ORACLE PARK — After giving up his fourth run in 6 1/3 innings to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday afternoon, San Francisco Giants starter Jeff Samardzija walked off the field with his head down, as he got a small — a very small — standing ovation.
Over the first three games of San Francisco’s four-game set against Pittsburgh this week, the Giants — lurching towards a third-straight sub-.500 season, starting upwards of five rookies and bereft of any hit of offensive punch — drew 80,330. Thursday’s crowd drew an announced (and very dubious) 30,118, of which there were roughly maybe 15,000 rears in seats.
For a team that wasted years trying to re-load with aging veterans, and still refused to part with them this July, Thursday’s lazy 4-2 was a nadir for the San Francisco franchise, as a team caught between the past and future set a record for the lowest-attended four-game series in the history of Pac Bell/SBC/AT&T/Oracle Park, a record it now holds by a margin of nearly 10,000. A likely reason: San Francisco is 31-41 at home this season.
“We have to take that road mentality and kind of apply it to here next year,” Samardzija said. “It’s kind of definitely a little weird.”
Starting three rookies, one traded-for aging veteran, three past-their-prime World Series heroes and a starter whose contract is too big to offload, the Giants (70-77) were a thorough mix of a team assembled by two different regimes. As manager Bruce Bochy’s final season draws to a close (he says he doesn’t care about getting to career 2,000 wins, but he’s four away), fans are no longer drawn even by the likes of Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt and Buster Posey.
All three are having the worst years of their careers, and all three have nearly-ready replacements in the system. The most apparent is Mauricio Dubon, who started at second, but his instincts were extolled by Bochy before the game. Bochy called Dubon, 25, a “natural shortstop.” With no outs, a run in and a man on second in the fifth, he showed why. He fielded a slow grounder by Bryan Reynolds, and saw Adam Frazier break from second for third. Samardzija pointed to third in anticipation. Reasoning that he would keep going if he were Frazier, Dubon set himself and fired to shifted third baseman Evan Longoria for an out.
“We’ve seen some really great things out of him,” Samardzija said. “We expect a lot of great things out of him.”
Chris Shaw — who worked a 3-2 walk as part of a two-run inning for the Giants on Wednesday night — was a first-round pick in 2015, but has not gotten a start since being called up in the wake of a career year in the minors. Belt went 1-for-4 with a triple to Triples Alley, which has swallowed at least five potential Belt homers and may disappear next season.
“For some reason, we just have a hard time getting it going here,” Bochy said.
Rookie right fielder Jaylin Davis — who excited fans by hitting 10 home runs in 27 games for the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats after being acquired at the trade deadline — looked to finally get comfortable with a key hit in Wednesday’s loss, but after seeing 10 pitches in his first two at-bats, he was hit in the left wrist by a 97-mph Keone Kela fastball in the sixth. He left the game with a left wrist contustion, but X-rays were negative.
The only runs San Francisco could muster came on a two-run homer in the sixth by Longoria, who drove in Buster Posey. Posey went 1-for-4 with a bloop single, and is now hitting a career-worst .257, with little ability to drive the ball. Joey Bart, of course, waits in the wings, having hit .316 at Double-A Richmond in 22 games, and having slugged 16 homers in 79 games at two levels this season.
Samardzija — signed to a five-year, $90 million deal by the regime preceding Farhan Zaidi’s ascension this past fall — has exemplified the old, dead money spent in the years since San Francisco last won the World Series. Over his first three years with San Francisco, he went 22-31 with a 4.33 ERA, but has rebounded with a 3.64 ERA, ranking second on the staff with 163 innings entering Thursday.
Samardzija, though, gave up three hits in the first — including an RBI double by Jose Osuna — then a sac fly in the fourth, an RBI single in the fifth and the sixth homer of the season by catcher Jacob Stallings in the seventh.
The Giants put two on with two outs in the ninth, but the No. 26 offense in the majors — a team partly too old to keep up, partly too young to be know how — went quietly against the Pirates (65-82).
Austin Slater struck out swinging. Mike Yastrzemski struck out looking. With the crowd on its feet, Posey bounced out to second.
When asked what he’d learned over his first two weeks in the majors, Dubon didn’t hesitate: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”