Right away, the game started out poorly for the Giants when Alfonso Soriano greeted Matt Cain with a solo shot to left, giving the Nationals a quick lead. Eliezer Alfonzo responded in the third with a blast to left, his eighth of the year, evening the score at one run apiece.
In the Nationals' half of the third, things started off quite well. Matt Cain sent Soriano down on strikes to lead things off, an improvement over giving up a home run. But he hit Felipe Lopez with a pitch. Lopez stole second, but it was of no importance as Ryan Zimmerman lifted a two-run homer to left, giving the Nationals a 3-1 lead.
The Giants took charge in the fourth, with Mark Sweeney leading off with a single and Ray Durham following with a double to left. With one down, Alfonzo hit a sacrifice fly to center, bringing the Giants within one run, and Jose Vizcaino hit a single to center, tying the game.
Cain began to pitch more smoothly, getting a 1-2-3 inning in the fourth. In the sixth, he had a stroke of luck. After leading off with a single, Zimmerman attempted to take second from Alfonzo, but once Alfonzo started to throw the ball, he knew that he would have been out easily, and tried to run back to first base. Vizcaino took the throw, and sent a bullet down to first to get Zimmerman. Cain quickly recorded two more outs.
A walk to catcher Robert Fick in the seventh was not the best way for Cain to start the inning. Livan Hernandez, an excellent hitter and bunter, hit a bunt to first. Shea Hillenbrand bobbled it as he thought about going to second, then lobbed a throw to first. Soriano walked, and Lopez grounded to first, moving the runners to second and third. A walk to Zimmerman was enough for Felipe Alou to pull Cain out of the game, and put in Jonathan Sanchez.
After two balls, Sanchez gave Nick Johnson something he could hit, and Johnson took advantage of the opportunity with a soft line drive to right. Both Fick and Soriano scored, giving Washington a 5-3 lead. Zimmerman made it to third and Johnson went to second on the throw. Recently acquired reliever Vinnie Chulk replaced Sanchez after just one batter, and gave up a single to Austin Kearns, scoring Zimmerman for the Nationals to take a 6-3 lead.
Chulk pitched excellent baseball in the eighth, striking out one and not letting a single ball out of the infield. However, the Giants had just three outs to make up their three-run deficit. With one down, Ray Durham hit a little pop fly to shallow center that dropped in for a single. Feliz grounded weakly to first, but allowed Durham to move to second. With two down, Alfonzo hit his second home run of the game, a deep fly to left, bringing the Giants within one. But all hopes of salvaging the game were squashed when Chad Cordero struck out Todd Greene, still earning the save despite giving up two runs.
Game Notes: The 1-2-3 hitters were unproductive for the Giants, going just 1-12 with four strikeouts. Eliezer Alfonzo is now batting above .300, and has hit better in July than June. Alfonzo also drove in four of the five Giants runs, and scored two of them. So far as a Giant, Shea Hillenbrand is batting just .174 (4-23). He is known for having a weaker second half compared to his first. From 2003 to 2005, he has hit .309 before the All-star break with an OPS of .833, and just .276 with an OPS of .752 after it.
Player of the Game: Without a doubt, there's just one player that deserves this honor tonight. Livan Hernandez. Just kidding… Eliezer Alfonzo. I'm really impressed with him. I have a feeling he's not a fluke, as he's improving his numbers from June to July. If he keeps this up, the Giants may have a reliable starting catcher for years to come. But I tend to be an optimist. His two home runs today were pretty much all the Giants got in terms of offense, and he blocked some bad pitches from Cain to keep runners from scoring.
Jesse Radin writes for SFDugout.com and has been a Giants follower since 1996. The Blind Observer is Jesse's column covering all things baseball, though mainly about the Giants. Questions or comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
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