SAN FRANCISCO -- The script was written and just waiting for the flourish. Michael Morse, playing against his former team the Washington Nationals, batting in the bottom of the eighth with the Giants down 2-0, two runners on, two outs and a chance to deliver the kind of dramatic clutch hit the Giants have thrived on all season.
This scenario, though, ended in anti-climax. Tyler Clippard threw a high fastball past a swinging Morse for the third out. The Giants pushed across one run in the ninth, but fell 2-1 to the Nationals to lose consecutive games for the first time since mid-May.
"He’s done it so many times for us, he’s a guy you want up there in that situation," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Morse, the Giants’ home run and RBI leader. "He’s facing one of the best set-up guys in baseball… That was a classic battle. He just came up a little short there."
As did the Giants on a night they received a strong outing from Madison Bumgarner but couldn’t mount any offense against Nationals right-hander Doug Fister. Fister, who was outdueled by Bumgarner in Game 2 of the 2012 World Series when he allowed one run but took the loss for the Detroit Tigers, returned the favor Tuesday with seven scoreless innings to win his fifth consecutive start.
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The Nationals have now won nine of their last 11 games. The Giants, who had won 10 of 12 coming into the series, have dropped two in a row for the first time since May 16-17. It’s certainly not a reason for panic, but it was odd to hear the home clubhouse at AT&T Park hushed with no customary post-victory music on consecutive nights.
"Looking back, definitely we’ve been on a pretty good roll," Bumgarner said. "So we’ve just gotta put it behind us and come back and be ready for tomorrow. Gotta take the good with the bad."
* How good have Washington starters been the past week? When Fister walked Brandon Hicks leading off the seventh inning, it was the first walk allowed by a Nationals starter since June 3. They had gone 47 consecutive innings without one. In the last seven games, their starters have struck out 50 batters and walked one.
The Giants did put runners on against Fister, collecting eight hits off him, and they batted 10 times in the game with runners in scoring position. But they had just one hit in those 10 at-bats, and it was Brandon Crawford’s two-out single in the sixth on which Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth threw out Pablo Sandoval at the plate.
Sandoval had led off the inning with a double. Hicks led off the seventh with the walk but after pinch hitter Tyler Colvin flew out, Angel Pagan hit a sharp line drive right to third baseman Anthony Rendon, who doubled Hicks off first. In the eighth, Buster Posey hit a one-out single and Sandoval followed with a walk, but Clippard struck out Morse and got Gregor Blanco to fly out.
The Giants avoided a shutout in the ninth as Crawford led off with a triple against closer Rafael Soriano and scored on Hicks’ groundout. But Soriano retired pinch hitter Hector Sanchez and Pagan on lazy fly balls to record the save. The first two games of this series mark the first time the Giants have been held to two or fewer runs in back-to-back games since April 21-22 in Colorado.
"We have had so many timely hits from everybody that you think it’s going to happen again," Bochy said. "But that’s baseball, and we’ve got to put this behind us. … It’s not always going to happen. It’s not that easy."
Of course, the Nationals have had a significant hand in that. They entered with the N.L.’s best bullpen ERA and while Clippard got into trouble in the eighth, he made the pitches to get out of it. Fister did the same while stranding runners in every inning except the first and seventh.
* In fact, in several ways it felt Tuesday night like the Nationals flipped the script on the Giants. They were the ones pitching themselves out of jams and picking up the big two-out hit -- Werth’s single in the fifth on a 1-2 pitch, which scored Danny Espinosa to make it a 2-0 game after Denard Span had driven in the game’s first run earlier in the inning on a sacrifice fly.
The inning had been set up by back-to-back singles from Desmond and Espinosa, the 7-8 hitters. That part of the Nationals’ lineup itself mirrors that of the Giants: Desmond has a team-high 42 RBIs; Crawford, often in the seventh spot, is second on the Giants with 33. Espinosa and Hicks both have low averages but have some pop -- six and eight homers, respectively.
The Nationals are streaking and doing so without Bryce Harper, who is still rehabbing his surgically repaired thumb. Roster-wise they haven’t changed a lot from the team that just missed playing the Giants in the NLCS in 2012 (blowing a six-run lead in Game 5 of the NLDS to the Cardinals). Early on, do they look like a team that could get back there?
"I mean, they’ve got a chance, I think," Bumgarner said. "They got a pretty good lineup, got some good pitching. They’ve got a well-rounded team. Comes down to whether they execute or not, but they’ve definitely got the talent."
* Bumgarner had his career-high six-game winning streak snapped, though he pitched at least seven innings allowing two or fewer earned runs for the sixth time this season. He pitched out of the stretch a lot, allowing runners to reach with one or no outs in five of his seven innings, but the only time it hurt him was the fifth.
"I felt good," he said. "Usually when you pitch a game like that, you have a pretty good chance of winning, but it just didn’t work out our way."
Bumgarner said the Giants are "always thinking" they have a chance to get back into the game when they’re trailing late, though it didn’t happen Tuesday. "It seemed like every time we hit a ball good it was right at somebody," he said. "That’s the way the game goes sometimes."
One victory Bumgarner did get: In the sixth, the Nationals appeared to score a third run when Desmond was ruled to have beaten Bumgarner to the bag covering first on a ground ball to Morse as Adam LaRoche scored from third. Bumgarner reacted immediately with a little finger wag at first-base umpire Phil Cuzzi, then motioned to the dugout for Bochy to come out and challenge, which he did. A very brief video review overturned the call.
* Being thrown out at home might not have been the toughest part of Sandoval’s night. He went 3-for-3 with two singles and a double -- and he looked totally washed out after the game, coughing and sniffling as he left the clubhouse. Something to keep an eye on, whether he’s in the lineup Wednesday night.
* Quietly, Posey seems to be working out of that slump at the end of May. He has hit safely in a season-high eight consecutive games, going 12-for-34 in that span. Bochy often says of his players that it’s only a matter of time before they work themselves out of whatever funk they’re in, but with Posey you get the sense it applies more than most.
* The Giants had 10 hits to the Nationals’ nine -- the 29th time they’ve outhit an opponent this season. Tuesday was just the second time they’ve lost. It gives you an indication of how well things have been going for the Giants, who will try to avoid dropping three in a row Wednesday behind Matt Cain (1-3, 3.52). The Nationals counter with Tanner Roark (4-4, 2.91). First pitch at 7:15 p.m.