PHOENIX — You couldn’t have written a stranger path to the bottom of the ninth in Sunday’s season opener, but after two home runs by the ace, a brief shot at history, a quick meltdown and a familiar blown save, the Giants finally got the lead to their new $62 million closer.
Mark Melancon failed his first test.
The new closer gave up two runs in the ninth as the Giants fell 6-5 to the Diamondbacks, wasting a tremendous performance from Madison Bumgarner. Melancon gave up a double and two singles before Chris Owings knocked a flare into right to walk it off.
Melancon had blown just 10 saves the previous three seasons. The Giants gave leads up in the eighth and the ninth.
For five innings, it looked like this one would go down as one of the most memorable season debuts in MLB history. Bumgarner flirted with a perfect game before settling for becoming the first pitcher to hit two homers on opening day.
Bumgarner opened his ninth big league season by retiring the first nine on just 29 pitches, including three straight strikeouts in the second. Through five innings, Bumgarner had thrown 54 pitches. His cutter was as good as it’s always been. The curveball had perfect depth. His fastball, which topped out at 93 mph a year ago, sat at 94 mph for long stretches.
Just for good measure, Bumgarner padded an early lead with a laser shot of a homer off Zack Greinke in the fifth. The homer was the first of the season in the National League and left the park at 112.5 mph, a record for a pitcher in the Statcast era.
Bumgarner’s bid ended with one out in the sixth, when Jeff Mathis pulled a triple just inside the third base line. A 3-0 lead would also dissipate in a hurry. Nick Ahmed got the Diamondbacks on the board with a single and A.J. Pollock stunned the Giants and tied the game with a two-run homer just out of the reach of left fielder Gorkys Hernandez.
Bumgarner had boiled over earlier in the game, snapping at himself when Paul Goldschmidt lofted a pitch to the warning track. If there was any anger after the three-run rally, it didn’t show. Bumgarner finished out the inning with a pair of strikeouts and then went about putting the lead back in his hands.
On a 2-0 count in the top of the seventh, Bumgarner smashed an Andrew Chafin fastball deep into the left field seats. The no-doubter gave Bumgarner 16 career homers, a franchise record for a pitcher. It also left the park at over 112 mph, meaning Bumgarner now has the two hardest-hit homers by a Giant in the last two seasons.
Bumgarner handed a lead over to the bullpen in the eighth, and last year’s problem immediately popped up. Derek Law gave up three consecutive hits and the lead before Ty Blach (double play) and Hunter Strickland (groundout) got out of the jam.
Panik opened the top of the ninth by driving a triple off the wall in center. He strolled home on Conor Gillaspie’s sacrifice fly to center. The Giants loaded the bases, but they wouldn’t give Melancon any additional breathing room.
Starting pitching report: Bumgarner’s final line: 7 innings, 6 hits, 3 earned runs, 0 walks, 11 strikeouts. A year after setting a franchise record for a lefty by striking out 251, Bumgarner looks poised to shoot past that number.
Bullpen report: It is with great sadness that I report it is happening again.
At the plate: Bumgarner has now taken two pitchers deep multiple times: Greinke and Clayton Kershaw.
In the field: Bruce Bochy showed that he won’t hesitate to pull Jarrett Parker if the matchup dictates. Gorkys Hernandez pinch-hit against a lefty and stayed in on defense, although he had a shaky run.
Attendance: The Diamondbacks announced a crowd of 49,016 human beings who watched the NL designated hitter die.
Up next: Johnny Cueto makes his first start of his second season with the Giants. He’ll face left-hander Patrick Corbin, which should bring Chris Marrero into the lineup.