SAN DIEGO — On the Giants’ last visit here, one team was in the thick of a playoff race and the other decidedly was not. It showed. Seats were packed. Play was lopsided. On one side, it was especially sloppy.
That was last year.
On their first and only visit to America’s finest city, an oddity of the balanced schedule and two games in Mexico City, the tables had turned.
For all their struggles, the Giants entered Thursday’s series opener against the Padres holding the slimmest of leads on a playoff position, while the star-studded opposition — carrying the game’s third-highest payroll — held the same record as the team that sent them Juan Soto last season.
And in front of more than a few empty seats on the first day of Labor Day weekend, one team went down with a whimper, committed mental and physical errors and generally played uncompetitive baseball while the other squad poured it on. In other words, one team played like a playoff contender.
The Giants, having seemingly rediscovered their mojo during a series win over the Reds, took the first of four games, 7-2. Their fourth win in five games, the Giants reaffirmed their grasp on the third and final wild card spot, widening their advantage to a full game over the D-backs and 1½ over the Reds, who were both off.
Jakob Junis tossed four scoreless innings and reached his allotment of pitches before he allowed a hit.
In a two-hit effort in his second game back from a monthlong absence, Mike Yastrzemski homered to left field, igniting louder cheers from the strong contingent of Giants fans than from the Padres fans who initially believed Soto’s leaping attempt at the wall had been successful.
But the teams’ discrepancies stood at their starkest contrasts in the third inning.
Aided by a pair of Padres errors, and a couple more plays that could have been classified either way, the Giants batted around and opened a 6-0 lead.
It matched the best inning for a long-ailing offense since before the last time these teams met, in the third week of June. It was the sixth time this season the Giants scored six or more runs in one inning but only the second time since Memorial Day.
Four of the Giants’ five hits in the inning came with runners in scoring position, while the two times the Padres threatened — with the bases loaded against Sean Manaea in the sixth and runners at second and third against Ryan Walker in the eighth — they struck out to end the threat.
Tag-teaming the majority of a one-run effort, Junis and Manaea completed their redemption arcs from difficult starts to the season.
Making his fourth start (all since July 31), Junis didn’t allow a hit and put just two runners on base — a walk, which he stranded, and a hit batsman, which he erased with an inning-ending double play — over four innings. In 15 appearances since the start of July, he has a 2.53 ERA, including 12⅔ innings as a starter without allowing a run.
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Pitching with his bushy hair tied back in a pony tail rather than flowing out of hat, Manaea wasn’t quite as sharp, issuing five walks and throwing barely half his pitches for strikes, but was nevertheless effective. He’s made nine appearances dating back to July 29 with a 2.55 ERA.
Matthew Batten, who was credited with both Padres errors in the six-run third, singled to right with two outs in the fifth to break up the Giants’ combined no-hit bid — the third time this week their pitchers have entered the fifth without allowing a hit — while Garrett Cooper doubled home a run in the eighth to put an end to the shutout.
The Giants have Friday’s starter listed as TBA, but Keaton Winn was scratched from his start at Triple-A Sacramento and looks to be a logical pick to take one of new additional roster spots that open up once the calendar turns to September. They’ll have Kyle Harrison and Alex Cobb on the mound in the final two games.