SAN DIEGO — Hope lasted 24 hours.
After getting within six games of first for the first time in three weeks, the Giants woke up Wednesday feeling more alive than the standings said they actually were. They had Jake Peavy pitching with Madison Bumgarner set to follow him, and the first-place Dodgers scratched co-ace Zack Greinke from Wednesday’s game in Los Angeles because of a calf strain.
There was a lot of positivity flowing through the visiting clubhouse at Petco Park on Wednesday afternoon. Hours later, the Giants got walked off 5-4 and fell back to seven games out with 11 to play.
“Look, my thoughts aren’t good,” Peavy said. “I’m not going to sit here and lie to you and tell you I feel great about our chances. That being said, we’re not mathematically eliminated.”
Not yet, but the numbers are now beyond overwhelming. Any combination of five Giants losses and Dodgers wins will end the repeat bid. Peavy said the only chance now is to try and win out, and this banged-up group knows that would be the franchise’s greatest escape act yet.
“We’re hanging by a thread,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “This was a tough one to let get away.”
The game got away because of two problems Bochy couldn’t have predicted when he mapped out this season. He has been left with a startling lack of depth on the bench and that cost the Giants. The bullpen, so strong for so much of this season, cost the Giants, too.
Peavy was sharp through six, but Bochy has learned not to fly too close to the sun in search of extra outs from his resurgent right-hander. Peavy has made a habit of pitching brilliantly until his final few pitches, and the bullpen has saved him a few times in recent weeks. He didn’t second-guess Bochy’s decision to end his night after 18 outs and 88 pitches.
“After the last (start) going out in the seventh and giving up a couple back-to-back hits, that had to be fresh in his mind,” Peavy said.
The bullpen ranks fourth in the majors with a 3.10 ERA, but the meltdown began immediately. Bochy, eager to save a few of his regulars, turned to Cory Gearrin, a newcomer who held right-handed hitters to a .151 average in Triple-A this season.
“He’s been throwing well against righties,” Bochy said. “I was very confident with him up there. It didn’t work out tonight, that’s all.”
Gearrin faced two righties, giving up a single and then issuing a walk. Josh Osich, a standout since the moment he was called up, entered and got two quick outs. Then he gave up a game-tying two-run double. The Giants took the lead on Jarrett Parker’s solo homer, but Sergio Romo gave up a two-run double in the bottom of the eighth.
“We kind of had the bullpen where we wanted,” Bochy said. “The pen was fresh. We were set up right.”
Peavy, watching from the sidelines, thought the same thing.
“They’ve been a strong point of this team for years now,” he said. “It’s a tough night. Those nights happen. We couldn’t quite close the deal. It’s unfortunate.”
George Kontos, nearing the end of his best year as a professional, gave up a key double in the ninth. Closer Santiago Casilla allowed Jedd Gyorko’s walk-off single. It was the final blow for a bullpen that has helped carry the Giants this far but faltered on a big night.
Still, with a little luck in the health department, the Giants may not have needed to hold on for dear life late Wednesday night. They had a chance to take the lead against Craig Kimbrel in the ninth, putting two in scoring position with no outs.
Bochy looked down at his bench and saw his third catcher (Jackson Williams), a veteran call-up who is 1 for 12 this month (Nick Noonan), a guy called up to the big leagues earlier in the day (Kevin Frandsen), and a rookie without a big league plate appearance (Mac Williamson). He chose the rookie, and Williamson had a rough debut against one of the world’s best pitchers.
“I said, ‘I threw you to the wolves on that one,’” Bochy said. “With what I had there, I thought Mac was our best shot. For your first at-bat, that’s a tough one for him.”
Two more rookies, Kelby Tomlinson (playing for Joe Panik) and Trevor Brown (playing because Brandon Belt is hurt), followed. The Giants did ultimately score on a wild pitch, but it was tough to swallow in the clubhouse that in a huge spot in late September, Bochy had to use three rookies, not a Gregor Blanco or a Nori Aoki. He tried to put a positive spin on it.
“They weren’t quitting,” he said.
That was the lone positive as the Giants made the short trip back to their team hotel.
“To lose like this is tough,” Peavy said, shaking his head. “It’s harsh reality.”