SAN FRANCISCO The last time the Giants bade farewell to the Dodgers, they held a five-game division lead over their rivals. Two weeks later, that lead grew to eight games. Around the same time, the Dodgers lost ace Clayton Kershaw – arguably the best pitcher in baseball – to a back injury from which he has not returned.
Any semblance of a Giants advantage will be gone when the teams reconvene Tuesday in Los Angeles for a three-game series. That was ensured when the Giants fell 2-0 to the Mets in front of a national television audience Sunday evening, with Noah Syndergaard outdueling Jeff Samardzija, who took a no-hitter into the seventh inning.
Within three pitches, Samardzija allowed a Curtis Granderson double that ended his bid for history and a soaring home run by Yoenis Cespedes that decided the game. The loss guaranteed the Giants will go into Los Angeles no better than tied for first and possibly a game back if the Dodgers win Monday morning in Cincinnati.
Both Buster Posey and Angel Pagan are expected to be in the lineup Tuesday. They were not Sunday as the Giants managed two hits against Syndergaard, who did not allow a runner past second base in eight innings.
“I don’t know who would’ve hit him tonight; that’s how good he was,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of the Mets’ right-hander. “It’s the best stuff we’ve seen. And our guy was right there. I mean it was a beautiful game, really on both sides with the pitching.
Samardzija’s past few outings have given the Giants hope that after a shaky midsummer stretch he can be a factor in September. Sunday, he retired his first eight hitters and 18 of his first 19, the exception a walk to Syndergaard in the third inning.
Mixing his splitter with a recently added curveball, Samardzija induced a series of lazy fly balls and struck out seven, his most in a start since May 24. Entering Sunday, Samardzija had the majors’ highest ERA since June 22 at 6.05. In his past three starts, though, the right-hander has allowed five runs in 18 2/3 innings.
“I felt like I wasn’t getting any (good) swings on my curveball and my split, so we kept throwing them, and they kept swinging at it,” Samardzija said. “It was good and kept them off of my fastball.
“You’re just looking to be able to go out and execute all your pitches comfortably, being able to let them go with confidence. To be in that spot right now, where we weren’t there for a month or two, it feels good.”
Samardzija had just eclipsed his previous career-long no-hit bid of 5 2/3 innings when Granderson led off the seventh by lining a double over Gregor Blanco’s head in left. A crowd announced at 41,377 rose to applaud his effort. When Cespedes then crushed a homer onto the walkway above the left-field bleachers, estimated at 417 feet, the fans fell eerily silent.
“He pitched his heart out and ran into a hot hitter,” Bochy said of Samardzija. “It wasn’t that bad a pitch, but (Cespedes) went down and got it and hit it out.”
The Giants’ bats were just as quiet. A lineup that scored 18 runs in the first two games of the series managed just three singles and did not get a runner past first with Syndergaard in the game.
“In the past, he probably missed with some off-speed (pitches) and you could kind of look fastball, which still isn’t easy when he throws 98 mph,” Brandon Crawford said. “Tonight, he had all three working and was hitting his spots with them.”
Even the Giants’ plan to run on Syndergaard, against whom opponents were 40 for 44 on stolen-base attempts entering Sunday, did not work. Trevor Brown broke for second on a hit-and-run after drawing a walk in the third, and Eduardo Nuñez took off after beating an infield hit in the fourth; Mets catcher Rene Rivera threw them both out.
The Giants settled for a four-game split after winning their first two against the Mets and still have not won a series at home since the All-Star break. Their record in that span is a majors-worst 11-23, and their once-sizable division lead has evaporated. Asked about the next series against the Dodgers several times this weekend, Bochy acknowledged there is no point in ignoring the season is growing short.
“You’re getting down toward the end, getting down to the stretch run, and that’s how you have to look at it,” Bochy said. “Sure, it’s not going to determine what happens. But it’s an important series.”