In the bottom of the ninth, the Giants still needed to find the magic that has surrounded them this month. San Francisco found a glimmer of it -- getting runners on second and third with one out and scoring once -- but couldn't scrape together another comeback, falling to the Marlins, 4-3, at AT&T Park.
"We created some pretty good opportunities, we were just missing the hit," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "We battled back hard in the ninth, getting back-to-back hits, and we had the right guys up there."
For much of the night, the Giants bats were stymied by Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco, who held the Giants to four hits and struck out six. Despite keeping the Giants off the basepaths -- the Giants only got a runner past first once, and that was in the second inning -- San Francisco hitters constantly battled Nolasco deep into the count and, after issuing a one-out walk in the seventh inning, Nolasco exited having thrown 114 pitches in 6 2/3 innings.
"He mixed speeds well and did a really good job of mixing pitches," said Buster Posey of Nolasco, off whom he singled in the second inning to extend his hitting streak to 19 games.
Taylor Tankersley entered to face Rowand, who hit his first career pinch-hit homer to bring the Giants within one at 3-2.
The homer, to left field, was looked at on replay after Marlins left fielder Emilio Bonifacio and center fielder Cody Ross claimed a fan reached over the wall to catch the ball. After about five minutes of watching the video, the umpires came back onto the field and awarded Rowand the homer.
"I actually knew it might be a tough call, because it was kind of borderline there, but it was beyond the fence, so that's a home run," Bochy said.
Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez agreed with what the umpires told him, despite the crew having a tough angle to work with.
"The angle that they had, it was hard for them to make the call," Rodriguez said. "They can't assume that Boni would make that play. They said the fan touched it, but the ball was over the fence. Again, I have to rely on what they're telling me.
In the ninth, Rowand and Freddy Sanchez led off with back-to-back singles and moved up a base on a sacrifice bunt. Rowand scored on a ground-out to first before Edgar Renteria struck out to end the game.
"It was a good late surge," Zito said. "We didn't roll over, that's always good, and we'll take that into tomorrow and win a series."
While Nolasco held the Giants in check as long as he could, Zito admittedly struggled, but still looked as if he had good enough stuff to win.
He only made a few mistakes, most notably solo homers to Dan Uggla and Mike Stanton in the fourth and fifth, respectively, and then a deep sacrifice fly by Cody Ross that came after back-to-back singles by Uggla and Jorge Cantu in the sixth inning.
"[My stuff was] winnable, but I've just got to do better than that," said Zito, who tied a season high by allowing nine hits and lost to the Marlins for the first time in his career. "The pitch to Cantu, the base hit to right, that's one I'd take back, the one to Uggla I'd take back. The other ones, you just have to tip your hat."
The sixth inning could have put the Giants away for good. Uggla scored on a sacrifice fly to deep center by Ross, but a sensational catch by Andres Torres kept the Marlins from having a big inning.
Torres, who has made numerous spectacular catches this season, called it his best catch of the season.
An RBI single in the eighth by Stanton gave the Marlins what turned out to be a much-needed insurance run.
Afterward, Bochy said the loss was simply a matter of the Giants having to lose. After all, no matter how hot the Giants are -- still having won 15 of their past 19 games -- a team can't win every game.
"You lose games. We've been playing great; we just got beat tonight," Bochy said. "The other guy pitched well and we just didn't get the bats going until late. This is going to happen. As well as you're playing, you're going to get beat; it might be at home, and it just happened tonight. We have a tough game tomorrow with a tough pitcher and we've got to put this game behind us."