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Spin Forward: Giants must improve in clutch

Spin Forward: Giants must improve in clutch

SAN FRANCISCO -- For the first 14 innings of the Giants' first playoff appearance since 2003, they not only had control of the National League Division Series, they hadn't allowed a run, with Matt Cain following Tim Lincecum's spectacular lead.

That all changed in the late innings of Game 2, and the series changed right along with it, in a big way. The Braves erased a 4-0 lead to take control of the NLDS with a 5-4 comeback victory, and then headed home to Atlanta with their sights set on continuing what has been a remarkable final season for manager Bobby Cox.

And to think, deep into Game 2, it was looking like the venerable skipper might be swept right out to sea as he sailed off to retirement.

"You can never figure out baseball for sure," said Cox, who has managed for 29 seasons and been in the game for going on 46 years.

This much is easy to figure out: This five-game series will go to at least four games now, and it's the Giants who are reeling as they head out on the road to play Game 3.

The Giants have lost home-field advantage, and they've seen their vaunted bullpen falter at the worst possible time. But above all else, they had a season-long struggle with getting clutch hits with runners in scoring position rear its ugly head again.

To the latter point, now all the Giants have to do is fix something that's pretty much been broken all year. As much as the bullpen's Game 2 performance was a painful shot to the heart, their issues with knocking runners home have been much more of a chronic problem.

During the regular season, the Giants hit a National League-low .248 with runners in scoring position, and that average dipped to .212 with two outs, second lowest in the NL. Thus far in this series, they are 3-for-14 with RISP, and that's not getting it done.

"We didn't do enough to really bury them," first baseman Aubrey Huff said. "We've had our chances, and that's a game right there you've got to put away early, and we missed out on our opportunities."

Their biggest opportunity actually came late, when they loaded the bases in the 10th inning with one out. But Buster Posey, whose poise has been extraordinary during his rookie season, hit into a 5-4-3 double play that ended that threat. Two batters into the top of the 11th, the Braves' Rick Ankiel hit a ball into the bay to give the Braves the final blow of the game.

The Giants have been down before and recovered before, but this was a punch in the gut that has a special October power behind it, delivered by a team covered in bandages and bruises that has resilience coursing through its roster every bit as much as the Giants -- and at the moment, just that much more.

So, how do the Giants bounce back? Well, they just do, or at least that's how it has worked so far this season.

"You have to, that's how you do it, because it's part of the game," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "They came back on us. And that's a tough loss, no getting around it, but you have to bounce back."

Indeed, bouncing back has been a theme for the Giants this season. And it's a big part of what got them to October in the first place.

They lost 10 of 12 games from late June into July, falling to 41-40 after a July 4 loss at Coors Field. But San Francisco won six of seven games heading into the All-Star break, leaving the .500 mark in the dust.

This is the same team that saw its rotation as a whole and superstar ace Tim Lincecum in particular go through baffling struggles in August, only to go on a record-setting run through September.

For a team that never once hit the .500 mark or below it, the Giants went through myriad ups and downs this season.

Their current situation would qualify as a down.

"This team's been resilient all year, you know," Huff said. "We've lost a lot of tough games all year long, and we came back and got them the next day."

The days, however, are getting shorter, and the margin for error smaller.

And on the biggest stage of the year, they're up against it again, needing to rebound from the biggest loss of the year.

"We're 1-1. The way our pitching staff has been the last two nights, we should be two up," Huff said. "We've just got to find a way to push runs across in those situations where there's less than two outs. We haven't done that this series. That's definitely something we have to get better at. But again, we're 1-1 going into Atlanta, and we win two more, we're right in it. We've got to go out there and make some adjustments."

Unfortunately for the Giants, the main adjustment they have to make -- getting runners in once they get them on base -- is one they've been trying to make all season long.

If they're ever going to figure it out, this would be a good time.

John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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