Matt Cain sailed through his first four innings Wednesday, retiring 12 of 13 hitters, the lone exception a weak ground-ball single by the opposing pitcher. By the end of the fifth, Cain was out of the game, having given back all of an early four-run lead.
It could have been a metaphor for the Giants’ season, which has been spiraling downward since the All-Star break, when they had the best record in the majors. At least for Cain’s outing, they had an explanation: The right-hander lost his release point in the fifth, and by the time he regained it, the Pittsburgh Pirates had scored six times against him.
For the Giants, there is no such clarity for the reason behind their second-half slide, only the fact that following Wednesday’s 6-5 loss, they are 9-21 since the All-Star break, the majors’ worst record during that span and exacerbated by a three-game sweep by Pittsburgh at AT&T Park.
For the second consecutive day, the Giants had the potential tying run on third base when the game ended. Trailing by two entering the ninth, they loaded the bases against closer Tony Watson with nobody out. Buster Posey grounded into a double play, scoring Eduardo Nunez and moving Angel Pagan to third.
But Brandon Crawford, who already had two hits and three RBIs, flied out to shallow center field. The Giants are 4-8 in one-run games since the All-Star break after going 20-10 in those games in the first half.
“We’re taking some blows right now,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “But it’s a tough club, a resilient club. I’ve talked about this many times. They came out and did some good things today. We have no choice. We have to keep plugging and get this thing going.”
Bochy shouldered some of the responsibility for Wednesday’s loss, saying he probably left Cain in too long in the fifth. Cain started the inning by hitting David Freese with a pitch, then walked three consecutive batters to force in a run. Pinch hitter Matt Joyce had a two-run single, and Josh Harrison lofted a sacrifice fly that tied the score 4-4.
Cain retired Starling Marte on a fly ball, but his first pitch to Andrew McCutchen was a fastball that the Pirates star hammered to left for a two-run homer.
“Probably stuck a little long there, being honest,” Bochy said. “I felt like he had enough to get through it. It didn’t play out. That’s a tough one there.”
The Giants handed Cain a 4-0 lead after three innings. Posey singled in one run in the first, and despite back tightness that bothers him while running, the catcher scored from first base on a double by Crawford. In the third, Posey made the same trip as Crawford tripled to center for two runs.
“We’ve done such a good job, when the guys have given us a lead, to keep it,” Cain said. “With everything that’s going on, we didn’t need that to happen today. Bad job by me.”
The Giants have a decision to make regarding Cain’s next start. With an off-day Monday, they could skip Cain’s next turn and start Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Matt Moore in a three-game series against the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers that starts Tuesday. It would let the Giants start two left-handers against a heavily left-handed Dodgers lineup.
Bochy said before Wednesday’s game the Giants are considering that possibility. Cain was honest when asked if that move would be difficult to swallow.
“Yeah, it definitely would be,” he said. “Those are big games in L.A., and those are the games that you look forward to and you compete in. But we’ve got to do whatever we’ve got to do right now. We’ve got to find ways to get back on the right track and winning, and get some mojo going.”
Also before the game, Bochy said he thought waking up in second place Wednesday for the first time since May 10 might help jolt the Giants out of a month-long slump. He struck an optimistic tone, saying, “Some guys are getting their timing at the plate,” and “We’re just not getting that big timely hit like we did in the first half.”
A few hours later, the ninth inning would have been an opportune moment for that timely hit. Instead the Giants were left waiting to learn if they would fall further in the standings.
“We’re in a funk,” Bochy said Wednesday morning. “It’s not something that we haven’t seen before. But we’d better find a way to get out of it pretty soon. We know that.”