SAN FRANCISCO -- It was a feel-good moment on Sept. 5, 2013, when Johnny Monell, a former 30th-round draft pick, made his big-league debut at AT&T Park as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning of a Giants loss.
It did not feel so good for the Giants when Monell returned as a member of the New York Mets on Monday and helped deliver their seventh straight loss. Monell’s two-run double off of Santiago Casilla snapped a scoreless tie in the ninth inning and lifted the Mets to a 3-0 win over the Giants -- who had flown home from the East Coast earlier in the day and looked the part of the weary travelers.
The Giants put up little resistance against Mets left-hander Jonathon Niese and also made three errors, two by starter Chris Heston. Otherwise, Heston was perhaps the Giants’ best performer, taking a shutout into the eighth inning and collecting one of their three hits. But the Giants’ bullpen surrendered the decisive runs late, in what has been a troubling trend during their latest losing streak.
In their last seven games, Giants relievers have combined to allow 12 runs in 17 innings. Sergio Romo was charged with two runs and the loss Monday. He allowed a two-strike single to Michael Cuddyer to start the ninth and after Kirk Nieuwenhuis failed to execute two bunt attempts, Romo threw three straight balls to Nieuwenhuis, who then lined a full-count fastball to right field for a double.
Manager Bruce Bochy brought in Casilla, who had not pitched since allowing three runs in a blown save on July 1 in Miami. Casilla got ahead of Monell, 0-2, but again ran the count full before Monell roped a double to right, scoring both runs. Casilla also gave up an RBI single to Juan Lagares before exiting the game.
Asked afterward if the bullpen’s recent performance is a concern, Bochy said: "A little, I’ll be honest, a little. It’s been our strength, and the bullpen is struggling a little bit. They got our set-up guys and closer tonight. That’s something that we’ve been so good at, and right now they’re having a hard time."
Casilla had not allowed a run in nine June appearances before surrendering Justin Bour’s walk-off home run last week in Miami. Monday, Bochy said, "He was missing his spots."
"He probably gave in a little too much (to Monell) there with first base open," Bochy said. "But we’ve definitely got to tighten up this bullpen, and get back to who we are. The long ball’s been killing us, but today they just got base hits. They threw out good at-bats against our late-inning guys."
The Giants didn’t have many deep at-bats against Niese, who needed just 81 pitches to complete eight scoreless innings. Niese faced 29 batters; 21 of those plate appearances ended in three pitches or less. The Giants put a runner in scoring position in only one inning -- the sixth, when back-to-back two-out walks by Niese brought Buster Posey to the plate with the bases loaded. Posey grounded out.
Aside from Heston’s third-inning single, the Giants’ other two hits came from Joaquin Arias, who started at second base with Joe Panik getting a day off. Brandon Crawford was also not in the lineup after the six-game road trip and travel day, which the Giants handled a little differently than their last east-to-west return.
Instead of taking a red-eye flight, the Giants stayed in Washington, D.C., after their game Sunday night and flew home Monday morning. Bochy said the decision had been made with player input. Yet the result was not much different from their last turnaround, when they lost a 1-0 game to the Diamondbacks at home on Monday night.
Asked if the travel played a part in this loss, Bochy said: "You know, I don’t know. It’s part of the schedule, you have to deal with it, and I can’t answer that.
"It’s a tough grind, but hey, we’re professionals. It’s something you have to deal with, the schedule. Their pitcher threw well, he pitched to contact, got his ground balls. He pitched well his last game, too. That’s a hard question to answer, how much the travel had to do with it."
Right fielder Justin Maxwell said he personally felt more tired after the red-eye return flight than he did playing Monday night. He characterized the current seven-game losing streak as "a little stretch of bad luck."
A decidedly streaky team this season, the Giants also had an eight-game losing streak in April. It’s the first time since 2000 the Giants have had two losing streaks of seven or more games in the same season, and this latest one has dropped them back to .500 for the first time since they were 17-17 on May 13.
"You look back at that last road trip, and we were in pretty much every one of those ball-games except for the Fourth of July game," Maxwell said. "We’re playing good baseball but just haven’t had any luck. It’ll turn."
* Heston faced the Mets for the first time since he no-hit them in New York on June 9. And he said his game plan Monday hardly changed.
"Just go in and do the same thing, attack them the same way I did last time until they made an adjustment or I had to."
Apparently the Mets didn’t, because Heston scattered three singles over his 7 1/3 innings and pitched around four walks. Also, with his third-inning single, Heston has recorded a hit in seven of his last nine starts.
"He pitched great," Bochy said. "I mean, what a nice job he did. Got a hit, he did all he could. Really, really great effort by him.
"This offense right now, we’re sputtering. We had five runs the last series, got shut out today. That’s not going to work."
For Heston, the outcome of Monday’s game generated some mixed feelings. Heston and Monell both attended Seminole Community College in Florida, and came up through the Giants organization together, and Heston said the two are "real close. It’s cool to face guys you’re close with, and to get to share the big-league thing together."
* Lost a bit in the pre-game talk about the Giants’ four All Stars was Bochy saying they could get a past All Star back sooner than expected. Hunter Pence took batting practice Sunday in Washington and apparently impressed Giants staff enough that he might be activated from the disabled list sometime this week.
"He’s really close," Bochy said. "He looked good (Sunday), letting it go, wasn’t hesitant swinging the bat at all."
Pence was scheduled to take batting practice again Monday and then be re-evaluated by team doctors, and Bochy said if Pence is cleared, "we’ll have to make a call here soon." Pence has not played since June 2 because of wrist tendinitis, and recently Bochy said he did not expect Pence back before the All-Star Break. However, it sounds like Pence’s surprise batting practice session Sunday changed that.
"Watching him I said, ‘This guy’s healthy,’" Bochy said.
Pence missed the first month and a half of the season with a fractured forearm and has played in just 18 games between his two DL stints. The Giants are currently down two starting outfielders with Nori Aoki (fractured right fibula) also on the DL.
* There was plenty of All-Star reaction that didn’t make it into our main story, so here’s some of it:
Joe Panik on making his first All-Star team: "Really excited. Going to the All-Star Game like this, first full year, being part of names like Buster and going with guys like him and Bum and Craw, it’s going to be a lot of fun."
Panik, on whether this was a goal of his at the beginning of the year: "Start of the year, you’re really not even thinking about Cincinnati. Obviously you want to get off to as good of a start as you can and wherever the numbers take you, they take you … Now you can kind of, OK, take it in and kind of enjoy it."
Panik on whether he feels like an All-Star: "I think it might hit me more when I’m in Cincinnati. I don’t know what an All-Star is supposed to feel like. It’s just a really big honor to be named an All-Star, one of the highest honors you can get."
Brandon Crawford on what he hopes to experience: "Just kind of want to take it all in. I don’t really know what to expect, so just kind of see everything and just kind of take it all in. Maybe follow Buster around, he’s been to a couple before."
Crawford on going to the Game with Panik, whom he first played with in the Arizona Fall League in 2011: "I think it’s just cool that we’re teammates and up the middle together and we’re going to be able to go to our first one together. But yeah, I guess since we played together in the past and have a little more history, it makes it even cooler."
Crawford said he found out last week, but with the Selection Show playing on the TVs in the Giants clubhouse, he added: "It’s still cool seeing it on TV."
Madison Bumgarner on the Giants sending four homegrown players to the All-Star Game for the first time since 2011: "It’s pretty special. Obviously they’re doing something right here, and going after the right guys, and they’re learning the right way and contributing at an early stage in their careers. They all deserve it. It’s going to be a lot of fun, especially to see Crawford and Panik at their first one. I’m excited to see that and how they take it in and be a part of it."
This is Bumgarner’s third All-Star selection, but he has yet to pitch in the game. Asked if he wants to actually get into the game this time: "It would be fun. Just being named an All-Star is more than enough, but it’d definitely be fun to get out there and compete, get to throw a little bit. But we’ll see what happens."
Bochy, who is managing the N.L. team, said he fully intends to put Bumgarner into the game at some point: "Trust me, I’m going to do all I can to make sure he pitches."
Bochy on Crawford being selected via player balloting: "It is a sign of respect. A lot gets talked about his defense, but I think you look at what he’s done offensively. Again, I’m not surprised by this, with the ball that he’s played here the first half."
Both Panik and Crawford said their last All-Star selections came when they were playing for Double-A Richmond. For Crawford that was in 2010, for Panik in 2013. Bochy said one of his favorite parts of the process was telling Panik he had made the team.
"When he was not selected by the players, I knew I would take him," Bochy said. "He’s earned it. The numbers speak for themselves. This is not a case where I’m just taking my guy to take him. He should be there, and he needs to be there with the first half he’s had."
* This series continues Tuesday with Giants right-hander Matt Cain (0-1, 9.00) making his second start of the season against Mets ageless wonder Bartolo Colon (9-6, 4.55). First pitch at 7:15 p.m.