AT&T PARK — No matter what the San Francisco Giants do the rest of this season — which now consists of three — it will end on Sunday. Whether the rival Los Angeles Dodgers’ season extends beyond that, however, depends very much on what San Francisco can muster in the final three games of the season.
Before spoiling Los Angeles’s chances, though, the Giants played the 158th game of a less-than-middling season against a team that was essentially eliminated from playoff contention on Opening Day. Amid the flotsam of late-season baseball between two clubs far out of contention, it was an eminently forgettable 3-2 loss for a San Francisco team ahead of only the hapless Miami Marlins in runs scored among big league clubs.
Then there was shortstop Abiatal Avelino, who, after being traded for Andrew McCutchen on Aug. 31, finally got not just his first big league hit, but his second as well, starting in place of Brandon Crawford.
“You could see him relax tonight,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “I think he’s probably more comfortable at short. He was comfortable and he was pretty excited about it. Nice game by the kid.”
After the game, Avelino — who had told the team interpreter that he could do an interview in English — was bit overwhelmed by the television lights, so Gorkys Hernandez came over to help. Hernandez wasn’t needed when Avelino, 23, was asked about the ball from his first knock — a line-drive single in the third.
“I don’t know where it is right now, but I got it,” Avelino said, before adding that he would give it to his father, Roberto.
Avelino, who was called up on Sept. 4 after just three games at Triple-A Sacramento, had played in just two games with the big club before this final homestand. He’s now started two games in a row, including Wednesday, when he played his natural position.
“I feel really good,” Avelino said. “I’m happy to be here, and try to help my team. I don’t play too much, but I’m just trying t0 be ready for the game, because you never know. The team is really good, everybody is good to me.”
Once he got that first hit out of the way, he added another as part of a rally in the seventh, sending a first-pitch single to left with two outs.
“After the first one, I said, ‘Finally, my first hit,’ and then, in the seventh, I felt really comfortable at home plate,” Avelino said. “I felt much better.”
Avelino hit .283 this year between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Sacramento — his best minor league season since he spent 2013 at Rookie and Short-A and hit .301. He’s headed out to the Dominican Republic to play winter ball once the season is over, going from the Giants to the Gigantes del Cibao. Going out with a few hits under his belt makes the trip easier.
“A little bit,” Avelino said. “I need to be ready for next season. When I come into the season, working hard, you’ll see.”
While Avelino had a night to remember, Casey Kelly — pitching to space out the rotation so that its top three pitchers face the Dodgers — ground through five innings after having not thrown more than one inning in a game since Aug. 22. He allowed two runs on six hits and struck out three Padres.
“We knew we’d limit his work because he’d had one inning in 17 days or so,” Bochy said. “He gave us a chance, and that’s all you can ask.”
San Diego took a 1-0 lead on a sacrifice fly in the third, and in the fifth, Travis Jankowski sent a roller up the first base line. At first, Austin Slater, an outfielder by training and a second baseman by trade, froze. As Kelly sprinted over to first to shovel the ball to Slater, Slater failed to cover the bag. An infield single turned into a de facto double thanks to an error charged to Kelly.
A groundout and a balk later, Jankowski came around to score. Jankowski made it 3-0 when he slugged an 82 mph Pierce Johnson curveball off the aluminum siding atop Levi’s Landing for his fourth homer of the season.
In the meantime, Avelino’s first big league hit was San Francisco’s only hit until the seventh.
San Francisco’s next hit came when fellow rookie Aramis Garcia — an intriguing catching prospect who has been playing first base in place of Brandon Belt — sent his fourth home run of the season halfway up the bleachers in left, a 109.7-mph two-run job to drive in Joe Panik and San Francisco to within a run. That was as close as the Giants would would get. After a single from Chris Shaw and Avelino’s second hit, Kelby Tomlinson grounded to third to end the threat.
San Francisco had the go-ahead run on first in the ninth, but pinch hitter Evan Longoria struck out.
“We were a hit away, and we’ve had that a few times,” Bochy said. “You’re trying to come back. Just needed one more hit there.”
Next up is a significantly more meaningful series, not so much for the Giants, but for the team coming to town. The last time San Francisco knocked Los Angeles out of playoff contention was en route to their 2012 World Series run. That year, a Barry Zito win gave the second Wild Card spot to the St. Louis Cardinals.
With a Colorado Rockies win and a Dodgers loss on Wednesday night, Los Angeles fell to second in the N.L. West, four games in the loss column behind the Milwaukee Brewers, and in a virtual tie with St. Louis, which has gone 39-25 since the All-Star break. Their path to the NL Division Series could include a one-game playoff and a Wild Card game. Or, the Giants could eliminate them from playoff contention entirely.
“I’ve said this many times, I never like being in that position, to be honest,” Bochy said of playing spoiler. “I’d rather be in the other position, but it’s good for the guys. These games are going to mean a lot, so that’s a good experience for the young guys. There’s a lot at stake.”
By starting Kelly on Wednesday, the Giants set up the meat of their rotation — Madison Bumgarner, Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez — to face Hyun-Jin Ryu, Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler, respectively, over the final weekend of the season. Starters Chris Stratton and Derek Holland will be ready to contribute out of the bullpen.
“They’ll feel it, they’ll know it,” Bochy said. “There’s no question that they know that they can impact what happens. It’s not just the division. It’s the Dodgers, but even with the other teams we’ve played who have done so well. We did a nice job playing Arizona, a nice job playing Colorado, so I expect these guys to come out and play their hearts out.”