After repeated ninth-inning failures, the Giants finally took action last week, removing Santiago Casilla as closer in favor of a by-committee approach.
Tuesday night, the committee folded, too.
Leading by three going into the ninth, manager Bruce Bochy handed the ball to Hunter Strickland, who allowed two runs before turning it over to Steven Okert, a left-hander who spent most of this season in Triple-A before arriving with the September call-ups.
Okert surrendered a two-out, three-run homer to Ryan Schimpf. And the Giants were left reeling from a 6-4 loss, their ninth-inning dilemma no more resolved, their lead in the N.L. wild-card race trimmed to the bone.
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The Giants failed to gain ground on the Dodgers and now lead the streaking Mets by just a half-game for the top wild-card spot, with the Cardinals a half-game behind New York.
By now a familiar culprit, the Giants bullpen blew its 27th save, tied with Miami for most in the N.L. and has failed to convert 6-of-10 save chances this month alone. That includes two blown leads last Friday in a game the Giants won 7-6 in 12 innings. They have lost the other four games, but Strickland did not mince words about where Tuesday’s ranked.
"It’s terrible," Strickland said. "This is as bad as it gets."
Strickland had recorded a four-out save Sunday in Arizona, and in a save chance Tuesday in the ninth, Bochy went to him again. The Padres loaded the bases with one out on bloop singles by Derek Norris and Jon Jay and a grounder by Luis Sardinas that hit off the mitt of first baseman Buster Posey for an infield single.
That ball ricocheted to second baseman Joe Panik, but Strickland was late covering first base. He then walked Wil Myers to force in a run and retired Yangervis Solarte on a ground ball that trimmed the Giants’ lead to one.
"I can’t control where the ball lands," Strickland said. "The only thing I can control is the walk and not covering first base. That’s on me and not doing my job."
With the left-handed hitting Schimpf due up -- and having used top left-handed relievers Javier Lopez and Will Smith earlier in the game -- Bochy summoned Okert to attempt his first major-league save. Ahead 1-2, Okert left a fastball over the plate that Schimpf hit out to the biggest part of AT&T Park, casting a hush over what remained of the crowd.
Bochy later said the Giants "had our closer, we were going with Strick. But with how the inning developed, the work he put in to that point, I think it was time for a change there."
Josh Osich had warmed up several times earlier in the game when starter Albert Suarez was teetering, and with Strickland in trouble, it was Osich who got up in the bullpen. It marked his fifth appearance since being recalled Sept. 1, one of which was a scoreless 11th inning on Sept. 4 in Chicago.
"He’s been throwing well," Bochy said. "We put him in some pretty good situations. Like I said, I just went with the matchup there. He looked good there, just let the two-strike pitch get away from him."
Okert owns 32 saves in the minors but admitted he "definitely had some nerves coming in… But it’s baseball. Still got to do the same job you would in any other situation." He said at least one veteran had already reminded him that relievers need short memories.
"Javy (Lopez) just came up to me and said, you know we’ve got ’em in 12 hours, and be ready to go for that one," Okert said.
It might take longer to wipe away the taste of this loss. Until the ninth, things had fallen into place for the Giants. Suarez, the de facto fifth starter, got through five innings while allowing one run. A lineup missing several regulars had 12 hits, with backups Gorkys Hernandez, Ehire Adrianza and Kelby Tomlinson combining for six. Tomlinson scored twice and Hernandez hit a solo homer in the seventh that put the Giants ahead 4-1.
Lopez, George Kontos and Will Smith each pitched one scoreless inning to preserve that lead going to the ninth. But there, as it has too often this season, the plan fell apart, as the Giants lost for the seventh time this season when taking a lead into the ninth inning, most in the majors.
"These are tough, there’s no getting around it at this stage," Bochy said. "It’s a punch in the stomach. But you’ve got to bounce back. It’s baseball, we’ve got to come out and be ready to go tomorrow."
Bochy paused, his answer seemingly done, but then continued unprompted, as if he felt something more needed to be said.
"They played well," he said. "I mean, that was a good ballgame. I feel for these guys, as hard as they played and as well as they played. It just got away from us."