SAN FRANCISCO -- Three weeks ago, Giants manager Bruce Bochy sat at the podium inside the interview room at AT&T Park, leader of a team 21 games over .500 and with a 9 1/2-game lead in the N.L. West, and told reporters he had "nothing to complain about." Sunday, Bochy sat at that same podium and tried to explain what has happened since.
In summary, here it is: The Giants played the rest of June in free-fall, losing 15 of their final 19 games, including 12 of 14 at home, the last a 4-0 defeat to the Reds on Sunday in which they were held hitless by right-hander Homer Bailey until Buster Posey singled in the seventh. The loss capped a four-game sweep for Cincinnati, the first time the Giants have been swept at home in a four-game series since AT&T Park opened in 2000.
And shortly after Posey flew out to center for the final out, in Los Angeles the Dodgers finalized a 6-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. With that, the last vestiges of that 9 1/2 -game lead in the West disappeared. As of this evening, the Giants and Dodgers are tied atop the division.
"It's really unbelievable," Bochy said. "You look at what's happened the last two weeks and you would think we're 15 games back. That's why we have to look at the big picture, where we're at, not what's happened. We're in a fight now."
Reminiscent of their downfall last year, different facets of the Giants have taken turns going on hiatus. The starters struggled mightily mid-month before delivering several encouraging outings over the past week. Several members of the bullpen have hit rough patches, including Sergio Romo, who on Sunday was removed from the closer role. No area has been colder recently, though, than the offense, which totaled just six runs in the four games against the Reds.
"I will say that this series we ran into four starters who were as dominant as four starters I've ever seen," Bochy said. "But even before that, it's hard to explain these things. The only thing you can do, we've got to stay positive, be thankful for our good start. As bad as things are, we should consider ourselves fortunate to be where we're at."
That's the optimist's view -- the Giants built such an impressive lead over the first two months that they could weather this kind of skid and still be tied for first in the division going into July. And it's the one several players adhered to when asked about the events of the past three weeks.
"I think we've already shown this year we can string together a bunch of wins," Posey said. "Just got to find a way to do that."
"We've lost some tough games during this little stretch, but we know that we're a better team than what the results are showing," said starter Tim Hudson, who pitched into the ninth inning Sunday but was still handed his fifth loss.
"I think we come in here with a pretty good attitude every day," said shortstop Brandon Crawford. "I feel like we come in ready to win, and it's just not happening right now."
Crawford said he also doesn't think hitters are pressing, despite the slump that seems to have hit nearly the entire lineup simultaneously, with the exception of Posey. Crawford pointed to the first two innings Sunday -- in the first, Posey hammered a line drive to left but nearly right at Skip Schumaker, who made the catch; in the second, Michael Morse hit a similar line drive to Schumaker for another out.
"The results obviously aren't there, but I think our approach hasn't changed a whole lot," Crawford said. "We're still putting good swings on the ball. It's just not going well for us right now."
The Reds, meanwhile, scored their first run off Hudson on Sunday on a bloop double by Billy Hamilton in the third, which drove in Schumaker from second after Schumaker had led off the inning with a single. Until the ninth, when they added on against the Giants' bullpen, that was all the Reds could manage against Hudson.
"I think we've honestly had a little bad luck every once in a while, too," Crawford said. "We get a guy in scoring position, we hit a line drive right at somebody. The other team will get a guy in scoring position, they'll bloop a hit. I think that'll change probably sometime soon, and we'll get the momentum back on our side."
Sunday, though, also featured some sloppy play on the Giants' part. Gregor Blanco made a serious baserunning gaffe in the fourth inning, getting picked off trying to steal third in a 1-0 game with one out and Posey at the plate. Jeremy Affeldt had a rough outing in the ninth, committing a balk, hitting Jay Bruce in the helmet, facing five batters and retiring only one -- on a sacrifice fly. Santiago Casilla then entered and booted a comebacker for an error before inducing a double play to end the inning.
Bochy afterward gave a lot of credit for the sweep to the Reds, who have won 14 of 18. "They caught everything we hit, pitched well," Bochy said. "We ran into as hot a team as there is in baseball, and we're really as cold as any team in baseball with the bats.
"That's what you have to deal with in this game. But you also have to handle these types of things. Right now we've got to keep putting things behind us and be thankful that we are still in a good position."
The Giants have a day off Monday, which Bochy said he'll use to consider any possible changes to the lineup. Bochy said he considered bumping Hunter Pence up to the leadoff spot Sunday, but other than that, the fact that few hitters are actually producing makes a shakeup fairly moot. Plus, the Giants are holding out hope that Angel Pagan will return Tuesday against the Cardinals and reassume his spot atop the lineup.
Hudson said he believes Pagan's return and that of Brandon Belt -- which is likely a few days away still -- are "going to be a huge boost for us, both on the field and mentally." The veteran right-hander took a big-picture view when asked how the Giants are getting through this current slide, saying that "things go on a little bit of a roller coaster ride over the course of a season," and that, "we've just got to try to be mentally tough."
Then he smiled a little and added: "You know, somebody needs to pay. We need to beat the brakes off somebody one day. Maybe that'll get us going."
Hudson was simply out-dueled Sunday, completing eight innings while allowing two runs on five hits, no walks and six strikeouts. He came out to start the ninth in a 1-0 game but allowed a single to Todd Frazier, who eventually scored after Hudson was lifted for Affeldt with Joey Votto coming up.
Though Hudson lost his third consecutive start -- and has now lost back-to-back starts at home for the first time since September 2010 with Atlanta -- Sunday was markedly better than his previous two starts, in which he'd allowed a combined 11 earned runs in 10 1/3 innings. He induced 15 ground-ball outs to go with the six strikeouts and allowed little hard contact outside of a two-out triple in the seventh by Brayan Pena, who was stranded.
"My delivery felt a lot better today, I felt my timing was pretty good," Hudson said. "It was one or two opportunities for them to score right there, and they took advantage of it."
One of the most frustrating parts of the sweep, Bochy said, was that the Giants wasted a pair of very good starting pitching performances from Hudson and Matt Cain, who threw seven scoreless innings Saturday night in a game the Giants lost in extra innings.
In fact, the only game the Giants won over the past week came when Tim Lincecum no-hit the Padres last Wednesday -- a sign of how razor-thin the margin for error has been. On the other hand, Bochy said, the fact that three starters have turned in some of their better outings of the year in the past week can be seen as a positive.
"That's what's going to help us get out of this, get us on a roll, is these starters getting on track," Bochy said. "You've got to believe you're going to come out of this, and the way it's going to happen is these starters getting on track and throw the ball the way they're throwing right now."
Hudson agreed that there are "going to be moments throughout the season where we're going to get beat up once in a while ... But I feel like there's a lot of talent on this staff from top to bottom. I think as a starting rotation we can put ourselves up against anybody in the league, give ourselves a chance to win. I think the last few days have shown that."
A few more notes on the sweep. It's the first time the Giants have been swept in a four-game series since Sept. 15, 2008 in Arizona. It's the first time against the Reds since April 18-21, 1985, in Cincinnati. And it's the first time they've lost all four at home to the Reds since May 16-18, 1972, in a series at Candlestick Park.
How impressive was the Giants' early-season surge? Including today, the Giants have spent the last 66 days in first place. They now share the division lead with the Dodgers for the first time since May 7, but still have been in first at the conclusion of 79 of 90 days this season.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, made up that 9 1/2-game deficit in a matter of 21 days. Posey was asked if the Giants have taken note of changes in the standings.
"No, not really," he said. "I mean, we've got enough stuff to worry about ourselves."
In case you missed it, here's the story from this morning on the closer move, including Bochy's rationale and who figures to get the bulk of the ninth-inning opportunities going forward.
After the game, Romo didn't talk at his locker but offered a statement to reporters as he was leaving the clubhouse, starting with, "It's about the team."
"I'm OK with the decision," Romo said. "It is what it is. I'm going to get a chance. And when I get a chance, I'm going to be ready to rock."
We'll end with this from Hudson, when asked about the Dodgers pulling even with the Giants with 80 games to go:
"It's going to be a race right to the end," Hudson said. "I feel like we're going to start playing some better baseball. We definitely have seen our worst days, hopefully.
"Hopefully they're behind us and hopefully it gets better from here on out."
It certainly doesn't get easier, with the Cardinals coming in Tuesday for a three-game set. Here are the pitching probables:
Tuesday: LHP Marco Gonzales (0-0, 9.00) vs. Tim Lincecum (6-5, 4.42)
Wednesday: RHP Adam Wainwright (10-4, 2.01) vs. Ryan Vogelsong (5-4, 3.96)
Thursday: RHP Carlos Martinez (1-3, 4.13) vs. Madison Bumgarner (9-5, 2.90)