The mid-afternoon shadows had crossed over the backstop onto the field and were creeping toward the plate as Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford batted with two outs in the ninth inning Saturday. When Crawford swung through strike three to end a listless 6-0 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, they seemed to herald the oncoming of fall.
A day after manager Bruce Bochy said the Giants could hardly afford another loss if they wanted to keep alive their slim playoff hopes, they were shut out for the second consecutive game and their starting pitcher lasted just three innings in front of the 400th straight sellout crowd at AT&T Park.
The milestone crowd didn’t get much to cheer, but did witness the Giants get blanked in back-to-back games for the first time since July 28-29, 2012. The Diamondbacks may not have a vaunted pitching staff, but at AT&T Park this season, they have looked at times untouchable. The Giants have hosted Arizona for nine games in 2015 and have been shut out five times, going scoreless in their last 30 innings against the Diamondbacks at home.
“I wish I could explain it. I’m buffaloed, to be honest,” Bochy said. “There’s no rhyme or reason. We just can’t get it going. One hit may get the club going, get the crowd into it. But they’ve done a number on us here.”
The Giants managed just two hits Friday night, one against Arizona starter Rubby De La Rosa in his 5 2/3 innings. Saturday, they had several scoring chances against Patrick Corbin and two relievers, but a lineup featuring reserve Juan Perez in left field and Trevor Brown making his major-league debut at catcher went 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position. Buster Posey started at first base in what could be a more frequent look for the Giants with Brandon Belt sidelined by concussion symptoms.
“There’s no question we’re missing some guys, some key players,” Bochy said. “But still to get shut out back-to-back games here, that’s something I wouldn’t have thought would have happened.”
Right-hander Mike Leake has been a victim of low run support since joining the Giants, receiving one run or fewer in five of his seven starts. But Leake had his own struggles Saturday. The Diamondbacks made hard contact on Leake’s pitches from the outset and knocked him out after just three innings. He allowed three runs on eight hits – all singles.
“I just couldn’t get it going,” Leake said. “They got me early and I just couldn’t react fast enough.”
Bochy said he removed Leake after the third inning – Leake’s shortest start since Sept. 24, 2013 – partly because he had enough relievers in a bullpen inflated by September rosters to cover the final six innings. But he also said Leake had complained of “a little tight forearm” after his previous start.
“A little concern there, but he said he felt fine, that wasn’t an issue,” Bochy said. “But when somebody’s coming off a tight forearm, I think I need to protect him, and that’s what I was doing.”
Leake said he doesn’t think the tightness is an issue and that, “Probably at this point in the season (it’s) just a tired feeling a little bit.” Leake is headed for free agency after the season, but hasn’t exactly boosted his stock since joining the Giants in a July 30 trade. In seven starts, Leake is 1-4 with a 4.69 ERA.
“I think I’ve done average, I guess you could say,” Leake said. “Good starts, bad starts. I mean, take it for what it’s worth, I guess.”
Bochy said Leake “hasn’t been quite as sharp as he was earlier. But his stuff is fine.”
A parade of Giants relievers followed Leake, including Matt Cain, who made his first appearance out of the bullpen since May 16, 2006, his first full season in the majors. Cain needed 32 pitches to complete the sixth inning, allowing one run and three runners but striking out his final two hitters.
It was Cain’s first outing since late August because of nerve irritation in his pitching elbow, and Bochy said the right-hander “was probably chipping a little rust off … but I thought his stuff was fine; he felt healthy, threw some good breaking balls, had good velocity.”
Bochy said it was “good to get (Cain) out there.” It was a chance for the Giants to see where Cain is after missing most of this season with injuries, as they begin to take stock of what they’ll have returning in 2016.