ATLANTA -- Jonathan Sanchez didn't throw his second no-hitter in a row Monday night. But though the Giants left-hander couldn't match his historic effectiveness, he at least approached it. That was the most promising aspect of the Giants' performance, which withered along with the bullpen in an 11-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves. Atlanta broke a 3-3 tie in the seventh inning with six runs, including four off typically reliable but recently shaky Sergio Romo.
That was more than enough to drop the Giants to 1-3 since the All-Star break. Moreover, given Colorado's victory over Arizona, San Francisco tumbled into third place in the National League West for the first time since May 28 and out of the Wild Card lead. Fortunately for the Giants, they have 70 games remaining. After Monday, they can allow themselves to hope that Sanchez, who has been erratic through much of this season, will solidify the back end of the starting rotation. And they can expect that the bullpen, which entered the game with the second-lowest ERA in the Major Leagues (3.27), won't continue to struggle as it did against the Braves. While the Giants might have been tempted to avert their gaze from the diamond as Atlanta scored eight runs in the final two innings, all eyes were on Sanchez as the evening began. Ending a 10-day layoff caused by the All-Star break, Sanchez frequently displayed the stuff that helped him pitch San Francisco's first no-hitter since 1976. He struck out eight and walked just one while allowing three runs and four hits in six innings. Sanchez ignored the far-fetched but technically real possibility of matching Johnny Vander Meer's 1938 feat of pitching back-to-back no-hitters for Cincinnati. "I never thought about it," Sanchez said. "I had to pitch." Sanchez handled that task capably, except for a couple of lapses that he attributed to poor pitch location. After Sanchez struck out the side in the first inning, Garret Anderson homered with one out in the second for Atlanta's first hit. Chipper Jones added a two-run homer in the third. Instead of unraveling, Sanchez blanked Atlanta on one hit through his final three innings. He still felt strong when manager Bruce Bochy needed to pinch-hit for him with the Giants trailing 3-2 in the seventh and Juan Uribe aboard via a triple on a popup that center fielder Nate McLouth lost in the twilight. "I could have thrown two more innings," Sanchez said. Though Bochy observed that Sanchez's off-speed pitches weren't as sharp as they were against San Diego in his no-hitter, the 26-year-old still inspired confidence. "I thought that he kept his composure and didn't let [the game] get away," Bochy said. "That's a good sign for Jonathan." By contrast, Romo yielded four consecutive hits after replacing Sanchez in the seventh and has surrendered seven runs and eight hits in two innings spanning his last four appearances. Justin Miller proceeded to allow two runs, including Ryan Church's pinch-hit homer, before the Braves added a pair of eighth-inning runs off Bob Howry. Bochy excused the bullpen as a whole. "They've been so good. They're going to trip once in a while," he said. Bochy said little about Romo, other than to observe that the right-hander's command has been lacking and that the second hit he yielded, Anderson's single, was an unlucky bloop to left field. Bochy also hinted that Romo's role could temporarily be diminished. Bochy indicated that he'll discuss the issue with pitching coach Dave Righetti: "If we have to shuffle the deck a little bit, we'll do it." Romo (2-1) also said little about Romo. "Not today, fellas," he told reporters. The Giants lost for only the ninth time in 50 games when scoring first. Randy Winn's two-out, two-run double in the second inning fueled San Francisco's optimism. But Braves right-hander Tommy Hanson (5-0) recovered, striking out 11 to set an Atlanta-era (since 1966) franchise record for rookies. "We had him on the ropes," Bochy said, referring to the three runners the Giants marooned in scoring position in the first two innings. "We didn't maximize our opportunities." Third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who endured a rare 0-for-4 evening and struck out twice against Hanson with runners in scoring position, expressed a similar sentiment in different words. "We tried to do too much today," he said.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.