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SAN FRANCISCO – Madison Bumgarner created enough Louisville kindling to create a signal fire. He held the Washington Nationals to two runs in seven innings. It was clear he had the stuff and focus to come out on top.
“Usually when you pitch a game like that, you’ve got a pretty good chance of winning,” Bumgarner said.
That’s especially true when you pitch for the Giants these days. But for the first time in nearly two months, they’ve been held to two runs or fewer in consecutive games. A day after losing to Stephen Strasburg and the major leagues’ best bullpen, it was Doug Fister’s turn as the Nats took a 2-1 victory Tuesday night at AT&T Park.
The Giants have scored three runs in 18 innings against the NL East leaders. They have their first losing streak since the Miami Marlins beat them in consecutive games May 16-17. And they were held to two runs or fewer in back-to-back games for the first time since April 21-22 – at Coors Field, paradoxically.
Entering this series, the Giants had scored at least three runs in 13 of their previous 14 games.
And their 18 comeback wins matched the Tigers for the most in the major leagues.
“We’ve had so many timely hits from everybody, you think it’ll happen again,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “It didn’t. We came up short and it’s baseball. It’s not always going to happen. It’s not that easy, and this team we’re facing has a good bullpen, good starters.”
Still, it’s not as if the Giants failed to register a pulse. They collected eight hits off Fister and made several well struck outs. They had a runner, Pablo Sandoval, thrown out at the plate in the sixth. They created a prime chance in the eighth against Tyler Clippard, a tough right-hander who hasn’t allowed a run in his last 20 appearances.
And they nicked closer Rafael Soriano, who entered with a 1.13 ERA. Brandon Crawford tripled, giving the Giants three shots with the tying run at the plate. Brandon Hicks’ ground out to short broke the shutout, but pinch hitter Hector Sanchez and Angel Pagan made outs in the air.
“We’re always thinking that. No matter the situation, we’re always thinking we’re in the game till it’s over,” Bumgarner said.
Anticipation was thickest in the eighth with former Nat Michael Morse at the plate after Buster Posey collected a one-out single and Pablo Sandoval, who had three hits, drew a walk. Morse was tied for third in the NL in RBIs, he has eight game-winning RBIs and he was hitting .304 with runners in scoring position.
He barely missed a 3-2 changeup, getting just a bit too far out in front on a deep foul down the left field line. Then came the high heat that vanquished him. In a rare sight in his short time as a Giant, Morse wore a sullen expression on his way back to the dugout.
“He’s done it so many times and he’s the guy you want up there in that situation,” Bochy said. “He’s won that battle so many times. We’re used to it. But you give them credit. They made the pitches.”
The Giants couldn’t say they beat themselves, although Bochy said the one play he’d like to have back was Hicks’ over aggressiveness in the seventh when he got doubled off first base on Pagan’s lineout to third.
Aside from that, Sandoval is having good at-bats even when he doesn’t get hits. His average stands at .253, the highest it’s been all season. Posey looks to be swinging freer after his back troubles earlier this month, and he’s batting .353 over an eight-game hitting streak. It’s not as if anyone in the lineup is taking a pen light and road map to the batter’s box. There’s reason to believe this offense can pick right up again and start churning out those three-, four-, five-run outputs.
For Bumgarner, that’s usually all he needs to win.
Here's a tip, though, as the Giants prepare for two more with the Nationals and their major league-best bullpen: See if you can scratch those runs against Tanner Roark and Blake Treinen. The Giants might be comeback artists, but planning a comeback against this Washington bullpen is like painting still lifes in the rain.