The fly ball soared off the bat of Hunter Pence, the Giants’ hottest hitter, its trajectory and sharp crack bringing what remained of the crowd at AT&T Park to its feet. Their cheer died away as the ball settled into the glove of Padres center fielder Jon Jay, whose cleats were still on the outfield grass, not even the warning track.
It was that type of night at AT&T Park, and for the Giants’ offense, which hit a handful of drives that died in the cold, damp air and went quietly in a 4-0 loss that snapped their three-game winning streak.
Returning home from a sweep of the Diamondbacks in Arizona to end a 10-game trip, the Giants hit several balls that likely would have at least gone for extra-base hits in those parks. With Pence’s fly-out in the eighth, Denard Span and Brandon Crawford skied outs to the warning track in right field.
Even pitcher Jeff Samardzija crushed a ball to straight-away center in his first at-bat, his drop of the bat indicating he thought it had a chance to clear the wall. Jay caught that one with his heels on the warning-track dirt.
“We hit some balls hard,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “We just missed a couple, too, had really some hard-hit balls there, just couldn’t get anything to fall in. And then when we got guys on base we just couldn’t get a hit. You need to get a hit with runners on base and that was not there tonight.”
The Giants put eight runners on base and stranded all of them, going hitless in six at-bats with runners in scoring position. They were stymied by Padres right-hander Paul Clemens, who entered with a 5.44 ERA, and five relievers – held to one or zero runs for the 15th time since the All-Star Break.
The Giants fell back to four games behind the Dodgers, who beat the Yankees 8-2, but remained 1 1/2 games up in the wild-card race over the Mets, who lost 8-1 to Washington.
Whatever momentum the Giants had built in Arizona, where they scored 23 runs in three games, seemed to dissipate upon their return home. It begs the question of whether the Giants hitters simply have to adjust to the conditions of their home park after playing for a week in hitter-friendly stadiums.
“Maybe a little coming from Colorado and Arizona,” Bochy said. “It’s a little different there. It is an adjustment, heavier air, the ball moves a little bit different here. I do think that’s part of it.”
At least one hitter, though, said the conditions are no excuse.
“I wouldn’t say exactly that’s the reason,” second baseman Joe Panik said. “I think we just didn’t get the job done.
“We’ve played at this park, so we kind of know how it plays and whatnot. It was just one of those things, we had a couple close calls and a couple good swings by guys, just didn’t have enough.”
Panik came up in the fourth with runners on second and third and two outs and grounded out, marking the first and only time the Giants advanced a runner past second base.
Adding a touch of irony, Padres catcher and former Giant Hector Sanchez collected three hits, including a two-run home run off Samardzija in the sixth inning. Samardzija hung a two-strike splitter and Sanchez hooked it just inside the right-field foul pole.
It was just the second homer Samardzija has allowed in his past seven starts, as he entered Monday’s game with a 2.45 ERA in those outings. After winning their first nine meetings with the Padres this season, the Giants have now lost the past four, with Monday’s ending their longest winning streak since the All-Star Break.
“We were playing good ball there,” Samardzija said. “Wanted to come out and throw up some zeroes and give us a chance to win the game. And unfortunately they scraped a few across that ended up being the difference.”
Samardzija tried to do his part with the bat. He doubled to right field in the fifth inning and put a charge into his fly-out to center in the third. Did he think he’d gotten enough?
“Here at night, man, you never know,” Samardzija said. “Especially to center, it’s kind of a graveyard out there. I knew I hit it good. After that you’re just curious to see how it flies. But it held up.”