By Gideon Rubin
Special to The Examiner
Austin Slater lifted his helmet over his head and turned his back on home plate umpire Rob Drake in disgust. Mauricio Dubón stood in the dugout with his hands on his hips, shaking his head in disbelief. Giants manager Gabe Kapler, among others, jawed at Drake.
A called third strike on Slater on a 100 mph Trevor Rosenthal fastball that according to MLB.com crossed the plate below the strike zone marked the final out of a 5-4 loss to the San Diego Padres in San Francisco’s regular season finale. The loss sank the Giants’ playoff aspirations.
Considering this was supposed to be a rebuilding year under a new manager and considering as recently as late June it was far from certain that there would even be a season, that the Giants were even part of the postseason conversation in late September was in itself a surprise.
But those circumstances did little to take the sting off a tough finish. The Giants got the help they needed with the Milwaukee Brewers losing to the St. Louis Cardinals Sunday. Had they won, the Giants would have made the playoffs for the first time since 2016 as a No. 8 seed.
“It definitely hurts,” Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford said.
Crawford, Dubón and Wilmer Flores each homered for the Giants as they closed out their fourth straight losing season with their fourth loss in five games.
Mike Yastrzemski, who had two hits and drew two walks, was in the on-deck circle when Slater was called out on strikes to end the game.
“We felt one way and the call went another,” Yastrzemski said. “That’s how it goes sometimes unfortunately.”
The Giants’ pandemic-shortened season wasn’t impervious to the outside world the rest of us have been living in these last months. The Giants experienced postponements due to coronavirus tests, a racial justice strike and air quality issues from the wildfires.
Fangraphs picked the Giants to finish last in the NL West with 26 wins, and even that seemed like a stretch after a dreadful start.
After falling to 8-16 on Aug. 17 with a loss to the Los Angeles Angels, the Giants went on a 20-11 run that catapulted them into contention.
Kapler declined to address the strike call, saying “I’m not going to dive into that.”
“It stings,” Kapler said.
“We did overcome a lot. I think we did a really nice job dealing with the ups and downs of the season, just the season that all the other clubs had to deal with, but I think some extra difficult circumstances for our club, and I thought that we did a nice job of handling it.”
The Giants had one of their hottest pitchers going for them Sunday and Drew Smyly delivered, striking out 10 in five innings of three-hit ball.
The left-hander gave up two runs and walked one.
Smyly (0-1), who took the loss, struck out each batter he faced. Going into Sunday he was tied for 13th in the majors averaging 13.50 strikeouts per inning.
The 31-year-old reclamation project was making his seventh appearance and his fourth start. He pitched for three teams last season after missing two full seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
“I think we definitely exceeded expectations,” Giants third baseman Evan Longoria said. “That’s not to say that we’re happy with the result of the end of the year. We obviously had an opportunity to be in the playoffs and continue playing.”
The Padres broke open a 2-1 game in the seventh, when Longoria’s throwing error started a three-run inning.
Crawford hit a two-run homer in the seventh and Flores homered leading off the eighth to close the Giants to within 5-4.
“I think we saw it throughout the season, how many times we were down late in the game and we just kept fighting,” Crawford said. “Even today, we never gave up. We were down four runs and got close, unfortunately we couldn’t finish it off.”
Dubón homered in the second to tie the game after Wil Myers homered leading off the second for San Diego.
“Baseball happens,” Yastrzemski said. “We ran into a good team that was executing. Every time we would punch they would punch back.”
A day after his retirement, former Giants outfielder Hunter Pence was seen on a boat in McCovey Cove carrying a sign that read “Let’s Go Giants.”
But Kapler acknowledged the presence of fan support at Oracle Park was missed.
“I know that it was difficult to not have fans in our ballpark mostly for our fans, but also for our players,” Kapler said. “Our players missed having fans around to provide the support and the energy, so the message is we missed you and it’s tough to not have you around and we look forward to 2021.”