Over the first month of the season, as Giants officials continually watched their relievers give up big homers and lose games, they didn't really place much blame on the arms. It was an inexperienced group, one not accustomed to trying to close out wins, and too often the new arms were asked to walk a tightrope.
The Giants felt -- correctly -- that they had a good offense, one that should have been piling on in the early innings more often. Over time, that's what happened, and the bullpen turned out to actually be pretty good, posting the lowest ERA in the Majors over the past month.
But at the worst possible time, it all fell apart.
The Giants had Chi Chi Gonzalez pinned against the ropes early on, scoring three times in the first two innings, but they didn't pull away. The Colorado Rockies came back against reliever Sam Coonrod, kept fighting despite their own position in the standings, and won 5-4 in 11 innings.
"We had some opportunities early in that game to blow it open and deliver a knockout punch," manager Gabe Kapler said. "We weren't able to do that. We needed to deliver that blow."
As a result of the whiff, the Giants ended up with a split of the four-game series with the Rockies. They're 28-28 heading into the final weekend, and if they are to get into the postseason, they're going to have to earn that spot. They play a doubleheader with the San Diego Padres, the second-best team in the NL, on Friday, with Cy Young candidate Dinelson Lamet (3-1, 2.07 ERA) and good young right-hander Chris Paddack (4-4, 4.23) on the other side. The Giants will start Tyler Anderson in one of the games. The other starter is TBD. They are hopeful Mike Yastrzemski, who pinch-hit Thursday, is able to be in the lineup.
The Giants finished this afternoon half a game ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers for the final postseason spot, but this should have been a day to make up ground. There was a failure to pile on, but also some bad luck.
Wilmer Flores nearly won it in the 10th, but his fly ball to deep left died on the track. That's when the Rockies went into playoff mode on their own end. After two intentional walks to load the bases, they went with a five-man infield. Evan Longoria smoked a Daniel Bard fastball, but shortstop Trevor Story gloved the 104-mph liner and threw home from one knee.
"That's all we can ask Longo to do there," Kapler said. "He really smoked that ball. Story is a great defender and made a great play on it."
The Rockies got out of that inning and won it in the 11th, getting the final two outs on Austin Slater's grounder with runners on the corners.
There was a theme to all of that. The Rockies have been eliminated, but they played this one like their own personal October battle. Aside from the five-man infield, manager Bud Black used Bard for 2 2/3 innings. That was crucial for the Rockies, who have a bad bullpen but a good closer.
"I definitely think they were going to do everything they possibly could to win that baseball game. It wasn't a defeated team," Kapler said. "They got the job done and you have to kind of tip your cap to them. They did pull out all the stops, put out a five-man infield out there, extended Bard. That was a good effort by their ballclub. I respect the way they played that baseball game."
It made life tougher for the Giants, who went 3-for-18 with runners in scoring position and left 11 on base. Much of that waste came early, allowing the Rockies to hang around.
"We let up a little bit too early and we needed to keep pushing as an offense, and we didn't," said Brandon Belt, who tied it with a homer in the eighth. "We ended up paying for it."
Belt has been as positive as any Giant this season and has seemed to have a laser focus in games and his interviews. But this time, he admitted it was "a little bit disappointing" to split with the Rockies.
"We feel we're the better team," he said, "But there's not much we can do about that now. We've just got to move on and look forward to the Padres."