SAN FRANCISCO — Eduardo Nunez spent Thursday night and Friday morning frantically packing for his new home. He got on a flight at 2 p.m. in Minneapolis and was walking through the clubhouse doors at AT&T Park by 6 p.m. Four-and-a-half hours later, Nunez struck out in his first at-bat as a Giant, putting the final touch on a stunning 4-1 loss to the Nationals.
In a clubhouse that was on the losing end for the 11th time in 13 games since the All-Star break, Nunez said he’s ready to accept any role. He is happy to be a Giant.
“I hope tomorrow will be a better day for us,” he said.
It would be hard for it to get any worse.
The Giants had a 1-7 road trip coming out of the break and lost three of the first four back home, but Friday night’s loss was the toughest to swallow. They rallied, loading the bases with a three-run deficit. And then Brandon Crawford lined into a triple play, the first for the Giants in seven years. To add insult to injury, the play came less than two minutes after the Dodgers plated the go-ahead run against the Diamondbacks. By the end of the night, the NL West lead would be down to one.
The Giants have said all the right things during a skid that has lopped 5 1/2 games off their lead in two weeks. But they wore stunned expressions in a quiet clubhouse.
“One of the last things you expect when you’re in that situation is for something like that to happen,” Crawford said. “It sucks.”
The triple play, the first for the Nationals since they moved to Washington D.C. and changed everything about themselves, came on a night when the Giants continued to make small mistakes. A team meeting before the game didn’t lead to better focus. Gregor Blanco helped push the tying run across by coming in too slowly on a single to right, allowing opposing catcher Wilson Ramos to score from second. Jeff Samardzija opted to pitch to Daniel Murphy and he got burned after he grooved one, giving up an RBI triple that gave Max Scherzer a three-run lead.
The Giants didn’t do much of note in the first seven innings, but at least they got Scherzer’s pitch count up, putting the game in the hands of a bullpen without a closer. Oliver Perez entered and Denard Span greeted him with a bunt single. Angel Pagan hit a flare to left-center and Blake Treinan walked Buster Posey.
Crawford leads the Giants in RBI, and on an 0-1 count he hit a soft liner to first. Ryan Zimmerman, who had just come in as a defensive replacement, snagged the ball just before it could hit the dirt. Posey had taken a lead and Zimmerman easily beat him to the bag. Zimmerman, once a stellar third baseman, had to move across the diamond a few years back because of throwing issues, but he made a perfect strike to third. Span had broken for home to avoid a force at the plate. Instead, he was out at third.
“I mean … you can’t do anything else but what Craw did,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “That’s a tough read whether it’s a catch or a short-hop. Denard thought it was a short-hop.”
Bochy said that was the quickest he had seen a bases-loaded situation go sour. In the dugout, players dropped their heads. Span looked around, hands up, wondering what had happened.
“That about sums it up right there,” Samardzija said. “He hit it on the screws and you saw what happened after that. That’s just where we are right now.”
In a bigger picture, the Giants remain in first place. There are reasons to be optimistic. Hunter Pence will be back in the lineup Saturday and Matt Duffy left the park Friday night with a suitcase dragging behind him. He’s headed for Triple-A Sacramento and a rehab assignment, and the Giants will likely then send him to Double-A Richmond so he’s close enough to be activated if he’s ready during a three-city tour back on the East Coast.
But it’s hard to focus on any positives given the way the last two weeks have gone. The Giants once led the West by eight games, but the Dodgers -- who have dealt with more injuries than any team in baseball -- have wiped almost all of that away, and done so without Clayton Kershaw. Down in Los Angeles, Dave Roberts told reporters his win was the best of the year. The Giants’ loss might have been the worst.
Players continue to insist this will get better. Bochy does, too. But just in case a message isn't getting across, he challenged his reeling group.
“You’ve got to be big boys,” he said. “You put your big boy pants on and come out there and be ready to go tomorrow and keep fighting.”