Final out elusive as Giants fall in ninth

Final out elusive as Giants fall in ninth

SAN FRANCISCO -- The gulf between first and last place in the National League West became apparent Monday night at AT&T Park, where the Arizona Diamondbacks stunned the Giants, 5-3, on pinch-hitter Jeff Salazar's three-run homer in the ninth inning.

Statistics won't explain the disparity in the standings. The Giants rank next-to-last in the league in scoring, but the D-backs are 13th. San Francisco's 4.05 team ERA outshines Arizona's 4.14. The Giants have been outscored 624-608, which is surprising only because the difference isn't greater. Yet Arizona has yielded 660 runs while amassing 633. That doesn't jibe with the D-backs' 82-63 record.

As Giants manager Bruce Bochy said before the game, "This can throw a lot of the propeller-heads off."

Here's what does make sense: clutch performance.

The D-backs scored all of their runs with two outs. The Giants absorbed their league-leading 29th relief loss as Brad Hennessey blew his third save opportunity in his last five outings by surrendering Salazar's homer, which erased San Francisco's 3-2 lead.

Until Monday, each of the Giants' six losses to Arizona came by a one-run margin. No wonder Arizona is 32-17 in one-run games, compared to San Francisco's 22-25.

"You've got to have a solid bullpen and you've got to get the big hits," Bochy said. "I don't know how many times we've come back to tie the game and can't put it away."

Asked if he measures the Giants against the D-backs to judge how close his ballclub is to developing into a contender, Bochy replied, "I don't have to look at their team. I look at our team and I say that. We're not far off."

To close ground, the Giants have to stop squandering opportunities such as Monday's.

After Stephen Drew doubled to open Arizona's ninth, Hennessey (3-5) struck out pinch-hitter Tony Clark and retired Miguel Montero on a popup. But Hennessey walked Justin Upton on a 3-2 pitch to prolong the inning. Up came Salazar, who was scratched from Arizona's starting lineup due to a left ankle sprain. He yanked a 2-0 pitch onto the right-field arcade for his second career homer.

Veteran Giants utilityman Rich Aurilia, who started at third base, neatly articulated what statistics couldn't.

"They weren't even in the game until that last inning," Aurilia said of the D-backs. "They made some mistakes that cost them early. To their credit, they didn't back down and give up. I look at that team and I give them a lot of credit for where they are right now. You look at their numbers and stuff like that, you wonder how they are where they are. But they get hits like they got there in the ninth inning. When you're going good and you're on a roll, stuff like that happens. You think good things are going to happen and a lot of times they do."

Or, as Arizona manager Bob Melvin said, "Whether we're behind or ahead a little bit, we feel like if we can hang in there, we have a chance to win."

Arizona's comeback offset Bengie Molina's pair of homers and Tim Lincecum's recovery from his career-worst three-inning appearance last Tuesday at Colorado.

Molina's third career multiple-homer game and second of the season gave him five home runs in his last six games. He also hiked his team-high RBI total to 79, including 76 as a catcher. He moved into second place on the all-time San Francisco Giants single-season list for RBIs at that position, eclipsing A.J. Pierzynski's 75 in 2004. Dick Dietz holds the San Francisco record with 104 in 1970. Molina accented his effort by throwing out Emilio Bonifacio on an attempted steal of second base in the seventh inning.

"That's why it was a hard one to lose, because of what Bengie did," Bochy said.

Lincecum lasted 6 2/3 innings and allowed two runs and six hits, including Bonifacio's first two career hits -- both RBI singles.

"Not so many balls were left up," said Lincecum, who was lifted when his pitch count reached 100. "You can see guys were hitting some pretty good balls out to center field. At the same time, I felt like I made some good pitches when I needed to."

Ultimately, the D-backs were just a little better at accomplishing necessary tasks.

"We have nothing to play for now other than to ruin somebody else's season. And that was a disappointing loss tonight," Aurilia said. "I don't care if we're 10 up or 10 down in the standings. Games like that are tough to lose, when you lose them late."

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