LOS ANGELES — Going into the final three games of the 2012 season, Derek Holland and the Texas Rangers needed just one win against the Oakland Athletics in Oakland to clinch the American League Western Division crown.
That 2012 A’s were predicted to finish at the bottom of the league. They had gone 74-88 the season prior, and traded away starters Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez, as well as All-Star closer Andrew Bailey in the offseason. They beat the Rangers three straight, and finished with 94 wins and the division crown. The A’s were in first place all of one day that season — they day that counted.
Holland, now with the San Francisco Giants, threw 4 2/3 shutout innings with seven strikeouts against the Los Angeles Dodgers in a losing effort on Wednesday. He didn’t realize until after the 4-3, 12-inning loss — which prevented a three-game sweep by San Francisco — that the Giants face these same Dodgers on the final three days of the 2018 season.
“It could be us being like them,” Holland said of that 2012 A’s team. “They beat us on the last day.”
The Giants may not have gone on to Cincinnati with three rivalry wins under their belts, but they do leave town having made three comebacks in the eighth inning or later against the reigning National League champions.
“It was a heck of a series,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “A hard-fought series. I mean, man, these guys, I couldn’t be prouder of ‘em. They were down three, and came back and tied the game. ‘Cutch (Andrew McCutchen) came through in a huge way. It’s a tough loss, no question, but you’ve got to look at how we came back.”
After San Francisco scored four runs in the ninth for a win on Monday, and powered through a seventh-inning brawl to fight off a late comeback with a ninth-inning rally on Tuesday, it looked like more might be in store for Wednesday’s series finale.
The Dodgers bullpen, lacking National League saves leader Kenley Jansen due to heart trouble, had lost or blown the lead in each of the last six games before Andrew McCutchen sent a curveball over the left field fence off of Caleb Ferguson in the top of the eighth. Los Angeles had lost seven of its last 10 games. The opening was there.
The defense was there, too. With one out in the fifth, Matt Kemp singled after a double by Brian Dozier and an intentional walk to Manny Machado. Center fielder Gorkys Hernandez hosed Brian Dozier at the plate with a picture-perfect swipe tag from Buster Posey. After the initial safe ruling, Posey hailed to the dugout to challenge the play, and indeed, after 1:17, it was overturned for the second out in the fifth.
After Holland walked Chris Taylor, Reyes Moronta — who has had control issues early in his outings this season — needed just one pitch to get Cody Bellinger to pop out, preserving the shutout.
After the homer by McCutchen — a career .288 hitter who has had a .118 BAbip during his 3-for-29 slump (positively rotten luck) — the Giants got a leadoff double from Hunter Pence in the top of the 10th. He moved to third on a defensive bunt by Chase d’Arnaud on a high-and-inside pitch, but advanced no further, as Brandon Belt grounded out with men at the corners to end the inning.
Still, the Giants found more momentum. Erstwhile closer Mark Melancon — who has not been deemed ready to close even after Hunter Strickland went down two months ago with a self-inflicted broken hand — had arguably his best moment of the season in the bottom of the 10th. After Manny Machado — 3-for-4 at the time —fouled off four straight pitches — including a pair of curves — Melancon got the Dodgers shortstop swinging at a curve in the dirt to end the inning, stranding a pair of runners.
“He really made a great pitch there at the end,” Bochy said. “Machado, he’s swinging the bat well. It’s a tough position there to walk him again, plus you got a good hitter behind him (Matt Kemp). We did that once and he got a base hit.”
The Giants stand 5.5 games out of first place in the NL West. Those 2012 A’s trailed Texas by 13 games on June 30, and five games with nine days left in the season.
Andrew Suarez looked to turn a corner on Tuesday, and fellow rookie starter Dereck Rodriguez is arguably the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year. Jeff Samardzija will be back in the rotation soon, for good or for ill. Madison Bumgarner looks to be back in form.
“We definitely did what we were trying to do — gain some ground,” Holland said. “Being able to go two out of three is good. We can take that to Cincinnati … This is a big road trip. We’ve got to take advantage of where we are in the situation. We’ve got to try and push and get all the wins we can. The goal is to gain as much ground going into this.”
Even though they’ve had a somewhat magnetic attraction to .500, the Giants have had several late-inning resurrections of late, with the three comebacks this week, plus a 3-2 win against Arizona on Aug. 5.
“It’s the old adage — if you’ve done it before, you can do it again,” Bochy said. “These guys really believe they can come back … You get to feel like you can come back. Game’s not over until, well, it used to be nine, but in today’s case, it went extra-innings. We just couldn’t quite scratch one more run out … It was a well-played series. It would have been nice to win this one, but the comebacks that we’ve had, the way we played, I’m good with it.”
There are holes on this Giants team, to be sure — holes that could and should have been addressed at the trade deadline — but somehow, they’re managing to stay somewhere near striking distance.
“It’s a tough division, a tough race, and the way it’s playing out, you can tell it’s going to come down to the final weeks,” Holland said. “Could be something crazy. I’ve done this before.”