Like a horse being led with a carrot dangling in front of its face, the Giants trotted forward with a mission in mind.
The first-place Dodgers had already lost. The second-place Diamondbacks also suffered a defeat. And after a two-run rally in the seventh inning helped the Giants tie the game, they had a chance to secure their first winning road trip of the season.
Then that carrot suddenly disappeared.
The Giants lost first baseman Brandon Belt to a knee injury in the seventh, then lost the game 3-2 after the Mariners rallied to take the lead in the eighth.
“You look at these last four games, it’s unbelievable how similar they are,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “This is tough one for us again. Guys did a great job of battling back.”
With their third one-run loss in their last four games, the Giants dropped to 52-51 and must now wait for doctors to determined the severity of Belt’s knee injury, which he believes is a hyperextension.
“I’m pretty optimistic about it,” Belt said, adding that he doesn’t believe he’ll need a disabled list stint.
A leadoff walk by Giants reliever Tony Watson put the go-ahead run on base in the eighth. Dee Gordon’s sacrifice bunt moved Guillermo Heredia into scoring position and after right-hander Sam Dyson entered, Jean Segura hit a first-pitch single up the middle to bring Heredia home and secure a series split.
“I felt good about him getting a groundball with Segura there and he did,” Bochy said. “It just happened to be up the middle.”
The Giants had their own chance to snatch the carrot and the lead in the top of the inning, but after Steven Duggar’s leadoff single, Bochy didn’t have Alen Hanson bunt and Duggar never advanced to second base.
Bochy said he might have had Hanson sacrifice if Belt was still in the game, but he feared the Mariners would walk Andrew McCutchen to put replacement Chase d’Arnaud in a difficult spot.
“You’d take the bat out of Cutch’s hand, d’Arnaud is coming in the game and that’s a tough matchup,” Bochy said. “But I don’t know for sure if I would have done it.”
Filling in for injured starter Jeff Samardzija, Derek Holland turned in another impressive outing as the left-hander worked six innings and allowed one earned run to keep the Giants within striking distance against a Mariners team that staked out an early lead.
For the first time this season, Holland’s ERA fell below 4.00 as he exited the start with a 3.92 mark and a 3.31 ERA since May 1. While Holland has shuttled back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen in July, he’s handled the challenges with ease and has proven to be one of the best bargains in baseball this season as he’s earning a reported $2 million.
With his pitch count at 95 for the day, Holland left the game with the Giants trailing 2-0 but received a no-decision thanks to a seventh inning rally.
“One of these days, it’s all just going to take off,” Holland said. “We’re literally putting everything together, to me I feel like it’s one click away and then everything is going to really get going.”
After Holland finished four straight scoreless innings, Belt opened the seventh with an infield single. He beat Mariners starter Mike Leake to first base and said that’s when he likely tweaked his knee.
“I ran into the pitcher and there was a lot going on,” Belt said. “I didn’t really feel it in the moment, but just walking afterward I did.”
A throwing error by Gordon allowed Belt to advance to second before the Giants training staff helped him off the field. With d’Arnaud serving as a pinch runner, Brandon Crawford blooped a double in front of former Giants outfielder Denard Span to put the team on the board before left fielder Hunter Pence delivered a two-out, RBI double to bring home Crawford and tie the game 2-2.
After Holland hit Gordon with his third pitch of the game, the American League leader in stolen bases swiped his 23rd bag of the year. It was hardly an ideal start for the Giants, but the mistake of the hit by pitch was compounded when catcher Nick Hundley threw the ball into center field in his effort to catch Gordon.
Gordon advanced to third and scored on a Segura sacrifice fly, giving the Mariners an early 1-0 cushion after Seattle fell behind the Giants four times in Tuesday’s games.
The Mariners added on in the second inning after first baseman Ryon Healy battled back from falling behind 1-2 before launching his 21st home run of the year. Healy smoked a fastball from Holland over the left center field fence for a 420-foot solo shot, extending Seattle’s lead to 2-0 and putting the Giants in a hole that proved difficult to dig out of against Leake.
The former Giants right-hander has never dazzled with velocity, but he has carved out a niche as one of the best pitchers at inducing groundball outs. Leake generated plenty Wednesday, finishing with nine including seven during a stretch from the middle of the first inning to the top of the sixth when he didn’t allow a baserunner.
After Hanson singled with one out in the first, Leake retired 14 consecutive Giants hitters before Pence reached on a Segura error to open the sixth.
Leake entered the sixth without recording a single strikeout, but after two Giants runners reached scoring position with one out, he fanned Hanson and McCutchen back-to-back to get out of the inning unharmed.
“You can look back in the game, just execute and it’s probably a little bit different,” Bochy said.