Back on a major-league mound for the first time in 13 days, Chris Heston had barely toed the rubber when it began to crumble underneath him. Six pitches into the Giants rookie’s outing against the St. Louis Cardinals, Heston had allowed two runs and had another runner on third base. The third run scored before Heston recorded an out.
That early hole deepened, despite the best efforts by a short-handed Giants lineup. The result was a 7-5 loss for the Giants, who begin a 10-day trip Monday with a critical three-game series against the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers. Even if the Giants sweep the series, they will trail the Dodgers.
“We’re not where we want to be,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said . “But there’s still baseball left. … It’s a big, huge series for us. We’re behind. So we’re going to have to execute, play our best ball, hopefully go down there and get on track.”
The Giants won three of the first four games of their homestand against the Chicago Cubs and the Cardinals but dropped the final two – their first consecutive losses at home since June 14-15. On Sunday, they collected 12 hits and became the first team this season to score at least four runs against Cardinals left-hander Jaime Garcia, yet couldn’t capitalize.
Heston was coming back from an extended rest that included a brief option to the River Cats during which he threw multiple bullpen sessions but did not pitch in a game. The right-hander admitted the break might have affected him in the first inning Sunday by making him “a little extra amped up,” causing him to leave pitches up in the zone.
Matt Carpenter hit Heston’s second pitch for a home run to straightaway center. Stephen Piscotty singled, and Jason Heyward further illustrated how the ball was carrying by lacing a line drive to center that sailed over Gregor Blanco, who initially broke in on the ball, for a triple.
“That was a really hard line drive,” Blanco said. “It was tough to read it, and I don’t think even if I go back I was going to catch that ball.”
Heyward scored on Yadier Molina’s single. Heston escaped the inning without further damage, but he allowed an RBI double by Molina in the third and a solo homer by Brandon Moss in the fourth. After giving up consecutive two-out hits, Heston exited; his 32/3 innings matched his second-shortest outing this season.
“He was off today, just too many mistakes,” Bochy said. “You give up those early runs and you’re trying to get settled in, and he just had a tough go. … Against this team, with the pitching and the club they have, it’s an uphill climb.”
The Giants kept taking steps. The middle of their order – Brandon Belt, Buster Posey and Marlon Byrd – went 10 for 12, with Byrd driving in four runs on two doubles (hit to nearly the exact same spot inside the last archway in the right-field corner) and a triple. But the rest of the order was 2 for 25, with leadoff hitter Nori Aoki accounting for both hits with infield singles, and the Cardinals tacked on single runs in the sixth and eighth innings to put the summit just out of reach.
Bochy was noncommittal when asked if Heston will make his next scheduled start, which would come at pitcher-averse Coors Field in Denver. Before that, the Giants must worry about three games against the Dodgers, who will start National League ERA leader Zack Greinke and reigning N.L. MVP Clayton Kershaw in the last two games. Madison Bumgarner will oppose Greinke, and Mike Leake will go against Kershaw.
The calendar won’t flip to September until Tuesday, but the Giants already are feeling a sense of urgency.
“Absolutely. I think we all feel it with every game,” third baseman Matt Duffy said. “But obviously with these games being directly against the Dodgers, it’s huge. It’s a series that we can really come out of right on their tails, or they can create separation. It’s going to be big.”
The Giants have matched up well against their rivals this year, going 9-3. Byrd wasn’t around for those, but he said that record should give the Giants confidence.
“If they’re 9-3, that means they’re playing well against them,” Byrd said. “That’s a good thing. Hopefully that carries over.”
The Dodgers series concludes a stretch of 26 consecutive games for the Giants against teams above .500. So far, they are 10-13, treading water despite a rash of injuries. They expect to get shortstop Brandon Crawford back Mondayand center fielder Angel Pagan when rosters expand Tuesday.
“We’re still in the hunt,” Bochy said. “There’s hope that we’ll get rolling here, get some guys healthy and find a way. That’s all we’re thinking about, is find a way to get it done.”