SAN FRANCISCO — Brandon Belt took the third strike looking. The final punch-out. The final indignity.
The pitch was a 95 mph fastball from Cincinnati Reds closer Rasiel Iglesias. It seemed an inch or two outside, maybe. Home plate umpire Doug Ennis said it hit the outside corner. Belt disagreed.
Still, bad look with the game on the line in the bottom of the ninth inning, Brandon Crawford standing at second base and Evan Longoria, the potential tying run, waiting on deck.
Belt just watched along with 38,662 fans as the Giants lost 6-3.
“The ball was so far off the plate, I don’t think I could have touched it if I swung at it,” Belt said in the Giants clubhouse. “You hope an umpire doesn’t affect the game like that, but he did. Not sure if it was on purpose, either. We’ve heard that guy multiple times say or insinuate that he’s trying to get through the game fast. Then, he makes calls like that.”
When Belt struck out, Iglesias recorded the save — his eighth of the season. Reds relief pitcher Jared Hughes took the win. And Giants starter Andrew Suarez took the loss. His record stands at 1-3, and his ERA is 4.88.
Belt was 2 for 5 with a home run. He has homered five games in a row against the Reds — the longest home-run streak by a Giant against one opponent since Barry Bonds went yard in six consecutive games against the San Diego Padres in 2001.
“I’m seeing the ball and recognizing which pitches are strikes and which pitches are not,” Belt said.
As opposed to the umpire. That’s what Belt meant. He was still obsessing over the final pitch.
“I can’t imagine he really thought (it) was a strike,” Belt said. “You’ve got to wonder. You can’t have those guys affecting careers and games like that. We had a really good hitter coming up after that who could have tied the game for us. And we never got that chance.”
The Giants had plenty of chances, though. Great chances. “We were just missing a big hit,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy.
They were also missing Buster Posey, who took a foul ball off the catcher’s mask Tuesday night. “He’ll be back tomorrow,” Bochy said in the dugout before the game.
And they were missing Crawford, who had the day off. He pinch-hit in the ninth and singled to left field. Now, he’s 10 for his past 13 at the plate. The Giants could have used a full game from him.
They also could have used one of their top-two starting pitchers — Johnny Cueto or Madison Bumgarner. Cueto is on the 60-day disabled list with an elbow injury. Bumgarner should return sooner from a broken hand. He threw 30 pitches Wednesday during a bullpen session, used all of his pitches and will face live hitting when the Giants travel to Houston on Tuesday. If that session goes well, Bumgarner will begin his rehab starts in the minor leagues.
Even without those key players, the Giants’ record is 22-22. They started Wednesday only 3½ games out of first place in a weak NL West, and had won three games in a row.