SAN FRANCISCO -- The ball, off of Joe Panik’s bat, seemed destined for center field. A single might have tied the game. At worst, the Giants would have been down one run in the ninth, with the bases loaded, no outs and the potential game-winning run standing in scoring position.
Gordon Beckham changed all that. The White Sox second baseman dove to his backhand and speared Panik’s grounder to start a sparking 4-6-3 double play, altering the course of the inning. Pablo Sandoval scored from third on the play, making it a 2-1 game, and Matt Duffy was left standing on third, ultimately scoring on a Brandon Crawford single to tie the game and send it into extras.
But after the White Sox won 3-2 in the 10th, with Beckham providing the decisive hit on a two-out RBI single off Santiago Casilla, the sterling double play loomed a game-saver for Chicago -- and a grievous blow to the Giants, who suffered their fifth loss in a row.
"That was one of the best double plays I’ve ever seen, especially in that situation," said Hunter Pence. "It looked like a hit off the bat, and not only did (Beckham) lay out and catch it, they turned two off of it. Pretty crazy play."
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"Saved the game for them, really," said Ryan Vogelsong.
It felt like a momentum swing in a game where the Giants had no momentum at all until the ninth inning began. For eight innings, they were shut out by All-Star lefty Chris Sale, who matched his season high with 12 strikeouts. But with Sale at 117 pitches, the White Sox turned to right-hander Jake Petricka to protect a 2-0 lead in the ninth.
Pablo Sandoval, Michael Morse and pinch-hitter Travis Ishikawa all singled to load the bases with no outs. The Giants suddenly had a runner on third for the first time since the first inning, when Pence hit a one-out triple. What remained of an announced crowd of 42,317 got loud for the first time all night.
Panik then hit the grounder back up the middle that Gordon gloved on a dive, flipping to shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who fired a relay to first to complete the double play.
"I knew it was going to be close," Vogelsong said. "I didn’t know if (Panik) got it good enough to get it through there. He almost did, but (Beckham) made a great play.
"Craw comes up with a big hit. Good comeback, just came up a little short."
Manager Bruce Bochy also lauded his team for showing some fight in the ninth. He said he "loved the way they didn’t get down," and that the comeback, though for naught, was an example of "a tough group."
They’ll need to be, because the Giants are going through a tough time. Tuesday night was their fifth loss in a row, and their 22nd in the last 29 games at home. Overall, they’ve lost 36 of 56 games to fall to five games over .500 for the first time since April 29, when they were 16-11. With the Dodgers beating the Braves in Atlanta on Tuesday, the Giants now trail Los Angeles by six games in the N.L. West, their largest deficit of the season.
"The only thing you can do is keep battling," Bochy said. "Panik hit that ball well. They could use a break, trust me. But it’s a tough group that bounces back well.
"I know we’ve had a tough go here. But you have to like the way they fought. I thought they had some great at-bats, we pitched well and played well. They just made a great play there that changed the game."
* Also going for naught was another strong outing from Vogelsong, who gave up three hits in seven innings and still departed in line for the loss. One of the three hits left the yard -- Adam Dunn’s two-out, two-run homer in the first -- but after Conor Gillaspie’s leadoff triple in the second, Vogelsong did not allow another hit.
"(He left) one ball up there in the first inning, but after that he was nails," Bochy said. "He kept us in the game, gave us a chance, we came back to tie it. But what a beautiful game he pitched."
In three August starts, Vogelsong has allowed a total of four runs in 22 innings. His lack of run support at home, though, continues to be an issue. Vogelsong entered getting the lowest average support in home starts of all N.L. starters, and for his fourth consecutive start at AT&T Park, the Giants didn’t score a run with him in the game.
Vogelsong said he felt "pretty good" Tuesday night, and just "didn’t get away with" the fastball to Dunn. He said the pitch was a mistake only in the sense that he wasn’t even trying to throw it for a strike, and it ended up staying over the plate, albeit a little low.
"I was happy with the way I was throwing (the two-seamer) in the bullpen, ‘cause it was starting on the plate and running off and that’s really what I try to do," Vogelsong said. "And for some reason, that one didn’t do that. It just kind of sank and stayed on the palte too much. And he’s a big, strong man and put a good swing on it."
Dunn batted in the inning only because the Giants had been unable to turn a double play on a Jose Abreu grounder to Pablo Sandoval with a runner on first just before. Abreu beat Panik’s relay to first base, which Vogelsong admitted caught him by surprise.
"I just told (Madison Bumgarner) it was pretty impressive how quick (Abreu) got down the line for a big guy," Vogelsong said. "I thought that was an easy two, but he got down there pretty good."
* Vogelsong, talking about the Beckham double play, used the phrase "game of inches." That also applied to Abreu beating out the double play -- and another pivotal moment in the bottom of the first when Pence was thrown out at home trying to score on a grounder by Buster Posey.
Pence, who had tripled with one out off Sale, appeared to pause before breaking for home on Posey’s ground ball to shortstop Alexei Ramirez. The White Sox had the infield back, ready to concede a run that early in the game, but Pence’s late break gave Ramirez time to throw home, where Tyler Flowers made an athletic play to tag Pence’s backside as he slid across the plate.
"I hesitated," Pence said. "I was supposed to not be going if it was (hit) at third, so in an effort to try to read to make sure it wasn’t at third, I hesitated more than I should. I made a mistake."
Pence, though, added that Ramirez made a "pretty gutsy" play. "A lot of times that gets thrown away, and the catcher had to make a pretty ridiculous catch and tag. … That was a well-executed, tough play."
It appeared that, on his slide, Pence had to maneuver around the bat dropped in front of the plate by Posey. Pence said because of where the bat was, "I couldn’t just slide in. But I don’t know if that was necessarily a factor, because I was going to kind of go the way I went to try to get away from the tag, anyway."
* Asked about the Giants slow, sustained fall in the standings over the past two months, Vogelsong invoked the memory of their last World Series run.
"That’s what we did in 2012, and that’s what it’s going to take for us to get where we want to go, is to keep showing resilience, keep playing hard, dig down and find what’s inside of you," he said. "That’s what it’s going to take."
It’s a quick turnaround to the finale of this two-game series, which pits White Sox lefty Jose Quintana (6-8, 3.04) against Giants right-hander Jake Peavy (0-3, 4.82). First pitch at 12:45 p.m.