PHOENIX — Mark Melancon might lead the National League in save percentage come October. The Giants’ bullpen could redeem itself after it sabotaged the 2016 season. The term “blown save” might disappear from the lexicon of the local nine.
You do not want to hear that now. How can you, after the Giants dropped their first game of 2017 the same way they lost their final game of 2016, with a bullpen breakdown? Heck, even the score was the same.
The Diamondbacks won 6-5 Sunday with two runs in the ninth inning against Mark Melancon, who was making his debut as the Giants’ $62 million ninth-inning answer.
That was after Derek Law blew a 4-3 lead without getting an out in his first shot at the eighth, ensuring a no-decision for Madison Bumgarner after the big fella made history by becoming the first pitcher in major-league history to hit two homers on Opening Day.
Too much is made of the opener, positive and negative. It’s a single snapshot in an album of 162. Grand conclusions about the 2017 bullpen are premature. But after 31 blown saves last year, counting season-ending Game 4 of the Division Series against the Cubs, the faithful have a right to squirm.
The guys in the visiting clubhouse at Chase Field do not.
“These are men in there,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “I think you’ve seen how they handle things. It’s one game. We’ve got 161 left. If we start thinking about that too much, it’s going to compound things.”
Melancon would love a chance to redeem himself Monday, but the Giants do not play until Tuesday night.
“It’s never fun trying to process these games,” Melancon said. “But that’s part of the job. You have to have a short-term memory. I’m sure I’ll go over it 100 times, keeping the good and getting rid of the bad.”
Melancon had not allowed a run all spring, in a Giants or a United States uniform, 102/3 innings overall.
When he retired the first two Diamondbacks in the ninth, he was poised to save a one-run lead that Joe Panik and Conor Gillaspie provided in the top half with a triple and sacrifice fly against new Arizona closer Fernando Rodney.
Then came the hits. Three of them.
Jeff Mathis doubled into the left-center gap, and pinch-hitter Daniel Descalso singled him home to tie it. A.J. Pollock’s single got the winning run to third, and Chris Owings delivered the winner, a single to right.
As the Diamondbacks pounded Owings in celebration, Melancon took the slow walk that Giants fans knew so well from their closer last year. And, yes, Melancon understood the significance.
“You never want to start off this way, especially after a heck of a performance by Madison,” he said. “That’s one of the more impressive games I’ve seen by anyone. I wanted to cap it off. Obviously, it didn’t go that way.”
Bumgarner tied and then set a franchise record for pitchers with his 15th and 16th homers, off Zack Greinke and Andrew Chafin. The first homer helped the Giants to a 3-0 lead that looked as secure as the Hope Diamond as Bumgarner retired his first 16 hitters.
Nobody was thinking “bullpen meltdown,” but rather Googling “Opening Day no-hitters.” (Cleveland’s Bob Feller had the only one, in 1940.)
Bumgarner then displayed he is human when he blew that three-run lead in the span of three hitters in the sixth inning. Mathis, Nick Ahmed and Pollock went triple, single, homer.
The Giants were leading 4-3 after seven innings when Bochy decided Bumgarner had enough after 88 pitches.
In July, Bumgarner would have gotten the eighth inning, and probably the ninth.
But this was Bumgarner’s first start of the year after topping out at 90 pitches in spring training. He also threw hard, hitting 94 mph. With the top of the Arizona order due up, Bochy decided to try out his new bullpen scheme.
The Diamondbacks tied the game 4-4 on singles by Pollock, Owings and Paul Goldschmidt. Ty Blach debuted by getting Jake Lamb to hit into a double play, and Hunter Strickland got the third out to keep the game tied.
The stomach-churning began, at least back home, and it might not stop for a while.