said. “If I get to them earlier, it’s maybe a different ending. Pitching can be kind of contagious, like hitting, and if I kept doing what Bumgarner was doing, we probably finish the way we wanted.”
Ty Blach soothed the persistent cough when he got Jake Lamb to ground into a double play, then Hunter Strickland fielded a nubber from Yasmani Tomas to strand the go-ahead run at third base.
The Giants did it with more drama than they would like, but they got the ball to Melancon with the lead in the ninth. Panik tripled high off the center field wall before trotting home when A.J. Pollock made a diving catch of Gillaspie’s drive to center.
But it was only a one-run lead, because Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford stranded the bases loaded.
Mathis, who had tripled to break up Bumgarner’s perfect game in the sixth, kept the game alive with his two-out double against Melancon. Then came a series of feisty swings and slippery hands.
“It’s never fun to try to process these games, but it’s part of the job,” said Melancon, who blew just four of 51 save chances with the Pirates and Nationals last year. “You have to have a short term memory. I’m sure I’ll go over it 100 times and keep the good and get rid of the bad.”
No matter how good or bad it gets for the Giants bullpen this season, the lasting images from this opener will be Bumgarner’s two rocketed shots into the left field seats.
“It’s one of the greatest games I’ve seen by anybody,” Melancon said. “I really wanted to cap it off and obviously it didn’t go that way.”