Concerned about a possible lack of commitment among players, manager Bruce Bochy conducted a pregame meeting in which he urged the Giants to remain focused for the final three games before the All-Star break. The Giants travel to Chicago, which happens to own the National League's best record.
"You have to look forward to the challenge," Bochy said. "That's something that we addressed."
The Giants challenged the Mets until Fernando Tatis' two-run homer off Sergio Romo (0-1) broke a 3-3 tie with one out in the seventh inning. This ignited a four-run outburst that was abetted by third baseman Jose Castillo's throwing error.
Romo, the rookie right-hander, had allowed only one run in his previous six outings. But his lapse against the Mets reflected the woes of the Giants' relievers, who have allowed 21 runs (16 earned) in 28 2/3 innings spanning the past three series.
"We just got outplayed," Bochy said. "We got outpitched. We got outhit. We didn't play well on defense. This was probably our worst series of the year."
Tatis' instant offense contrasted starkly with the Giants' sustained punchlessness. They have homered once in their past six games and four times in the past 10. Cleanup hitter Bengie Molina has gone 135 at-bats without homering. Aaron Rowand (130 at-bats) and Randy Winn (126) possess similar streaks.
But the Giants' offensive malaise extends beyond power. Rowand, who brings a sense of urgency into every game, fumed overnight after Wednesday's 5-0 loss. Although he refused to criticize anybody by name, Rowand made it obvious that he detected less than a professional mind-set among teammates. Before Thursday's game, he emphasized the need to treat each plate appearance with utmost seriousness.
"When you're facing pitchers like we faced the last couple of nights, you really have to go up there and grind out your at-bats," Rowand said. "You're not going to get any easy at-bats against those guys. ... You can't go up without an approach or an idea of what you want to try to accomplish, because you're not going to get any 'gimme' base hits against them. They're way too good. You have to literally go up with the idea that I'm going to grind out this at-bat and get a base hit, no matter what it takes. They're not going to give you any 'cookies' to hit."
The Giants apparently listened to Bochy and Rowand. Six of their first seven hitters worked the count full, and San Francisco maintained enough patience to force Mets starter John Maine from the game after he threw 109 pitches in 4 2/3 innings.
But the Giants needed assistance to score their first run. John Bowker doubled with one out in the fourth inning, advanced to third base on Eliezer Alfonzo's groundout and came home on Maine's wild pitch.
San Francisco added a pair of runs in more authoritative fashion one inning later on Winn's two-run single. But that was hardly the product of sustained offense, as pitcher Barry Zito drew a rare walk and Fred Lewis also walked before Winn delivered his two-out hit.
"We still didn't swing the bats very well," Bochy said.
Rowand detected improvement in the Giants' plate approach, but he noted that some hitters might have "tried to do too much." He reserved his harshest criticism for himself, citing at-bats in which he worked the count full but fouled out and struck out on bad pitches.
"I probably should have walked," he said.
Don't mention walks to Zito, even though this setback can't be pinned on him. The left-hander walked six in five-plus innings and complained that his changeup moved too erratically. That prevented him from duplicating his last outing, when he allowed two runs in seven innings in a 5-2 triumph over Los Angeles. But he managed to limit the Mets to three runs (two earned).
Zito's no-decision left him 4-12 with a 5.62 ERA entering the All-Star break, including 2-1 with a 3.42 ERA in his past four outings.
"It's hard to group the first half together," Zito said, summarizing his performance thus far. "I've felt like a different guy the last four games. I just want to keep going and be more like myself in every start."
The Giants are still trying to find themselves, too.