The day began with a sense the Giants were on the verge of clearing out the clutter of a bad second half.
It ended with a gut-punch 8-7 loss to the Baltimore Orioles.
The funk remains.
Last week, the Giants won their first series of the second half when they took two of three against the Miami Marlins. They entered Sunday with a chance to make it two victories in a row, the kind of modest streak struggling teams need to create momentum.
What better place to do it than at AT&T Park in the rubber match of the Black and Orange Bowl? You had to look hard the past three days to tell a Giants fan from the similarly decorated Orioles followers.
For five innings Sunday, it looked as if the Giants were going to make it happen, when they held a parade on the base paths. They already had 11 hits and two walks, and another Giant reached second base when Baltimore outfielder Mark Trumbo lost one in the afternoon breeze.
The Giants led 7-1, and on the mound Johnny Cueto was holding down the majors’ leading home run-hitting team..
But the lead was not enough to throw dirt on the Orioles, who scored seven times in the final three innings. The final three came on a two-out, ninth-inning home run by second baseman Jonathan Schoop, who has the distinction this year of playing in every inning of every game. If only he had missed Sunday’s game, Giants fans wished.
Schoop pronounces his name like “Scope” and not like something a bulldozer might do to the ground beneath the Giants. The good news for San Francisco was the Dodgers were routed by the Pittsburgh Pirates 11-3 in L.A. The results kept the Giants on top in the National League West by one game.
San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy would be the first to tell you that this is no time of year to be worrying about anybody else’s business. Bochy and the Giants needed Sunday’s game to try to get this second half turned back in their direction. Twenty-seven games into it, they still await the moment of the shift in fortune.
Every team’s goal in every series is to win it. But sometimes one such three-game event is more important than others, for changing the feel of a season’s course.
The three games with the Orioles represented the time for the Giants to make their statement. Instead,Schoop made it for them.
The signals seemed to suggest the Giants were about to get it going in their favor.
They downed a couple of pints of optimism Saturday when Joe Panik’s bat showed some renewed fermentation and punched out a couple of doubles. They were the second baseman’s first extra-base hits since he returned from the disabled list July 28, 10 days after taking a fastball to the head.
Concussions are never good news, and it’s not a stretch to think they’re even more problematic for somebody who makes his living trying to hit pitched baseballs. A little fuzz in the consciousness is all it takes to wreck an at-bat, when a hitter is allocated an average of four-tenths of a second to decide whether to hit the ball and figure out how to accomplish the task.
On Saturday, Panik’s two-baggers showed the fog of war appeared to be receding from his brain.
Panik had a run-scoring single Sunday, and that was only one piece of good news on what would have been a sweet day in S.F. had Giants closer Santiago Casilla kept Schoop in the park.
Another thing that had been working in the Giants’ favor was Casilla. He’d recorded seven consecutive scoreless appearances and nailed down the win in 15 of his last 16 save opportunities before Schoop did him in.
Casilla probably didn’t like it much when the normally friendly fans of AT&T cut loose on him with boos when he gave up a triple to Orioles catcher Matt Wieters immediately after Schoop’s shot wound up in the left-field seats. The forecast for this week calls for continued moaning on the sports talk airwaves about Casilla’s ability in the clutch.
Along with Panik, right fielder Hunter Pence gave the Giants a reason to feel good about themselves for a few hours Sunday.
In 52 at-bats since his July 30 return from the disabled list, Pence had not homered until he poked one over the wall in left-center in the fourth inning Sunday. He added a single and struck out in his final two at-bats, but it still felt as if he was going to come out of the day looking like a guy who could lead the team in the second half.
He still can. And the Giants have plenty of time to recover whatever it was that at one time had them playing as well as any team in baseball’s first half.
It’s only August.
Losing to the Orioles, it was only a series – only a series that would have been a great one to win.