The Giants, despite being the majors’ worst team since the All-Star Break, had managed to remain in first place for a month by virtue of the big division lead they built in the first half. Tuesday night, that lead finally evaporated.
The Giants lost 4-3 to the Pirates, hours after the Dodgers pounded the Phillies, 15-5. The combined result was a flip-flop atop the N.L. West, with the Dodgers going ahead by a half-game and the Giants falling out of first for the first time since May 10.
By going 9-20 since the break, the Giants gave back all of the 6 1/2-game lead they held on July 14. They led by as many as eight games in late June.
"We created this with our struggles more than anything, we know that," manager Bruce Bochy said. "So you keep going, and come out here and be ready to go tomorrow. We’ve been through these funks. This has been a long one. These guys have had their backs to the wall. It’s not at that point yet, but now it’s up to us to find a way to get on a roll."
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Building momentum has been a challenge. The Giants have won consecutive games just once since the break, and it seems every time they take a step forward with a well-played win, they follow with one or two steps back. The Dodgers, meanwhile, have made up ground despite playing without ace Clayton Kershaw and several other starting pitchers.
"We’ve still got nine games against them, we know it’s a long season," second baseman Joe Panik said. "At the same time, nobody’s happy. We know we’re not playing the way we should.
"I don’t think we’re taking it easy. We’re trying hard. We’re getting after it. It’s not an effort thing. Everyone here is giving it everything they’ve got."
Tuesday’s loss was decided in the eighth, when Derek Law, the Giants’ most dependable reliever lately, allowed a two-out home run to Jung Ho Kang that broke a 3-3 tie. It was just the second home run Law has allowed this season and snapped a streak of 19 straight scoreless appearances by the right-hander.
Law said catcher Buster Posey called for a two-strike slider to Kang but, "I shook off the slider. I wanted to throw a fastball in, tried to get it off the plate and just yanked it."
Law said he was not second-guessing the decision.
"No, I shook to it," Law said. "I just wish I would’ve got it off the plate a little bit."
The Giants mounted a rally in the ninth against Pirates closer Tony Watson, when pinch-hitter Trevor Brown reached on an error and Panik shot a double down the left-field line. The Pirates set up to intentionally walk Ehire Adrianza to load the bases -- with Watson even throwing the first intentional ball -- before the Pirates changed their minds.
It proved the right decision. Adrianza popped out to second baseman Josh Harrison and Denard Span rolled over the first pitch to Harrison for a game-ending groundout. In a recurring theme for their second half, the Giants went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position in the loss.
"You have to love the way they came back off the closer, created a great situation," said Bochy. "That’s all you can do, and hope somebody comes through. It didn’t happen."
Posey was at the center of the Giants’ offense in his return after missing two games with lower back tightness. He hit a two-run double in the first inning and singled leading off the sixth, taking third on Brandon Crawford’s double and scoring on a groundout from Hunter Pence.
Posey might have scored on Crawford’s double, but he did not appear to be running well all game and acknowledged afterward that running "wasn’t great." However, he said that hitting and catching did not bother his back. He appeared to grimace on a swing in the first inning, but said it was because he hyper-extended his left elbow. Posey said he does intend to play in the series finale Wednesday.
Ironically, Posey had just made a strong throw to catch Andrew McCutchen trying to steal second base in the eighth before Kang hit his go-ahead home run.
Jeff Samardzija allowed three runs in six innings and said afterward he was able to repeat his delivery better than in previous second-half starts. The Giants, though, lost for the seventh time in Samardzija’s last nine outings.
"We know there’s 162 to play and towards the end is when it’ll all be determined," said Samardzija. "So hopefully we’re playing our best baseball then."
The Giants are not doing so now, and their road does not get easier. After Wednesday’s finale against the Pirates, the New York Mets visit for a four-game series -- followed by three games against the Dodgers, in Los Angeles.
"I think the alarm’s been there for a while," Posey said. "I don’t know if there’s any more sense of alarm just because you’re out of first. I kind of feel like we’re beating a dead horse, but the only thing you can do is just try to remain as positive as possible and try to get on track and get rolling."