Programming note: Giants-Dodgers coverage starts Monday at 6:30 p.m. with Giants Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area
SAN DIEGO – The Giants moved percentage points closer to clinching a playoff berth on Sunday, and Chris Dominguez showed off a new prized possession – along with the cutest graffiti you’re ever likely to see on a baseball.
Brett Bochy got to pitch in his hometown, too.
But it was not a happy Sunday at Petco Park for the Giants. Other than Dominguez’ first major league home run, their offense got cuffed yet again by the San Diego Padres in an 8-2 loss that finished off a three-game sweep here.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Vogelsong, Giants swept in San Diego]
The quick math: The Giants are now 4 ½ games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West with seven to play. The Giants are now tied with the Pirates atop the wild card standings, and Pittsburgh holds the home-field tiebreaker for the potential knockout game.
Because the Milwaukee Brewers lost, the Giants still have a 4 ½-game cushion to avoid falling out of the playoffs entirely. Any combination of three Brewers losses or Giants victories will get Bruce Bochy’s club through the first door and into the wild card game, at least.
Right now, though, the Giants aren’t so much concerned with their lot in life as with firming up their own foundation.
“We’ve been through this and we’ve come out of it,” said Bruce Bochy, whose offense has produced just 1.75 runs over their past eight games. “It is important we come out of this. We’ve got to get the offense clicking here, and right now, it’s not. We ran into good pitching here, but you’ve got to find a way.”
More good pitching awaits in the form or Zack Greinke, whom the Giants have never beaten, and Clayton Kershaw, who is having the kind of season not witnessed in the National League since 1968.
The Giants need to win two of three at Dodger Stadium to avoid watching their archrivals clinch in their field of vision.
“Everybody knows what we’re playing for,” said right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, “and what’s at stake.”
And what is that, exactly? Home field for a wild card game? Or the division, still?
“It’s still there until they clinch, as far as I’m concerned,” Vogelsong said. "Until their magic number is zero, there’s still a shot. We need to go in there and play well and have some things go our way. It’s not over till it’s over.”
What about finishing ahead of the Pirates, to ensure that if the season comes down to one game, at least it would be decided in front of a sellout crowd at AT&T Park?
“I think right now our focus should be on winning baseball games,” said Vogelsong, who took a no-hitter into the fifth inning but fell to 1-5 with a 5.53 ERA in 13 starts against NL West clubs. “Obviously if that’s the game we get into, we’d love to have it at home. But the most important thing is to play the next game and win, and win the next one after that.”
That didn’t happen in San Diego, although they did face three very good starting pitchers while scoring four runs in three losses. They went 3-6 at Petco Park, scoring an average of 2.22 runs per game.
It’s hard to outhit your mistakes when you aren’t hitting. Pablo Sandoval and Jean Machi committed errors that contributed to runs; a night earlier, second baseman Joe Panik’s damaging throwing error put the Giants behind early.
So the have plenty to consider without pondering the playoff permutations.
“I don’t want to look at where we’re at. If we don’t play better baseball, that’s our fault.” Bruce Bochy said. “That’s’ what it comes down to. We’ve got to get the offense going, and these last two games, the mistakes hurt us. The only thing we can think about is play our best ball and win a ballgame.”
Bochy played a hunch by giving Dominguez his first major league start, and the six-year minor leaguer rewarded the manager. He lined out in his first at-bat, then joined a short list when he drew an intentional walk despite still seeking his first big league hit. (He was the No.8 hitter, and with first base open and two outs, it was an automatic move.)
Dominguez’s first hit came quickly enough. He followed Brandon Crawford’s two-out single by swatting Ian Kennedy’s 3-1 fastball off the brick facing of the Western Metal Supply Co. building beyond the left field stands.
An 8-year-old girl retrieved the baseball. It was her birthday, so her precocious little sister wrote “Happy Birthday” and “Congratulations Estella” on it. She added a heart, too.
Dominguez met the family after the game and traded another autographed baseball for his first homer ball, which now comes with a story that he won’t ever be tired of telling.
“That’s all right,” he said, smiling as he turned over the baseball in his hands. “That’s a good memory.”
The Dominguez trophy case 1st home run ball. pic.twitter.com/KU6DNhnvJ4— Andrew Baggarly (@CSNBaggs) September 22, 2014
Other side: pic.twitter.com/0TQaALa4fC— Andrew Baggarly (@CSNBaggs) September 22, 2014
Bochy wouldn’t say if Dominguez would start in left field Monday at Dodger Stadium. He and the staff must decide whether to give Brandon Belt a chance to shake off the rust against major league pitching, too.
They saved those conversations for what promised to be a quiet bus ride up Interstate 5. Southern California traffic has an odd quality. Sometimes when you’re edging closer to your destination, you can’t help but feel that it’s further and further away.