By Chris Haft
ATLANTA — Striving to return to the postseason, the Giants provided reminders of last October’s National League Division Series by smacking clutch hits, receiving Madison Bumgarner’s admirable pitching and repelling the Atlanta Braves’ formidable challenge.
Actually, not quite.
“This was kind of a similar game, I guess,” Bumgarner said, “until the end.”
The end nullified a determined Giants effort. Freddie Freeman’s two-run single off closer Brian Wilson capped Atlanta’s three-run rally in Monday night’s ninth inning that gave the Braves a 5-4 walk-off victory.
Last autumn, the Braves and Giants dragged each other through four one-run decisions, all but one of which San Francisco captured to take its first postseason step toward its cherished World Series title.
Currently, the Giants find themselves in a different state. They trail first-place Arizona by only 2 1/2 games in the NL West — their largest deficit since May 6, when they were three games back — but they’ve slipped 6 1/2 games in the standings since July 29. The Giants also fell to 0-4 this year against Atlanta while dropping their eighth series opener in a row.
Having lost numerous key performers to injuries, San Francisco appears bound to place Carlos Beltran, its would-be No. 3 hitter and cherished Trade Deadline acquisition, on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right hand. The Giants also might have to endure the next day or two without their only other formidable hitter, third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who fouled a Tim Hudson pitch off his right foot in the first inning and left the game after hobbling around the bases. Fortunately for the Giants, X-rays revealed no structural damage.
But the prospect of chasing the D-backs in the next few days without Beltran and Sandoval is potentially a dispiriting one for a team that must endure the rest of the season without top hitters such as Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez.
Predictably, Giants manager Bruce Bochy won’t yield to any woe-is-us thinking.
“I refuse to,” he said. “I better not hear any players ever say that. We’re right in the thick of things. There’s a lot of baseball left. This is a tough loss, sure. But we’re in August. We have time to make this up.”
Asked how a team pushes onward through the type of adversity the Giants have encountered, Wilson said, “There’s no choice. You have to. We’re not just going to go home.”
A happy trip back to the hotel seemed imminent for the Giants as Wilson took the mound to preserve their 4-2 lead. The right-hander was deemed unavailable on Sunday with a sore back but insisted after his fifth blown save in 40 chances that he felt fine physically.
The Braves’ rally began with rookie Jose Constanza’s third hit of the evening and second infield single on a ball that shortstop Orlando Cabrera briefly bobbled. Given Constanza’s considerable speed, he might have been safe had Cabrera made the play cleanly.
Wilson (6-4) walked pinch-hitter Eric Hinske before Michael Bourn’s sacrifice bunt advanced the runners. Martin Prado’s single to left field scored Constanza but was hit too sharply to send home pinch-runner Julio Lugo, who held at third. A four-pitch walk to Brian McCann loaded the bases.
Asked whether the walks were strategic to create more favorable matchups against the on-deck hitters, Wilson said, “I’m not worried about what a hitter can do. I pitch to my strengths.”
Wilson did exactly that as he edged closer to escaping by striking out Dan Uggla and forging ahead on the count to Freeman, 1-2. Then the NL Rookie of the Year Award candidate grounded a 3-2 pitch up the middle to score Lugo and Prado. The Giants fell to 49-2 when leading after eight innings.
“You know you’re going to get a good pitch to hit,” Freeman said. “It’s just a matter of if it’s going to be 91 or 96 [mph], a cutter or a two-seamer. He threw me a two-seamer there and I was able to get the barrel on the ball.”
Said Wilson, “Today they hit the ball where they weren’t. A couple of ground balls that they were able to move the guys over [with], and they won the battle.”
Atlanta’s uprising nullified the Giants’ surge from a 2-0 deficit. They scored a pair of unearned runs in the fourth inning to pull even before Nate Schierholtz and Mike Fontenot homered to lead off the sixth and eighth innings, respectively, against Atlanta starter Tim Hudson.
Bumgarner, who earned the decision in last year’s Game 4 NLDS clincher against Atlanta, sustained his Turner Field effectiveness with a solid seven-inning effort.
Bumgarner was scored upon in the first two innings but yielded just one run in each, avoiding the crooked-number phenomenon that has dogged him all year. The left-hander has allowed three or more runs in an inning eight times.
“Bumgarner was really, really good,” Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
That proved to be scant consolation for the Giants.
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