SAN DIEGO — It was bizarroball on Sunday for the Giants, and not in a good way.
Alex Cobb, who went 28 batters without surrendering a hit in his last start, allowed the first batter he faced to reach base and three runs to score before he recorded three outs. Patrick Bailey, who has mowed down base runners like nobody else, went 0-for-3 on stolen base attempts. Meanwhile, their underwhelming opposition finally played up to its payroll and star power.
It added up to a 4-0 loss, their third in a four-game series loss against the down-and-out Padres (65-73), one they really couldn’t afford with their tenuous grip on the postseason. Their win in the first game put them in sole position of the third and final wild card, but after three straight losses, they moved into a four-way tie.
Over those three losses, the Giants were outscored 17-4 and held a lead for one half inning. They’ve beaten the Padres just once in six games away from Oracle Park.
“I think overall, you look at this team and what they did to us these four games. Just some curiosity as to why they’re where they are in the standings,” Cobb said. “That’s one of the best lineups in baseball, regardless of where they’re at in the standings. You know that when you go into that outing you have to be sharp and on your game, and I was a little bit off today.”
After throwing a career-high 131 pitches in a complete game in his last start, coming one out shy of a no-hitter, Cobb was out of the game after three innings and 58 pitches Sunday. He gave up four runs on six hits — two home runs — and clearly didn’t have it.
Gabe Kapler made the bold decision to start Cobb on regular rest, just as he did Kyle Harrison after also throwing his most pitches of the season, but the manager said, “I didn’t the see the impact” in Cobb, who topped out at 95.6 mph and averaged 94.6 mph on his fastball. He also downplayed fatigue as a factor for Harrison, who was tagged for six runs on four homers in Saturday’s loss.
Cobb, however, said “I think it’s very fair to second guess that.”
“(Harrison) just went the most pitches he’s ever gone, I definitely did, too. But leading up to that week, I think you go around the room and you ask us individually, do you want the ball in a situation where we’re playing playoff baseball, and I think the answer is yes. From top to bottom, the coaching staff wanted us out there. We wanted to be out there. But I don’t fault the questioning.”
SAN DIEGO, CA – SEPTEMBER 03: Alex Cobb #38 of the San Francisco Giants pitches during the first inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres on September 3, 2023 at Petco Park in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
The Giants, the best in the majors at keeping the ball in the park in 2021 and 2022 and in the top 10 this year, allowed eight home runs over the final three games of the series. Three came off the bat of Juan Soto, and for the third time this series, he did it in the first inning to put the Giants in an early hole.
After Cobb allowed the Padres leadoff man, Ha-Seong Kim, to reach on a single, he left a first-pitch splitter up to Soto, who whacked the letter-high offering into the left-field seats, opening a 2-0 advantage. Manny Machado made it 4-0 with a solo shot in the third, which proved to be Cobb’s final inning.
“It’s not always the pitch on the mound that’s struggling,” Kapler said. “Sometimes it’s the opposing batters, some of the best hitters in baseball, who are putting really good swings on (pitches).”
After going 2-for-18 with runners in scoring position in their first two losses, the Giants went hitless in their only two opportunities Sunday. It wasn’t until Wilmer Flores’ double off the wall in the fifth inning that they advanced a runner to second base against San Diego starter Seth Lugo, and not a single runner made it to third.
They scored one run — when they were already down 6-0 in the ninth Saturday — over the final 18 innings of the series.
“These guys are going up there and grinding as hard as they can,” Kapler said. “That doesn’t necessarily lead to runs, unfortunately. But they’re giving everything they had. This is a team that works very hard pregame to get ready for the game, and we’re just not getting results. We have to keep working, keep pulling levers, keep trying things to get the best version of our offense to come out.”
That, apparently, includes deploying a new and rarely seen rule.
After Bailey appeared to ground out to short in the ninth, the Giants challenged that Xander Bogaerts’ feet were on the grass when the play began, and after a lengthy review, Bailey was granted an automatic ball and put back in the batter’s box with a 1-1 count.
But that was no answer, either. Three pitches later, he struck out swinging. Austin Slater was called out on strikes. Mitch Haniger struck out, too, and that was that.
On a positive note, Keaton Winn relieved Cobb in the fourth inning and blanked the Padres for the final five frames while allowing four hits. He was making his first appearance since being added to the roster as September call-up and preserved the Giants’ bullpen on a day they got only three innings from their starter.
“I told him right after the game that he just saved us,” Cobb said.
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Cobb’s difficulties after his near-no-no shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise. Three others have come one out away from history since the club moved to San Francisco, and they all suffered from no-hitter hangovers. Matt Moore went only 5⅓ innings after his 2016 bid, Yusmeiro Petit lasted an out longer in 2013, and Scott Garrelts might have had the most in common with Cobb, surrendering six runs in only 1⅔ innings.
“Bad outing,” Cobb said. “Just not a very good one.”
The Giants continued to struggle to find success away from Oracle Park. They fell to 4-17 over their past 21 road games, and they’ll have to correct course quickly.
They face a quick turnaround before a day game Monday at Wrigley Field, which begins a pivotal three-game series against the Cubs, who moved three games ahead of the Giants for the second wild card. Twenty five games remain, and 13 of them are on the road.