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Posey, Panda back Bumgarner's great start

Left-hander strikes out 12, contributes RBI as Giants win nightcap

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CHICAGO -- The triumphant pounding of Madison Bumgarner's left fist into his glove after he struck out Javier Baez to end the seventh inning echoed the constant report of the Giants' bats Thursday night.

Bumgarner, Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval were most responsible for the raucous 5-3 verdict that gave the Giants two victories in the series' three games -- a tangible accomplishment, given the adverse weather that disrupted routines and bedtimes for both clubs.

Bumgarner displayed his wealth of skills, striking out 12 -- one short of his career high -- while working seven innings. He was particularly rough on Baez, Chicago's hotshot rookie, who struck out four times. Bumgarner (14-9) recovered after yielding three first-inning runs on back-to-back homers, blanking Chicago on four hits afterward. For good measure, he added a fourth-inning RBI single off his Cubs counterpart, Travis Wood (7-11).

Bumgarner explained that his expressive reaction reflected his desire to excel.

"We have to win all the games we can win right now and that could have been the turning point in the game, depending on what happened there," he said. "He was probably my last hitter, so I gave it everything I had to get us back to the dugout."

Welington Castillo, who struck out twice after hitting the second homer off Bumgarner, vouched for the left-hander's effectiveness.

"He just challenged us with fastballs, and I think we were a little aggressive with him," Castillo said. "I think after the first inning he figured out that we were aggressive and he kept throwing that high fastball."

Earlier Thursday, the Giants dropped a 2-1 decision to the Cubs in the completion of Tuesday's suspended game.

The Giants will encounter their next challenge in Washington, where they'll open a three-game series against the Nationals, winners of 10 consecutive games. As daunting a task as that is, at least the Giants left Wrigley Field knowing that the heart of their batting order maintains a robust beat.

Posey and Sandoval, who hit third and fourth, respectively, combined for five extra-base hits and three RBIs. Both entered Thursday with statistics that would satisfy many a ballplayer. But observers expect more from Posey, the 2012 National League Most Valuable Player, and Sandoval, the World Series MVP that year.

With 35 regular-season games left, ample time remains for Posey and Sandoval to propel the Giants into the postseason.

Sandoval made authoritative contact all night as he went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and drove in the Giants' first two runs.

Posey went 4-for-4, hitting his 14th homer of the season to break a 3-3 tie in the fifth inning and lacking a triple for the cycle.

"We've got to have him," Bumgarner said, "and we've got to have everybody else to get where we want."

The outcome gave the Giants five wins in their last seven games and left them a half-game in front of Atlanta for the league's second Wild Card spot and 3 1/2 games behind first-place Los Angeles in the NL West. But Giants manager Bruce Bochy didn't reveal which postseason berth he considered to be most attainable.

"We're still in August. There's a lot of baseball left," Bochy said. "I don't think at this point you target a Wild Card or [a division title]. I don't think any club should."

At this juncture, simply winning is the paramount objective.

"It's definitely not the time of year to hold back," Bumgarner said.

Nothing restrained Posey, who felt refreshed after resting a stiff right hip Wednesday.

"The hip is something I've kind of battled throughout the year. I've had it for a while," he said. "It just kind of gets you bound up, is the best way to describe it. Everything gets kind of tight around my hip and back."

Those who vote for the Silver Slugger awards, which go to the top hitters at each position, might want to study this game. As baseball's most productive pitchers at the plate, Bumgarner (.269 batting average, .304 on-base percentage, .481 slugging percentage, three homers, 12 RBIs, nine runs) and Wood (.261/.306/.500, three homers, 10 RBIs, eight runs) entered the affair with remarkably similar statistics.

Yet their paths diverged sharply as the evening unfolded. Though Wood struck out Bumgarner twice, in between those at-bats the Giants left-hander followed Joaquin Arias' one-out double in the fourth with a ringing single to left field that tied the score.

{"content":["top_pitching_performances" ] }
{"content":["top_pitching_performances" ] }
{"content":["replay" ] }

Replay confirms Alcantara not hit by pitch

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Replay confirms Alcantara not hit by pitch play video for Replay confirms Alcantara not hit by pitch

CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Rick Renteria challenged whether Arismendy Alcantara was hit by a pitch in the third inning of Thursday's second game vs. the Giants.

Alcantara led off the third and felt he was hit on the leg by the first pitch from the Giants' Madison Bumgarner.

Home-plate umpire Mike DiMuro had ruled that Alcantara was not hit, and the review confirmed the call. Alcantara then grounded out.

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Giants can't beat Cubs after winning protest

Panik hits RBI single in rain-delayed resumption of Tuesday's game

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CHICAGO -- The Giants delivered a full effort in their historic half-game Thursday. All they lacked was the result they wanted.

San Francisco launched a serious bid to tie the score in the ninth inning, but circumstance turned Angel Pagan's would-be RBI single into a game-ending comebacker as the Chicago Cubs held on to prevail, 2-1.

Ultimately, the difference was Anthony Rizzo's two-run, first-inning homer off Ryan Vogelsong nearly 48 hours after the game actually began.

But subsequent events overshadowed Rizzo's drive.

The Giants received a second chance to win this game, as the Commissioner's Office upheld their protest of what was initially a rain-shortened, 2-0 Cubs victory. The Giants successfully maintained that the grounds crew's deployment of the Wrigley Field tarpaulin was flawed.

It marked the first time since 1986 that a club's protest proved effective. The Giants did virtually all they could to seize their opportunity.

Trailing, 2-1, they began their ninth-inning surge with one-out singles by Joe Panik and Brandon Crawford off Chicago closer Carlos Rondon. Panik's hit was his fourth in a row since Wednesday. Third baseman Luis Valbuena nearly speared Crawford's liner, but it grazed his glove.

Rondon recovered by striking out pinch-hitter Gregor Blanco. Up came Pagan, who smacked a 1-0 fastball back at the right-hander. The ball initially appeared destined to scoot into center field. But it struck Rondon, who couldn't find the ball immediately and fumbled around for it. However, he quickly realized it was within easy reach and underhanded his throw to first base, ending the saga.

"We all thought when Pagan hit the ball it was going through," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.

Indeed, a Giants comeback seemed inevitable, if only because they controlled the action upon the game's resumption in the bottom of the fifth inning.

Fittingly, showers halted the game's start for one hour, 57 minutes, bringing the total delay -- including Tuesday's game-ending stoppage -- to 6:31.

Coming off Wednesday's 8-3 victory, the Giants maintained pressure by scoring with two outs in the sixth. Adam Duvall's double off the left-field wall prolonged the inning for Panik's RBI single.

Yusmeiro Petit "started" for the Giants and led a superb relief effort, striking out the first five batters he faced in two perfect innings. He, Jean Machi and Jeremy Affeldt combined to no-hit Chicago for four innings.

But the Giants still absorbed their 11th defeat in 18 one-run games on the road. They outhit Chicago, 11-3, but went 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

"It's over now," Bochy said, punctuating the adventure that preoccupied two teams, their respective front offices and multiple Major League officials. "All we wanted was a chance, and we got it."

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Hudson, Giants look to put speed bump in Nats' way

Fister battles Hudson in DC as Washington eyes 11th straight win

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The Giants had a taxing, rainsoaked three days in Chicago. There will be no rest for the weary when they arrive in the nation's capital.

That's because their weekend opponent, the Nationals, have tied a franchise-high 10 consecutive wins.

Washington's latest walk-off win, 1-0 over the D-backs on Thursday, capped a four-game sweep at Nationals Park. On their way to tying the Royals for the longest streak in the Majors this season, the Nats have celebrated five walk-offs in their past six games, making them the first club to do so since the 1986 Astros, according to Elias Sports.

That "absolutely epic" streak, as outfielder Bryce Harper described it on Wednesday, puts the Nats three games shy of the Washington record, held by the 1933 Senators. It also ties the longest in both team history (since 2005) and franchise history (since the Expos from 1969-2004).

With Doug Fister starting on Friday, the Nationals are off to a good start to recording win number 11. For the third straight start, Sunday against the Pirates, Fister went at least seven innings and surrendered no earned runs. He sports a 0.64 ERA for August, and his season ERA has dropped to 2.20.

The lefty will be opposed by right-hander Tim Hudson, who took off for Washington, D.C., early Thursday afternoon, in advance of his teammates.

"It's just to make sure he gets his rest," manager Bruce Bochy said Thursday, noting that the Giants were bound to arrive in the morning's wee hours even if the teams avoided rain delays -- which didn't happen.

After struggling in his last outing against the Phillies, Hudson's ERA is above 3.00 for the first time this season. Despite his age and taxing start to the season, the 38-year-old has said he's in good shape and still feeling strong.

Nationals: Talent taking over
Before every game, each player on the Nationals goes through immense amounts of preparation. Defensive coordinator Mark Weidemaier provides players with a scouting sheet detailing the fielding game plan for the day, while hitting coach Rick Schu makes countless hours of tape on the opposing pitcher available to hitters.

But once the Nationals take the field, the demeanor changes. One can often find players laughing, talking and smiling, particularly third baseman Anthony Rendon. When Fister is pitching, the right-hander almost always finishes his warmups early. That's when the infielders congregate behind the mound with their starter and have an easy-going conversation, complete with overflowing positive body language.

Manager Matt Williams said that characteristic for the team has been crucial in its success this season.

"Once you get out there, you have to let your natural ability take over and enjoy that part of the game," Williams said. "This game's about relaxation and about letting your natural ability take over. And when the first pitch is thrown, they have to do that. All the preparation is done before, and then they can just go let her fly. And that's kind of the attitude they've taken."

Giants: Panik healthy, still excelling
Joe Panik showed no ill effects Wednesday of his injury scare last Sunday, when he dislocated his left pinkie finger.

The rookie second baseman went 3-for-5 with an RBI and run scored in his first game action since the injury. 

Panik has been on a torrid pace of late, hitting .426 (23-for-54) in his last 15 games to lift his batting average from .203 to .297.

Worth noting
• Ryan Zimmerman resumed baseball activities on Thursday.

• Hudson is 17-5 with a 2.37 ERA in 30 career starts against the Nationals.

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Belt, Sanchez may return before end of season

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CHICAGO -- Giants manager Bruce Bochy did not rule out the possibility of first baseman Brandon Belt and catcher Hector Sanchez playing again before the season ends. But, Bochy added, a program heavy on baseball-related activities must be organized for both players, who are recovering from post-concussion symptoms.

Belt and Sanchez probably will need approximately three weeks' rest after recent incidents worsened their conditions.

"That's a lot of time without playing in a game," Bochy said Thursday.

Minor League injury rehab stints won't be in either player's future, since the farm teams end their schedules in early September. More than likely, Belt and Sanchez will spend at least some time at the Giants' training facility in Scottsdale, Ariz., where they can immerse themselves in their recovery.

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Pennant-chasing Giants take care of Cubs early

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CHICAGO -- A truly successful protest must have meaning behind it, and the Giants' 8-3 triumph over the Cubs on Wednesday gave significance to their stand.

In protesting Tuesday's rain-shortened game, a 2-0 loss, the Giants emphasized that they wanted an honest opportunity to legitimize their status as postseason contenders. By having their protest upheld, they erased a loss from their record -- at least temporarily. Wednesday's win generated momentum for what essentially will be a doubleheader on Thursday, when the resumption of the suspended game will precede the regularly scheduled series finale.

"You can't play with revenge on your mind, because you end up trying too hard," said right-hander Jake Peavy, who won his second straight start. "But I think the boys did a great job of coming out and knowing they would have a great game."

Playing without catcher Buster Posey, who sat out with tightness in his left hip, the Giants jumped on Cubs starter Edwin Jackson (6-14) to grab a five-run lead after three innings. They scored four runs in the first after Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence singled to set up the outburst. Pablo Sandoval's sacrifice fly opened the scoring. After Michael Morse walked, Joe Panik collected the first of his three hits, a single that delivered Pence. Travis Ishikawa, who also amassed three hits, lined a two-run double.

Chicago halved the difference in the second inning on Chris Valaika's two-run homer off Peavy. The Giants responded with three runs in the third. Morse and Ishikawa doubled before Andrew Susac belted his first Major League home run, an opposite-field drive to right.

Susac received some good-natured kidding from left-hander Madison Bumgarner upon returning to the dugout. According to Susac, Bumgarner said, "It's too bad you hit your first home run at a small field like this," referring to Wrigley Field's cozy dimensions.

In the fourth inning, Pence accounted for San Francisco's final run with his team-leading 17th homer. All but five of those homers were hit on the road.

Peavy allowed two runs in seven innings while improving to 8-5 with a 2.76 ERA in 16 career starts against Chicago. Though he yielded 10 hits, he compensated by walking none and fanning eight.

"That kind of goes hand in hand with the game," Peavy said, pointing out that with such a sizable lead, "You can be more aggressive in the zone."

The Giants are now three games behind the first-place Dodgers in the National League West, and have inched 1 1/2 games ahead of the Braves in the race for the NL's second Wild Card spot.

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Giants protest upheld; rain-shortened game to resume

Unplayable conditions at Wrigley caused game to be called after 4 1/2 innings

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Giants protest upheld; rain-shortened game to resume play video for Giants protest upheld; rain-shortened game to resume

CHICAGO -- The Giants gave new meaning to Hall of Famer Ernie Banks' signature saying, "Let's play two." They believed they had another game to complete.

San Francisco's protest of its loss to Chicago on Tuesday was upheld on Wednesday by Joe Torre, MLB's executive vice president for baseball operations. Torre agreed with the Giants' stance that the flawed deployment of Wrigley Field's tarp meant that the game should have been suspended instead of awarded to the Cubs, who led, 2-0, when rain halted activity after the regulation 4 1/2 innings had been played.

The game will resume in the bottom of the fifth inning at 2:05 p.m. PT on Thursday, with the regularly scheduled series finale to follow at 5:05 p.m.

"I don't know what's going to happen. We may not win it, we may not lose it, but at least we're going to finish the game," manager Bruce Bochy said.

"We appreciate Major League Baseball's careful review of our protest that will allow last night's game to be continued tomorrow," president and CEO Larry Baer said in a statement. "We want to thank Commissioner Bud Selig, commissioner-elect Rob Manfred, executive vice president for baseball operations Joe Torre and the Chicago Cubs organization for their cooperation throughout this process."

Rain fell for only about the first 15 minutes of the delay, which lasted four hours and 34 minutes. But Chicago's grounds crew struggled to cover the field properly, which led to excess water being dumped on the infield dirt when the crew attempted to remove the tarp.

Thus the violation of Part 3 of Rule 4.12 (a) in the Official Baseball Rules, which reads:

A game shall become a suspended game that must be completed at a future date if the game is terminated for any of the following reasons:

(3) Light failure or malfunction of a mechanical field device under control of the home club. (Mechanical field device shall include automatic tarpaulin or water removal equipment).

Bochy was full of praise for Cubs officials, who displayed sportsmanship by acknowledging the validity of the Giants' argument.

"They were all for this," Bochy said. "They wanted to do the right thing."

Said Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer: "I think the last thing you want is a playoff team feeling bitter about the result here -- something, obviously, that was caused by our organization, so I think it's a good outcome. Hopefully, we win the game."

Though protests are typically not upheld, Bochy had been confident.

"I felt we had a strong case," he said. "We felt very strongly about it. I'm just thankful and grateful that they were open-minded -- [Commissioner Selig], Mr. Manfred and Joe Torre."

But not everybody in the clubhouse had shared Bochy's faith.

"Were we surprised? Sure," pitching coach Dave Righetti said. "How many of these have been upheld? Nine? 10?"

The precise number is unknown, but winning such an appeal is definitely rare. It last occurred in 1986, when a protest by Pittsburgh -- that a game against St. Louis had been called too soon -- was upheld.

Word that the Giants were going to play on Thursday spread among the players as they finished batting practice before their 8-3 victory over the Cubs.

"I'm very excited that happened," right-hander Jake Peavy said. "We're happy we have a chance to win that game."

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Continued rest prescribed for Belt

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CHICAGO -- First baseman Brandon Belt must continue resting for an indefinite period due to lingering post-concussion symptoms, manager Bruce Bochy said on Wednesday.

Belt, 26, was examined in Pittsburgh on Monday by a specialist, and was advised to take it easy.

"Now's not the time to try to push it," Bochy said.

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Giants must take advantage of opportunity

After protest upheld, rain-shortened game at Wrigley will resume

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CHICAGO -- You never know what's going to turn a playoff race.

"You can't dope it out," the late Hall of Famer Johnny Evers said. "All you can do is to call it baseball and let it go at that."

In 1964, during a 10-game losing streak that cost them the pennant, the Phillies lost September games on steals of home by Willie Davis and Chico Ruiz. In 1969, a black cat walked in front of the Cubs' dugout at Shea Stadium.

Doug Rader fired up the unexpectedly strong 1983 White Sox by saying they were "winning ugly." Lou Whitaker was doing the splits at a party in September 1988 when he felt something pop in his right knee and was lost for the year. In 2007, Milton Bradley took out Padres teammate Mike Cameron in an outfield collision, and later in the same game was lost for the season when he was tackled while charging umpire Mike Winters.

Evers was right. We wouldn't have doped any of that out, not even with proprietorial software.

Now, thanks to a ruling by Joe Torre in their favor following Tuesday night's tarp incident, it's the Giants' turn to take advantage and step up to the plate. They've been steadily sliding back into the crowd of also-rans since the end of a 31-11 run on June 8 but now have a cause to rally around.

When the Giants left Wrigley Field at some point around 2 a.m. CT on Wednesday, they were fuming about a 2-0 loss that ended 4 1/2 innings early because of unplayable field conditions -- the result of the grounds crew's inability to properly cover the field during a summer squall.

At one point back in June, the Giants led the Dodgers by 9 1/2 games. But Tuesday's loss dropped them 4 1/2 games back in the National League West and into a virtual tie with the Braves for the second NL Wild Card spot. No wonder they were steaming.

The Cubs weren't exactly gloating, either. Team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer felt terrible that their infield would not dry, remaining a quagmire even after Hunter Wendelstedt's crew had allowed a delay of four hours and 34 minutes. Epstein and Hoyer supported San Francisco's arguments to have the umpires declare it a suspended game, to be resumed on Wednesday, but the crew did not feel the rules allowed for such flexibility.

But on Wednesday, after the Giants filed a formal protest, Major League Baseball concurred with their claim that the difficulties resulted from "mechanical" issues with the tarp. That meant the game could be suspended at the point it was interrupted, and that's where it will pick up on Thursday at 4:05 p.m. CT , before the regularly scheduled 7:05 p.m. game.

It's possible that the Cubs felt as good about the ruling as San Francisco.

"It's a good result," Hoyer said. "The last thing you want is a playoff team feeling bitter about the result here, something, obviously, that was caused by our organization. It's a good outcome. Hopefully, we'll win the game. We've got a 2-0 lead. But I definitely feel it was a just outcome."

Torre's ruling came down about an hour before the start of Wednesday's game, and the Giants celebrated with a four-run first inning off Edwin Jackson. It was the kind of inning they'd had often earlier in the season -- with singles by Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence starting the rally and Pablo Sandoval contributing a sacrifice fly -- and it was easy to think, "Here they come, the Giants who nobody will want to face in October."

Before the ruling, this had been a snakebitten team, one worried about a sore left hip that kept Buster Posey out of the lineup and even more so about the well-being of Brandon Belt, who is expected to be out at least two or three more weeks as he battles concussion issues. But suddenly San Francisco was given the rarest opportunity in baseball -- the chance to literally wipe a loss off its record.

Giants president Larry Baer spoke for the team, saying that he appreciates MLB's "careful review of our protest." He thanks Commissioner Bud Selig, Commissioner-elect Rob Manfred, Torre and the Cubs organization for their cooperation throughout the process.

Manager Bruce Bochy was impressed by how his players responded to the long, bizarre night at Wrigley Field.

"They know there's no point in dwelling on what happened last night," said Bochy, who has pretty much seen everything. "You have to come out and play. You have no choice in this game. You're going to have some ups and downs. We got in late last night, came out today, really not talking about it. Worried about tonight's game."

Now it's time to start worrying about Tuesday's game -- the one they will get a chance to finish on Thursday.

You've still got to take them one at a time, even if the order can sometimes get confusing.

The Giants have been given a rare chance. It's up to them to take advantage of it.

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Tarp troubles lead to delay, shortened game

Game called early in fifth inning after grounds crew's difficulties at Wrigley Field

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Tarp troubles lead to delay, shortened game play video for Tarp troubles lead to delay, shortened game

CHICAGO -- The Cubs and Giants endured a most imperfect storm Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

Their series opener was called after a four-hour, 34-minute delay in the early hours of Wednesday morning, with the Cubs getting a 2-0 win after four and a half innings of play.

The grounds crew strained in spreading the infield tarp and did so during the roughly 15-minute windy downpour. The result turned Wrigley Field into a swampy habitat that left playing conditions dangerous, and both teams discontent.

"I don't think anyone takes any particular pride in winning a 2-0 game in five innings in a situation like that," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "Those are the rules, but as an organization, we made a very good-faith effort to try to play this game."

Had the Giants led at the time of delay, the contest would have been postponed by virtue of MLB Rule 4.10, which states the game is complete if the home team is ahead through five trips to the plate by the visitors -- the case Tuesday.

The game couldn't be suspended through Rule 4.12(a)(3) for a field malfunction either, as the tarp was hauled manually.

Thus, the imperfect storm.

"The problem that all the parties faced was in the baseball rulebook there was nothing to put our hat on to suspend the game," crew chief Hunter Wendelstedt said. "The game became regulation with the home team winning in the top of the fifth inning. There was really no way around it."

"Honestly we tried every way possible to the sake of fairness and equity to get to a suspended game and allow the teams to get to the point of a suspended game and allow the teams to play nine tomorrow, but the rules just don't provide for that," said Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. "We had both teams, the umpires and MLB wanting to do the right thing."

The Giants are in the thick of a competitive National League pennant race. With the loss, they fell 4 1/2 games out of first in the NL West and into a tie for the final Wild Card spot with the Braves, who have won five straight.

"Look, I'm frustrated, beside myself," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "I hope they listen and watch what happened there because in this day and time it shouldn't happen, can't happen, I think, with the importance of these games."

The brief downpour was preceded by a mist with two outs in the top of the fourth, light enough to continue play. Buster Posey popped out to shortstop Starlin Castro to end the half inning, just as rain reared sharp, sideways and at a substantial rate.

"It was a 15-minute rain there and they couldn't get the tarp on in time," Bochy said. "I just think with this day and time, something should have been done a little bit more."

Wendelstedt conferred between innings with Cubs groundskeeper Roger Baird, who he reported a "very light rain" that "was not even showing on the radar." As soon as the downpour commenced, the tarp was called for.

"When we watched the radar loop, Mother Nature was not raining," Wendelstedt said. "No one had any facts that saw this coming."

"It was just a bad set of circumstances to get us where we are."

Bochy and Cubs manager Rick Renteria met to determine the infield conditions after just over 90 minutes into the delay, then again 45 minutes later. When asked if the hordes of Diamond Dry the crew hauled had made a worthy impact, Renteria offered little conviction.

"Significantly better? No," he said. "There was a lot of moisture in there."

"The one thing I think everybody has to be cognizant of is you don't want any of those guys to get hurt. Period. From being a former infielder, I can tell you that the footing on that was going to be pretty bad."

Hoyer said the only thing that could've salvaged the field was sunlight. As midnight approached, one crew worker was dragging the field -- everyone else was holding.

"If we felt like it was going to dry tonight, we'd still be waiting," Hoyer said. "Ultimately we got to the point where we realized that this is not going to dry."

The game lasted one hour and 35 minutes at the time of delay, and no rain came the rest of the night. The White Sox-Orioles game at U.S. Cellular Field 10 miles south wasn't even affected.

"I don't think anyone is at fault," Hoyer said. "It was a flash storm. As you know, Comiskey or the Cell didn't get any rain whatsoever. Really showed up on the radar really late and it was much harder than we thought. … The volume of the storm was much harder than anyone expected, so the tarp probably started getting out on the field later than it usually does."

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Sanchez diagnosed with second concussion in month

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CHICAGO -- Catcher Hector Sanchez was diagnosed with his second concussion in a month, prompting Giants manager Bruce Bochy to hint that the 24-year-old could miss the rest of the season.

Bochy said Tuesday that "it'll be a little while" before the switch-hitting Sanchez conceivably could rejoin the Giants.

Bochy emphasized that Sanchez's health is the Giants' primary concern.

"It's hard to rush a kid back and see this happening again," Bochy added.

Sanchez endured his latest mishap last Saturday, when a foul tip struck his catcher's mask while he was performing for Fresno in an injury rehabilitation game.

Bochy noted that Sanchez, who tends to endure more than his share of physical abuse, had switched from using a hockey goalie-style protective mask to a more traditional catcher's mask. The change, it was believed, would reduce Sanchez's chances of sustaining concussions.

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Panik's dislocated left pinkie recovering well

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Panik's dislocated left pinkie recovering well play video for Panik's dislocated left pinkie recovering well

CHICAGO -- Recovering nicely from a dislocated left pinky, Giants second baseman Joe Panik was expected to be available to pinch-hit if necessary during Tuesday night's series opener against the Chicago Cubs.

Panik, who was injured Sunday, tested his finger by participating in pregame batting practice -- he homered during his first round of swings -- and taking about 25 swings off a tee. Joaquin Arias replaced Panik at second base, batting seventh.

Still on day-to-day playing status, Panik could return to the lineup as early as Wednesday.

"It's not going to be perfect," Panik said. "But it's getting better."

Panik hit .419 (18-for-43) in his previous 12 games to lift his batting average from .203 to .282.

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Trip home to NY helps clear Panik's head

Giants second baseman revitalized after reuniting with familiar faces

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SAN FRANCISCO -- The first six weeks of Joe Panik's Major League career didn't go as dreamt.

On-field success was hard to come by: The second baseman made three errors in his first week in late June, and by August his batting average was hovering just above the Mendoza Line at .203. Major League pitchers were mostly foreign to him, and playing in front of 40,000 people on a nightly basis at AT&T Park was daunting.

Off-field comfort proved more elusive.

Away from the Triple-A Fresno teammates he'd grown close with while scaling the Giants' Minor League rankings, Panik felt isolated and out of place in San Francisco. The hotel the 23-year-old was staying in didn't feel like home, and his family and friends were three time zones and 3,000 miles away back in Yonkers, N.Y.

"Let's say you have a bad game and want to talk to your girlfriend, or your dad, someone you've always talked to after games," Panik explained. "It's 1:30, 2 a.m. back home, so they're sleeping. It's hard to communicate, especially when you're used to certain things like seeing them a lot. You don't have that sense of comfort because you're alone out here."

The finale of the Giants' four-game set in New York against the Mets two weeks ago showed to Panik that he belonged. After being reunited with old faces in familiar places, he went 3-for-4 with a double. Not since the 2000 Subway Series has a trip to Queens felt so fulfilling for someone who grew up a Yankees fan.

"It brought a little extra out in me. Something clicked, and that was something I'd lacked for a month or so," Panik said. "There wasn't one exact moment. I just had a good game that last one against the Mets and I've kept building the momentum.

"Going back home really got the ball rolling."

He's been driving it all over the field since.

Beginning with the finale against the Mets, Panik has hit .419 (18-for-43) in his last 12 games, which has skyrocketed his season average from .203 to .282. The early fielding struggles are a thing of the past, too -- he hasn't committed an error since his first week.

"I've hit my stride here," said Panik, whose only setback in the last two weeks was a dislocated left pinkie that's not believed to be serious on Sunday. "I'm comfortable with where I'm at."

Where he's at -- second base -- has been a troublesome position throughout the season for the Giants. Brandon Hicks couldn't hit. Marco Scutaro can't stay healthy. Dan Uggla … happened. Finally, it appears the Giants -- who have lacked bottom-of-the-order production for months -- have found a reliable option to spark the bottom of the lineup while playing solid defense at second.

After hitting .257 at Double-A Richmond last season, it was fair to wonder if the Giants' 2011 first-round pick had stalled in his progression. Thanks to a .321 average at Triple-A Fresno this season and Hicks' struggles, Panik got his first Major League callup. Now, he's making a strong case to be the Giants' second baseman of the future and orange "PANIK ATTACK" signs can be found inside AT&T Park.

"Panik is showing that he belongs up here," manager Bruce Bochy said after Panik's multi-hit performance last Saturday. "He has a knack of slowing down the game. That goes with confidence, but this kid has the ability to get the good part of the bat on the ball.

"He's earned going out there every day."

That comes as no surprise to Ed Blankmeyer, who was Panik's collegiate head coach at St. John's and has fresh memories of Panik dominating pitchers Jed Bradley and Danny Hultzen, fellow first round picks in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.

"Joe was never one of these flashy guys," Blankmeyer said. "He doesn't run tremendously fast, he doesn't have big-time power; grade out his skills and he'd be very mediocre. What he does, is he performs.

"The guys with the sexy tools get more of an opportunity than the marginal tools guys, but this kid has proved himself to be an excellent player at every level. Right now, I think he's proving himself to be a pretty darn fine guy in the big leagues."

To Blankmeyer, Panik's best attribute has always been his even-keel approach, to life, not just baseball.

"If you can just maintain a steadiness about yourself, you'll come out of your highs and lows a lot quicker," Blankmeyer said. "I wish I could bottle his."

Having Fresno friends Adam Duvall and Andrew Susac to hang out with off the field helped Panik regain that stability. Instead of spending his down time in an empty hotel room, Panik can invite Duval and Susac over to his apartment. Instead of Panik bringing Jeremy Affeldt water during workouts, Affeldt now makes Susac keep Panik hydrated.

"It's funny, because [Duvall and Susac] are older than me," Panik quipped. "It's been good to share some moments with them. It's given me a sense of comfort just being around them."

Despite the initial struggles, Susac always felt it'd only be a matter of time before Panik found his footing in San Francisco.

"I knew he was going to do it," said Susac, who roomed with Panik in the Minors for the last two years. "He's very consistent; it just takes him a little while. He'll start a little slow, make plays under the radar, and then all of a sudden this Panik guy is on fire."

All he needed was a trip home.

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Giants top Phillies, gain ground in NL West

Lincecum grinds through five; SF gets rare home back-to-back wins

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Giants top Phillies, gain ground in NL West play video for Giants top Phillies, gain ground in NL West

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants haven't resembled an elite team since early June, but they took a step in the right direction Sunday afternoon when they accomplished something they last did in early June.

The Giants' 5-2 victory against the Phillies was the team's second consecutive at AT&T Park, where they hadn't won back-to-back games since a five-game home win streak May 27-June 8.

"If you told me that [earlier], I wouldn't have believed you," starter Tim Lincecum said.

With the Dodgers getting swept by the Brewers in Los Angeles, the Giants also closed to within 3 1/2 games of the National League West leaders. They also expanded their lead for the second NL Wild Card spot to 1 1/2 games over the Pirates and remained 1 1/2 games behind St. Louis for the first Wild Card.

The Phillies struck first in a first inning that featured Lincecum having the command of a substitute teacher (16 of 29 pitches were balls), but he escaped with minimal damage (one run) inflicted, aided by Andrew Susac thwarting Ben Revere's stolen-base attempt.

After allowing six steals in his last outing against the Royals, Lincecum utilized his slide-step more with runners on base, and the adjustment paid off.

"You get caught up in your emotions, things slip by him and all of a sudden they have six stolen bases," Susac said when asked about the difference with Lincecum. "He did a great job today and showed me he cared, which is awesome."

Yusmeiro Petit began warming up in the third after Lincecum ran into more trouble. The Phillies loaded the bases with two out and tied the game at 2 when Lincecum walked home Cody Asche.

Lincecum remained precariously effective in his five innings. Forty-six of his 97 pitches were balls, but he effectively maneuvered around the big inning and got the win after being tagged for just two earned runs on seven hits.

"That game could've been out of hand. He found a way to keep them at bay and get through five," manager Bruce Bochy said. "I'll be honest: I didn't know if he was going to make it."

Said Lincecum: "I know I didn't have my best stuff, but I worked with what I had and we got out of some big innings."

The Giants offense didn't have any big innings, but major contributions from the bottom half of the order were sufficient.

Brandon Crawford entered Sunday with a .081 average in his previous 11 games, but an RBI single in the second scored Michael Morse, and Susac scored on an ensuing throwing error by Marlon Byrd.

A Susac RBI single in the fourth scored Morse and proved to be the game-winner. Crawford and Joaquin Arias added sacrifice flies in the eighth.

Sunday was a continuation of Morse's recent hot streak, as he went 3-for-3 with three singles. He was pulled for defensive purposes in the sixth, but finished the homestand 9-for-14 with a home run, triple, two doubles and four RBIs.

"I'm getting hits," Morse quipped when asked what's been different. "I'm trying to just get my pitch to hit and put it in play."

Philadelphia hitters didn't do much of that against the Giants' bullpen.

The bullpen was again flawless Sunday. Javier Lopez struck out three and allowed just one hit in 1 2/3 innings, Jean Machi struck out the lone batter he faced and the eighth- and ninth-inning combination of Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla secured the victory. They recorded nine strikeouts.

The bullpen threw nine scoreless innings in the last two games.

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Work on mental focus paying off for Romo

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Work on mental focus paying off for Romo play video for Work on mental focus paying off for Romo

SAN FRANCISCO -- After losing his closer's role in late June, Sergio Romo vowed redemption if and when he got another chance to save a game. Redemption was had on Saturday, as Romo closed the Giants' 6-5 victory. It was his first save since June 22.

"It felt good to contribute, but I didn't really look at it as another save opportunity," Romo said Sunday. "Even through it all, I've been put in situations where one pitch can be the difference in the game, so I feel that the inning is the main thing that's changed for me."

Well, that and the mental adjustments he said he's made. A more consistent focus is the key to more consistent success, and he believes he's fixed that problem.

"Every outing, whether it's been good or bad, the difference has been that one pitch," Romo said. "If I can execute on a more consistent basis, then I like my chances because I trust myself.

"I'm in the Majors for a reason. I've got good enough stuff to compete. Just focus on executing, that's all I've been trying to do."

After striking out three and allowing a hit in a scoreless inning Sunday, Romo is 23-for-28 in save opportunities this season and has a 4.24 ERA in 46 2/3 innings.

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Giants concerned after Sanchez rattled again

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Giants concerned after Sanchez rattled again play video for Giants concerned after Sanchez rattled again

SAN FRANCISCO -- A vicious foul tip to the mask Saturday prematurely ended a second consecutive game at Triple-A for Hector Sanchez, whose rehab assignment to recover from a similar blow is now on hold. Sanchez left Friday's game early with back spasms.

Manager Bruce Bochy said before Sunday's game that Sanchez is back in San Francisco to be evaluated by team physicians. Sanchez had to be helped off the field by teammates Saturday and was dizzy and dry-heaving, according to Bochy.

"We are concerned," Bochy said. "He took a good one yesterday. I think it's going to be awhile for him."

Bochy was told that Sanchez was looking for a high fastball, so he was not in his crouch, which left the already-big-target Sanchez even more susceptible to a cranium-rattling deflection.

"Normally these things are once every couple weeks, but with him it's a couple every game," said Bochy, a former catcher. "It's unbelievable, something like I've never seen."

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Panik day to day after dislocating left pinkie

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Panik day to day after dislocating left pinkie play video for Panik day to day after dislocating left pinkie

SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants second baseman Joe Panik dislocated his left pinkie finger after sliding headfirst into second base in the eighth inning Sunday. He stayed in the game to eventually score despite the pain, but was removed for the next half-inning.

After the Giants' 5-2 victory over the Phillies, Panik said X-rays were "fine" and that he views the injury as day to day.

"We'll see how it feels tomorrow," Panik said.

Head athletic trainer Dave Groeschner relocated the finger.

"I'm too much of a chicken to do that," Panik joked after the game.

It's easy to see why he'd be jovial: He's hitting .439 (18-for-41) in his last 12 games.

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{"content":["replay" ] }

Panik confirmed safe after Phillies' challenge

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Panik confirmed safe after Phillies' challenge play video for Panik confirmed safe after Phillies' challenge

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Phillies lost a replay challenge in the eighth inning Sunday at AT&T Park.

Giants second baseman Joe Panik stepped to the plate with Gregor Blanco on second and singled to right field. Phillies right fielder Marlon Byrd threw home, but Blanco was held at third. Carlos Ruiz then threw to second as Panik tried to take the extra base. Second-base umpire Alan Porter called Panik safe, but Jimmy Rollins thought his tag beat him to the bag.

Umpires took approximately two minutes, one second to confirm the call on the field.

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Injured fan Stow pays visit to Giants' clubhouse

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Injured fan Stow pays visit to Giants' clubhouse play video for Injured fan Stow pays visit to Giants' clubhouse

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants welcomed a special visitor to the team's clubhouse before Sunday's game: Bryan Stow.

Jeremy Affeldt served as the de facto tour guide for Stow, the Giants fan who was brutally beaten in the Dodger Stadium parking lot on Opening Day 2011. A jury awarded $18 million in damages to Stow and his family in July.

"It's awesome," manager Bruce Bochy said of seeing Stow around the team. "All those players have to be excited to see him here at the park. After all he and his family have been through, it's great to have them here. We think about him a lot and he's talked about a lot."

Affeldt in particular has been involved with the Stow family since the attack and has donated $25,000 to help pay's Stow's medical bills.

"I believe in humanity and I believe in fighting against injustices that take place against humanity," Affeldt said after the jury's decision. "Poverty is one of them, but so are those kinds of things where you can basically jump a guy and beat him into oblivion like that and do that much damage to a man who's got kids.

"Over what? A baseball game? Wins and losses that have absolutely no bearing on anybody's life at this point in time? Whether we won or lost that game ... they just ruined that guy's life."

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Panik button: Rookie helps key comeback win

Second baseman scores go-ahead run as Giants grab second WC spot

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Panik button: Rookie helps key comeback win play video for Panik button: Rookie helps key comeback win

SAN FRANCISCO -- Before Saturday afternoon's game, manager Bruce Bochy said he's had a hard time keeping his bench fresh, since Joe Panik has been too effective to take out of the lineup. Panik belongs and is comfortable in the Majors, Bochy said.

By dinnertime, Panik had made his manager look pretty smart.

Panik went 2-for-3 with a walk and an RBI and scored the game's winning run after hitting his first career triple to lead off the eighth, as the Giants came back to beat the Phillies, 6-5, at AT&T Park.

With the win and the Pirates' loss to the Nationals, the Giants took sole possession of the second National League Wild Card spot, leading the Bucs by a half-game.

The rookie second baseman has hit .410 (16-for-39) in his last 11 games and raised his batting average 43 points to .274 in that span.

"I've hit my stride here," said Panik, who credited his recent success to having adjusted to Major League parks, pitching and off-the-field life. "I'm comfortable with where I'm at."

Where he's at -- second base -- has been a troublesome position throughout the season for the Giants. Brandon Hicks couldn't hit. Marco Scutaro can't stay healthy. Dan Uggla … happened. Finally, it appears the Giants -- who have lacked bottom-of-the-order production for months -- have found a reliable option to spark the bottom of the lineup while playing solid defense at second.

"[Panik is] showing that he belongs up here," Bochy said after the game. "He has a knack of slowing down the game. That goes with confidence, but this kid has the ability to get the good part of the bat on the ball.

"He's earned going out there every day, the way he's played."

"Bochy knows the game inside and out, and he's one of the best managers in the game, so his vote of confidence makes me feel good," said Panik.

That's how Saturday afternoon must've felt for Jeremy Affeldt and Gregor Blanco, who each atoned for Friday night hiccups.

After his two baserunning mistakes on Friday, it was Blanco who hit the eighth-inning single that drove Panik home for the winning run. A half-inning prior, Affeldt made up for the game-tying home run he allowed Friday night by inducing an inning-ending double play.

Their redemptive performances helped pick up starter Tim Hudson.

The Phillies first got to Hudson in the third. A Ryan Howard single scored Jimmy Rollins, and Marlon Byrd tacked on a sacrifice fly. The Phils then batted around and scored three in the fifth -- thanks to a Chase Utley RBI double and a two-run single from Howard -- knocking Hudson out of the game before he recorded an out.

Hudson surrendered five earned runs on eight hits and three walks in four-plus innings, which raised his ERA above 3.00 for the first time this season.

Given the Giants' summer struggles, AT&T Park felt pretty grim when Hudson was yanked from the game. The offense was again sputtering, and the prospect of back-to-back losses to the Phillies didn't exactly evoke a sense of confidence. Then…

"The bats came alive," Bochy said. "We started placing the ball well, kept the line moving, and when that happens, it really picks up the energy."

Down 5-1, the Giants tied the game when they batted around in the sixth. After Buster Posey singled and Pablo Sandoval reached on an error, Michael Morse hit an RBI double. One batter later, with the bases loaded and nobody out, Panik chopped one over the mound and beat the throw from pitcher Mario Hollands to first. A Blanco bloop to left dropped to score Morse, and a sacrifice fly from Angel Pagan tied the game at 5.

Saturday was Morse's second consecutive encouraging performance, as he went 3-for-3 with two doubles, a triple and a walk. This followed a three-run home run, a walk and a 410-foot out on Friday.

"I didn't really hold up my end of the bargain today, but everybody else did," Hudson said. "Sometimes that's enough to win."

Saturday's victory was just San Francisco's ninth in their last 32 along the shores of McCovey Cove.

"Hopefully," Bochy said, "we're getting back to who we are: a team who gets contributions from everybody throughout the lineup."

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After gaffes, Blanco staying aggressive on bases

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After gaffes, Blanco staying aggressive on bases play video for After gaffes, Blanco staying aggressive on bases

SAN FRANCISCO -- Gregor Blanco has made a handful of curious decisions on the basepaths in the last few weeks, and after two more costly gaffes in the Giants' 5-3 loss on Friday night, manager Bruce Bochy had a meeting with his fastest bench player.

"I talked to him tonight," Bochy said after the game. "It's a fine line between being aggressive and being smart. He can be a very good baserunner. He's just got to keep his focus out there. These guys are trying to make something happen, and sometimes they probably push it too much. When he's going right, he's one of our better baserunners."

In the sixth inning, the Giants put on a safety squeeze, but Brandon Crawford wasn't able to bunt it past the pitcher, and Blanco didn't make sure that happened before heading home. Crawford reached on a fielder's choice, and Blanco was out at the plate.

"On both ends, we didn't execute," Bochy said.

Two innings later, Blanco hesitated before running to first base on a sacrifice bunt attempt that he popped up. The ball ended up dropping, but since he hadn't run immediately after contact, he was thrown out.

"I'm really aggressive. What happened yesterday is in the past," Blanco said Saturday morning. "I was just really worried about bunting the ball, because it's not easy to bunt.

"All I wanted was to move the guy to second base. I wasn't even really thinking about running. I made a mistake there, but at the same time, I did what they asked me to do."

Asked if he'd be making any adjustments to his baserunning approach, Blanco said no.

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Bochy: Giants must play well at home down stretch

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Bochy: Giants must play well at home down stretch play video for Bochy: Giants must play well at home down stretch

SAN FRANCISCO -- Manager Bruce Bochy's guess is as good as anybody's.

He can't explain why the Giants entered Saturday 30-32 at AT&T Park. He's also confused by Madison Bumgarner's home/road splits (5.17 ERA/1.72), and Buster Posey hitting .239 at home compared to .328 on the road doesn't make much sense to Bochy, either.

"I think it's just one of those years," Bochy said. "We've had some play at home here that's been hard to explain, whether it's individual players or us as a team."

One thing that doesn't need explaining is that the clock's ticking, and time's running out for a turnaround.

With their disheartening 5-3 loss in 10 innings on Friday night, the Giants have lost 15 of their last 22 home games. With 41 games left, they finished Friday 5 1/2 games behind the National League West-leading Dodgers, a half-game behind the Pirates for the second NL Wild Card spot and 1 1/2 games behind the Cardinals for the first NL Wild Card spot.

"We're still in striking distance," Bochy said. "That's how good we were in the first half, and thank goodness that we did play such great ball for most of the first half."

The Dodgers haven't exactly run away with the division, and have recently been hampered by injuries. That'll all be irrelevant unless the Giants start resembling the team they were in the season's first two months more than the team they've been for the last two months.

"It doesn't matter what happens if we don't pick up our play at home, it's not going to matter what happens with the other clubs," Bochy said. "We've just got to control what we can, and that's how we play.

"This is the sprint."

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Bumgarner's strong start slips away from bullpen

Affeldt gives up rare homer to lefty to tie it; Phillies win in 10 innings

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Bumgarner's strong start slips away from bullpen play video for Bumgarner's strong start slips away from bullpen

SAN FRANCISCO -- Bullpen struggles meant it was two steps forward, three steps back for the Giants in their 5-3 loss to the Phillies at AT&T Park on Friday night.

Mired in a two-month power outage, Michael Morse displayed the strength that endeared him to Giants fans early this season with a three-run home run in the fourth inning. Madison Bumgarner had a rare dominant start at AT&T Park. It was a pair of other unlikely happenings that led to the Giants' demise, though.

Cody Asche hit a game-tying two-run shot in the eighth off Jeremy Affeldt, who was pitching in relief of Bumgarner. The towering shot was the first allowed by Affeldt this season and first to a lefty since April 24, 2011. With the bases loaded in the 10th, Chase Utley's knee was grazed by a Javier Lopez pitch, which allowed Asche to score what proved to be the game-winning run. Ryan Howard added a sacrifice fly.

Entering play Friday, the Giants' bullpen had combined for the fourth-lowest ERA in the Majors since the All-Star break.

"No question," manager Bruce Bochy said when asked if this was one of the team's most disheartening losses. "Little things caught up with us. When you keep a game close like that, anything can happen, which you saw."

There was a botched safety squeeze by Brandon Crawford in the sixth, and then a baserunning blunder by Angel Pagan in the seventh. Pagan hit a leadoff double but was caught trying to take third base before Cole Hamels threw a pitch. With two outs in the eighth and Pablo Sandoval at second, Joe Panik hit a single to right. Third-base coach Tim Flannery waved Sandoval home, but Marlon Byrd's throw beat Sandoval by a sizable amount.

Affeldt slipping while throwing what became Asche's game-tying home run didn't help, either.

"I just put the ball on a tee and the guy hit it where he should've hit," said Affeldt, who didn't acknowledge the slip. "Frustrating that's where it ended up."

It's getting hard to not feel the same about the season as a whole. Three-quarters of the way through the season, the odds of the once-oh-so-promising season ending before October continue to climb.

"We're running out of time," Bumgarner said.

The rocket off Morse's bat was his first homer of the month and just the third in his last 57 games.

Bumgarner gave up one run on four hits and struck out nine while walking none in seven innings (110 pitches). Not an uncommon stat line for Bumgarner, unless you're talking about his performances along the shores of McCovey Cove this season. Entering Friday, he was 4-6 with a 5.60 ERA in 11 starts at AT&T Park this season. Friday night's outing was his first quality start at home since June 10 and just his third in 12 home starts this season.

"Seems like it's been forever," Bumgarner said.

Bumgarner also singled in the third, which at the time raised his batting average above each of his teammates who isn't named Pagan, Hunter Pence, Buster Posey or Sandoval.

The Phillies didn't record a hit until the fourth inning, when a Jimmy Rollins bloop to shallow right fell after Panik couldn't twist far enough to snag it. Byrd accounted for Philadelphia's first run when he homered into the first row of the left-field bleachers in the fifth.

With the loss, the Giants have lost 15 of their last 22 home games. They remained 5 1/2 games behind the National League West-leading Dodgers and a half-game behind the Pirates for the second NL Wild Card spot, but fell 1 1/2 games behind the Cardinals for the first NL Wild Card spot.

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Belt to get another opinion on concussion

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Belt to get another opinion on concussion play video for Belt to get another opinion on concussion

SAN FRANCISCO -- Brandon Belt won't be taking the field for the Giants anytime soon.

Manager Bruce Bochy said concussion specialist Michael "Micky" Collins in Pittsburgh will evaluate Belt next week while the Giants are in Chicago for a three-game set against the Cubs.

"He's about the same," Bochy said when asked if Belt has progressed in the last couple of days. "We think it's important that he's able to get another opinion and we'll see where we're at."

According to Bochy, Belt doesn't feel good no matter what the circumstances; even when resting, the first baseman feels something wrong. Bochy said Belt had an MRI earlier this week.

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{"content":["replay" ] }

Replay confirms Rollins caught stealing by Giants

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Replay confirms Rollins caught stealing by Giants play video for Replay confirms Rollins caught stealing by Giants

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Phillies lost a replay challenge in the fourth inning Friday night at AT&T Park.

Jimmy Rollins was caught stealing third base, but manager Ryne Sandberg and the Phillies thought Rollins beat the tag from Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval.

The replay officials in New York confirmed the call after a 78-second review.

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Schedules mostly even for playoff hopefuls

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Schedules mostly even for playoff hopefuls play video for Schedules mostly even for playoff hopefuls

SAN FRANCISCO -- Entering play Friday, the Giants sat 5 1/2 games behind the National League West-leading Dodgers, a half-game behind the Cardinals for the first Wild Card spot and a half-game behind the Pirates for the second Wild Card.

Including Friday's game vs. the Phillies, the Giants have 42 regular-season games left. Of those, 20 are at AT&T Park, where they've lost 14 of their last 21. They have 15 games left against teams above .500 (Washington, Milwaukee, Detroit, Los Angeles Dodgers), including six against the Dodgers (three away, three home).

How's that remaining degree of difficulty stack up with the other squads jockeying for a position in October?

Of the 39 remaining games for the Dodgers, 12 are against teams above .500 (Milwaukee, Washington, San Francisco) and 24 are at home, though they've been better on the road (40-26).

The Cardinals have 13 games left against teams above .500 (Pittsburgh, Milwaukee) and play 22 of their remaining 42 games at Busch Stadium.

The Pirates have 19 games left against teams above .500 (Atlanta, Milwaukee, St. Louis). They've been drastically better at home, but 23 of their remaining 41 games are on the road.

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Manfred to succeed Selig as next Commissioner

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Manfred to succeed Selig as next Commissioner play video for Manfred to succeed Selig as next Commissioner

It's unanimous. Official Major League Baseballs will feature a new signature next year.

Rob Manfred was elected in a 30-0 vote Thursday to succeed Commissioner Bud Selig in January, becoming the 10th person to hold the industry's highest office.

Five hours after deliberations began on the final day of the quarterly Owners Meetings, it was announced that Manfred, MLB's chief operating officer, will formally take over on Jan. 25. Selig has presided over the game for 22 remarkable years.

"We've had quite an interesting day, a lengthy day," Selig said. "We had a significant number of votes, but in the end the vote was unanimous, 30-0. The process is complete."

List of Commissioners
Commissioner Years in office
Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis 1921-44
Albert Benjamin "Happy" Chandler 1945-51
Ford Christopher Frick 1951-65
General William D. Eckert 1965-68
Bowie Kent Kuhn 1969-84
Peter Victor Ueberroth 1984-88
A. Bartlett Giamatti 1988-89
Francis T. Vincent Jr. 1989-92
Allan H. "Bud" Selig 1992-Present*
Robert D. Manfred Jr. Beginning 2015
*Acting Commissioner from 1992-98

Said Manfred: "I'm tremendously honored by the confidence the owners showed in me. I have very big shoes to fill. [Selig] has been a friend and mentor for me the entire 25 years I've been in the game. There is no question that I would not be standing here today if it were not for Bud. And I hope I will perform in a way that adds to his great legacy."

Selig's tenure resulted in a sweeping transformation of the game, including an unprecedented era in labor peace, a sharp rise in revenue and attendance, a string of new ballparks, improved competitive balance, instant replay, expanded playoffs, the most comprehensive drug-testing program among the major professional sports and the creation of Major League Baseball Advanced Media.

When Manfred, 55, was promoted to COO on Sept. 28, 2013, it put him directly in line to follow Selig. Since then he has overseen all traditional functions of the Commissioner's Office, including labor relations, baseball operations, finance, administration and club governance. But a seven-man search committee, headed by Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., eventually presented a slate of three candidates to the Executive Committee: Manfred, MLB's executive vice president of business Tim Brosnan and Red Sox chairman Tom Werner.

"We ended up with three very strong, highly qualified candidates," DeWitt said. "In the end, Rob Manfred was elected because of his dynamic leadership, his passion for the game, his ability to lead the staff in New York, which he has done, and his overall ability to deal with labor issues and really all aspects of the game. When we put together the requirements for the next Commissioner, he really checked all the boxes.

"You have to have broad-based support. And I think so many people in all aspects of the industry -- large, middle and small markets -- talked about how he was sensitive to their needs. He'll treat everyone equally. It's not about one club or one group of clubs. It's about all 30 clubs."

Brosnan dropped out shortly before the first ballot. "I care too much about the game to let it get dragged down, and I wanted the process to be as efficient as it could," he explained. "We've had a great run under Commissioner Selig, and I look forward to a continued great run under Commissioner Manfred.

"Of course I'm disappointed [about not getting the job]. I wouldn't have gone through this if I didn't think I could do it. But we're in the middle of a great run as an industry, and I look forward to that continuing."

The first several votes ended with Manfred getting 22 of 30 votes, one short of what was needed for election. After a brief recess, the owners reconvened around 5:30 p.m. ET and got to the finish line with Manfred an hour later.

Werner pledged to back Manfred.

"I think that people were receptive to my ideas, and at the end, we all voted unanimously to go forward with Rob," Werner said. "And I'll do everything possible to support him and improve the game. There were a number of votes, maybe five or six. In the end, I think Rob will make a great Commissioner. I'm going to support him and I think that some of the ideas we talked about to speed up the play of the game to capture a generation of young fans, I think we need, and to make the game more popular internationally, I think all those ideas got a warm reception. And I'll continue to work on them."

Said Manfred: "What I said to the owners when I came down after the vote was that I didn't even want to think about who was on which side of what issue at points in the process. My commitment was that I would work extremely hard day in and day out to convince all 30 of them that they made a great decision today."

The early reaction was bullish.

"Rob is a strong, strong leader and can build on the accomplishments of the previous Commissioner. He's got the experience and everyone's looking to him to solve the problems baseball faces and to grow the game," said Orioles managing general partner Peter Angelos. "He's been at it for years. He's gotten his Ph D. He knows every facet and has a great way of getting things accomplished."

Added Giants president and chief executive officer Larry Baer: "The process was kind of like making sausage, but I think that will have a shelf life of about 20 minutes and then we're off and when Rob takes over in January, nobody's going to be thinking about that. Over the years, he's engendered a lot of trust and confidence from the clubs because he's worked very closely with the clubs on a whole lot of issues.

"There's a lot of confidence that the game grew well in the period with Bud and that somebody who was at his side is well-positioned to foster further growth. Sure, there are challenges and there are issues, but I know in our case baseball has never been more popular in the Bay Area. So I think folks see Rob as someone who can take where we are now and just jump-start it into new dimensions with new ideas and fresh ideas. He's very open-minded."

MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark was also supportive of Manfred's selection.

"On behalf of the players, I want to congratulate Rob Manfred on being named Major League Baseball's 10th Commissioner," Clark said. "As representative of the players, I look forward to working closely with Rob, the clubs' representative, as we strive to sustain the growing popularity and prosperity of our great game. Personally, I have known Rob for more than 15 years, and I'm confident that his vast experience in all aspects of the sport will serve his commissionership well."

Selig, who has praised DeWitt and the search committee throughout the process, pronounced himself happy with the result. "There were differences of opinion, but in the end we came together and did what we always do. And that's what the majority wanted. It's been a great day for baseball and I'm very pleased," he said.

"I've worked with Rob for a long time. He's had great experience. The last couple years, he's dealt with every area and I've given him many tasks, some of them not very pleasant, quite frankly. But he's done them well and there's no doubt in my mind he has the training, the temperament and the experience to be a very, very successful Commissioner."

Manfred has strong ideas about what's good for baseball, but his election also signals a desire to continue in the direction that has led MLB to the heights it currently enjoys. "I'm going to work very hard to maintain that tradition and unity as we move the game forward," he said.

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From all corners, Sandoval a Gold Glove candidate

Giants third baseman rates highly in both traditional and sabermetric numbers

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From all corners, Sandoval a Gold Glove candidate play video for From all corners, Sandoval a Gold Glove candidate

SAN FRANCISCO -- If Pablo Sandoval ever is to win a Gold Glove award, now's the time.

The Giants third baseman has built a solid case to be recognized as the National League's top defender at his position. Traditional statistics as well as modern metrics reflect Sandoval's excellence.

As the Giants approach a three-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies beginning Friday at AT&T Park, Sandoval leads Major League third basemen with a .980 fielding percentage, which has steadily risen during a 68-game errorless stretch. Former Pirate John Wehner and former Mariner Jeff Cirillo share the big league record of 99 consecutive errorless games at third base.

According to FanGraphs, Sandoval's 7.6 UZR (ultimate zone rating), a leading indicator of defensive prowess, is second among NL third basemen to Los Angeles' Juan Uribe's 9.0. But Uribe, a former Giant, has played only 78 games at third base compared to Sandoval's 113. On ESPN.com's list of defensive WAR (wins above replacement), Sandoval and Uribe are deadlocked at 1.3 in third place, with New York's David Wright (1.5) in second. The leader at 1.9, Colorado's Nolan Arenado would appear to be Sandoval's primary Gold Glove rival. Arenado also tops MLB.com's range factor list (3.23), while Sandoval ranks third (2.65). But injuries have limited Arenado to 84 games.

Pittsburgh's Pedro Alvarez checks in with a 3.07 range factor. But he falls short of Sandoval in games played (96) and fielding percentage (.925), not to mention his throwing woes, which have forced the Pirates to remove him as the everyday third baseman.

Then there's the eyeball test. Sandoval has made spectacular diving stops and impossibly quick, accurate throws all season against virtually every opponent. Surely he has left an impression among the coaches and managers who cast Gold Glove ballots.

"I've always seen him make good plays against us," Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke said last week. "He's really athletic and he's quick-footed. You may not think he is, but he is."

Moreover, Sandoval's defense seems to have met enough statistical standards so that the sabermetric component incorporated into the selection process will help rather than hinder his chances.

"I think Pablo gets the most out of his ability at third base. And that's saying a lot," said Giants bench coach Ron Wotus, who shepherds San Francisco's infielders. "There are guys who are quicker. There are guys who have more range. There are guys who have more athleticism and can get to more balls. But I don't think there's anybody in the league who gets more out of his ability at third base."

Sandoval's also batting a respectable .280.

"He hits well enough to win it," Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford said with a wry smile, referring to the widespread perception that most Gold Glove winners gain an assist in the voting if they're offensively productive.

Sandoval, 28, savors making a big defensive play as much as delivering a clutch hit.

"In one of those plays you can save the game," he said. "You might not do it with the bat, but you can do it with the glove."

Sandoval's defense formerly was suspect, at best. Giants manager Bruce Bochy benched him through much of the 2010 NL Championship Series and that year's World Series because Sandoval's subpar physical condition did not allow him to play reliable defense. Since then, Sandoval has improved so much on defense that Bochy removes him in the late innings only to rest him.

Sheer diligence has accounted for Sandoval's ascent. Jose Alguacil, San Francisco's coordinator of infield instruction who spends most of his time tutoring Minor Leaguers, has worked extensively with Sandoval during previous offseasons and in Spring Training. Alguacil has refined Sandoval's footwork, most notably by helping him develop an unerring first step, which is essential for defenders at any position. With Alguacil's assistance, Sandoval also has established a steady release point on his throws. Wotus makes sure that Sandoval continues to sharpen his fundamentals during the regular season.

The result has been unprecedented consistency from Sandoval on defense.

"Everything that's hit right at him, he's making the play. You can see that from his errorless streak," said Crawford, Sandoval's partner on the left side of the infield. "And then he's making a good throw every time. In the past he's kind of been a little erratic with his throws."

Reserve first baseman Travis Ishikawa, who recently rejoined the Giants after spending 2012-13 with other organizations, noticed a difference in Sandoval.

"He's making plays that I don't remember him making four years ago," Ishikawa said.

Wotus cited Sandoval's resolve.

"He's always worked extremely hard in the spring, but I think it's carried forward better this year," Wotus said. "He doesn't take many days off. He's always preparing himself defensively to play the game every day. He's always worked hard, but I think he has been a little more determined this year to have a good season."

Some might claim that Sandoval's impending free agency drives his effort. He has maintained that he's not focusing on that.

"I'm just trying to help my team make the playoffs. As far as personal goals, I just worry about making plays to save the game," he said.

No discussion of Sandoval would be complete without some reference to his fluctuating -- some would say expanding -- weight. But his nimbleness afield tends to silence such criticism.

"I think his range might be slightly better," Crawford said. "He's a pretty good athlete. I don't think people realize that."

Said Wotus, "He's better than you think at diving for the ball."

Sandoval initially entered the Gold Glove conversation in 2011, when he placed second to Philadelphia's Placido Polanco.

"Finishing second, that's a good job for me," Sandoval said, pointing out that he was primarily a catcher through 2008, the year he made his Major League debut.

Don't be fooled, Alguacil emphasized.

"Pablo is very competitive," Alguacil said. "When he wants something, he fights for it. He wants to be the best. He wants to win a Gold Glove for sure. He was disappointed when Polanco won it. He wants to accomplish a goal and I believe that he will do it."

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