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SAN FRANCISCO - The Giants’ effort against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers on Sunday was fundamentally flawed. That is, it wasn’t a great example of baseball fundamentals.

The Giants took LA into extra innings, but two mistakes, one mental and one mechanical, weighed heavily in the Dodgers’ 2-1 win. The question is whether the home team made a third fundamental blunder that ultimately sealed the loss.

Back to that issue in a moment. First, the clear transgressions.

Kershaw was nearly untouchable for five innings, but the Giants put men on first and second with one out in the sixth. Joe Panik followed with a line drive to right field and the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig, after a slow break on the ball, wound up catching it in a dive. Gorkys Hernandez was San Francisco’s lead runner, and he watched the whole thing unfold from the comfort of third base, where he had streaked without hesitation. Puig threw to second to complete an easy double play, and the rally was over.

The second flub came in the eighth inning, after the Giants had chased Kershaw on back-to-back hits, and Buster Posey had tied the score on a pinch-hit single against J.T. Chargois. There were still none out when Austin Jackson came to plate. He’s known as a good bunter. But the veteran failed to get one down fair, and with two strikes he grounded into a double play. Panik flied to left field to end the inning.

The Giants were still alive after both of those blunders, though. They had survived a 14-inning marathon the night before, thanks to Andrew McCutchen’s three-run walk-off home run, and had to be feeling confident when this one went into extras.

Even when the Dodgers’ Kyle Farmer put his team ahead on a pinch-hit double in the top of the 10th — all these big pinch hits; it must have had something to do with Manny Mota representing the Dodgers for a pregame rivalry ceremony — the Giants made noise. Hunter Pence bounced a single through the left side of the infield against closer Kenley Jansen and stole second base.

That’s where he was when Brandon Belt came to the plate with two outs, another pinch hitter trying to make an impact. But Belt didn’t even put a ball in play. He fouled off three pitches from Jansen, took a couple for balls, then slumped helplessly as home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman rang him up for a called third strike.

On Saturday, the Giants had won a heart-stopping thriller. On Sunday, they lost in the most passive way possible.

Question No. 1: Was it a strike?

Breckman clearly thought so. The graphic strike zone on the game telecast suggested otherwise. This high-tech mapping tool placed Jansen’s pitch just north of the zone. Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal did a good job of framing the pitch.

To the Giants, the answer was obvious.

“It was easily, easily too high,” Belt said, his voice still edgy after the game. “I mean, there’s not much else you can say about it, it just wasn’t a strike.”

I asked him how hard it is for a batter to widen his strike zone when an important two-strike pitch is close to the mark.

“It wasn’t close, though,” Belt replied. He added: “A ball’s a ball. If I go swing at a ball right there, everyone’s gonna be a lot more mad that I swung at a ball and missed it.”

And that leads to question No. 2. Belt was convinced Jansen’s pitch was clearly wide of the mark. The TV graphic made it look closer than that, maybe an inch away. With a game on the line, how dramatically should a hitter adjust his strike zone? In other words, was this the Giants’ third fundamental error of the game?

Belt was in no mood to split hairs, so I turned to Evan Longoria, the veteran third baseman who had a pair of doubles off of Kershaw on Sunday.

“From the bench, the pitch looked up, and I think that was what he thought as well,” Longoria said. “Obvioulsy, as a hitter, when you’re facing a closer, and you’re battling through an at-bat and you feel like you’ve taken a pitch that’s an obvious ball, in a situation where you’ve got a guy on second base and a base hit ties the game, you’re gonna be upset.”

Longoria prefaced the interaction by stating what statistical analytics confirm: That Belt is one of the most disciplined hitters in baseball.

“Kudos to him,” Longoria said. “He stays within his zone. And that’s what makes him such a great hitter. He only swings at the ones that are strikes, for the most part.”

Called third strikes drive baseball fans crazy. In Little League we’re all taught that you swing only at strikes — until the pitcher gets two strikes on you, at which point you choke up and make contact with anything that’s close. It’s a mindset that bleeds into high school baseball, too. Better to regret the things you’ve done, the saying goes, than to regret the things you didn’t do.

But things are more complicated as you climb the food chain. MLB hitters have some of the best eyes and reflexes on the planet, and they work endlessly and tediously, in the batting cage and the film room, to distinguish between a pitch that is just inside the strike-zone rectangle, and one that is just outside of it. Every neuron and muscle in their body is geared to making that assessment in a split-second.

“Toughest thing to do in the game, I think, is to learn the strike zone and get yourself into good counts,” Longoria said. “That’s what clearly separates some of the good hitters from the great hitters.”

Yes, every hitter is expected to loosen the guidelines when behind in the count. But by how much? You can’t enlarge and shrink that rectangle as if turning a crank, not without undoing the muscle memory that earns your sizable salary.

“He was working his way back into that at-bat,” Longoria said. “You can’t just go up there swinging at everything. Obviously, with two strikes you try to protect, but it’s not that easy.”

And harder for some, like Belt, than others.

“I swing at a lot more borderline pitches than he does,” Longoria said with a laugh.

Plate discipline is normally a virtue in baseball. In this win-or-lose moment, the Giants would have been better off with a free swinger. At least the game might have ended with the crack of a bat rather than the thud of a catcher’s mitt.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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