AT&T Park — It’s been 31 years since the San Francisco Giants made the playoffs after dropping below .500 this far into a season.
In 1987, they did it as a young team led by 23-year-old Will Clark. That was the start of an era, not the end, as they reached the World Series two years later.
Right now, though, the Giants are nothing like that late-surging squad. They have an average age of 29 — tied for seventh-oldest in MLB — and albatross contracts that make it difficult to plug roster holes down the road.
On Tuesday, San Francisco blew a second straight late lead to the Houston Astros, losing 2-1 after reliever Ray Black surrendered a two-run home run to first baseman Tyler White in the eighth inning. The Giants are now 57-58.
“We had a good chance to win both of those games, a really good chance, and we let them slip away,” said starter Madison Bumgarner, who pitched seven scoreless innings before watching White’s blast from the dugout. “You never want to do that, but it’s getting to the time of the year now where we’ve got to minimize those.”
The sense of urgency is perhaps magnified by the Giants’ roster constraints.
Third baseman Evan Longoria — owner of a .743 OPS and declining defense — is owed at least $72.5 million before his contract is up. Injured starters Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto are owed $107.6 million. Reliever Mark Melancon is owed $38 million.
The plan, of course, was for those players to contribute to a win-now push this year despite a 98-loss season in 2017. After a second straight defeat to the Astros, though, the Giants are six games back of a playoff spot.
“You look at the starts we got here, that does make it even more frustrating,” Bochy said. “It’s hard to take.”
Second baseman Chase d’Arnaud gave the Giants a second-inning lead with an RBI single to right field. He would leave the game an inning later after fouling a pitch off his leg and suffering a left knee contusion.
A day after closer Will Smith blew a save with two outs in the ninth, Black failed to hang on against the defending World Series champions. Smith hadn’t blown a save in six opportunities. Black hadn’t allowed a hit in 10 1/3 innings, and he didn’t expect White to turn on his 99 mph fastball after the Astros hitter had whiffed on two heaters earlier in the at-bat.
“In my mind I was thinking he might be sitting on the off-speed pitch here, but I just didn’t locate it,” Black said.
This time, it was Bumgarner’s turn to have his gem spoiled. Like Dereck Rodriguez the night before, Bumgarner struck out seven during his scoreless outing. Like Rodriguez, he was helpless as a ball flew over the left field wall to undo his hard work, as the bullpen shouldered the blame for another frustrating defeat. It was the Giants’ fifth loss this year when leading after seven innings. They managed just two runs in the two games.
“Lightning,” Bochy said, “hit us twice.”