SAN FRANCISCO -- Two weeks of offensive frustration gave way to a new low for the Giants in a 4-1 loss to the Washington Nationals on Friday night.
Down by three runs in the eighth inning, the Giants loaded the bases with no outs only to watch Brandon Crawford line into a triple play. The Giants lost for the 11th time in 13 games and, to make matters worse, the Dodgers rallied from a 7-3 deficit to win and close the margin in the N.L. West to one game.
The eighth inning began with Denard Span and Angel Pagan hitting singles. Buster Posey pinch-hit and drew a walk. Washington summoned Sammy Solis to face Crawford, who hit a soft liner right at first baseman Ryan Zimmerman.
Zimmerman stepped on first base to double off Posey. Then, seeing Span had broken for home thinking the ball had hit the ground, Zimmerman threw to third to complete an easy and back-breaking double play.
"That about sums it up right there," said starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija. "It wasn’t like it was a ground ball to third base. He hit it on the screws. And you saw what happened after that. That’s just where we’re at right now."
What happened was the first triple play turned by the Nationals since they moved to Washington and the first hit into by a Giants player since Sept. 6, 2009, when Aaron Rowand grounded into a 5-4-3 triple play against the Milwaukee Brewers.
"One of the last things you expect when you’re in that situation, for something like that to happen," Crawford said. "I mean, it sucks."
Crawford said the pitch actually broke his bat. But he still made good enough contact that the runners -- and the crowd -- were momentarily stunned when the ball was caught. Span had time to retreat to third but appeared to think Zimmerman fielded the ball on a hop. Crawford said it was a "tough read" for Span, who would want to score on a ground ball.
"That’s the quickest I’ve seen a bases loaded, nobody out rally end," said manager Bruce Bochy. "That’s a tough break for us. And the guys need a break."
The Giants scored their lone run Friday on Gregor Blanco’s two-out single in the second inning, which scored Conor Gillaspie from second base. It was their lone hit in six at-bats with a runner in scoring position. The Giants are 1-for-15 in those situations in this series and batting .147 (16-for-109) with men in scoring position since the All-Star Break.
It’s a major reason for the Giants’ 2-11 record since the break, but not the only one. Samardzija held the Nationals scoreless for the first three innings but allowed four runs over his next three and has a 6.29 ERA over his last 11 starts.
"He was all right," Bochy said. "Early go he was really good, hitting his spots. They nicked him up there three innings in a row. They just chipped away at him."
It was a 1-1 game when Wilmer Difo led off the fifth inning with a double, moved to third on a Max Scherzer sacrifice bunt and scored on Ben Revere’s single. Samardzija retired Bryce Harper on a fly-out, and with N.L. average leader Daniel Murphy coming up, pitching coach Dave Righetti came out to talk with his starter.
Samardzija said the discussion was about whether to attack Murphy or pitch around him and go after Wilson Ramos, who had doubled in his previous at-bat. Samardzija went with the latter -- and threw a first-pitch fastball that Murphy crushed off the wall in right center field for an RBI triple.
"You’re kind of just taking your pick there what you want to do," Samardzija said. "Just a better pitch probably would’ve got the results. We’d stayed away from him all game. And that one was in the middle of the plate and we put a bat on it."
The right-hander did record his 1,000th career strikeout, fanning Scherzer to end the sixth to become the 45th active pitcher to reach that mark. The Giants, however, lost for the fifth time in his last six starts. Before the All-Star Break they went 40-15 in games started by Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Samardzija. Since then, they are 1-8.
Three runs was plenty of support for Scherzer, who held the Giants to one run in seven innings. They had a chance to score again in the third after Span singled and Pagan doubled with one out. But Joe Panik, who is hitless in two games since returning from the DL, popped out and Crawford grounded out to end the inning.
The Giants tried to mount one last rally in the ninth as Blanco and Trevor Brown singled with two outs. But Eduardo Nunez, in his first at-bat as a Giant after being acquired from the Twins on Thursday, struck out swinging against Shawn Kelley to end the game.
"They’re fighting in the eighth inning, ninth inning, we’re just having a hard time getting runners in," Bochy said. "It’s a tough go. But you’ve got to be big boys, put your big-boy pants on, and come out and be ready to go tomorrow."
Bochy said the rallies the Giants mounted in the late innings were "a good sign" that the team is trying to climb out of their scoring funk. But the clutch hit continued to elude them Friday -- and, along with it, the feeling of a win.
"It’ll turn around," Crawford said. "Things like this happen, I think. It’s gone on for a while, unfortunately. But it’ll turn around for us."