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Must C Clips: Sandoval's homer has fans scrambling

SAN FRANCISCO -- Pablo Sandoval drilled a rare two-run blast into McCovey Cove on Independence Day, but it wasn't enough to overcome a mediocre start by Tim Lincecum and free the rest of the Giants from their offensive woes at home.

After averaging more than six runs per game on last week's seven-game road swing, the Giants returned to their old ways at the plate Monday. San Francisco managed only six hits, three of them by Sandoval, and fell, 5-3, to San Diego in AT&T Park.

"Pablo had a great day. He was doing all the work," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "We just didn't swing the bats. We've got to get these bats going here at home."

The silver lining for the Giants, who have scored six runs or fewer in all 38 home games this season, was that Sandoval continued his recent power surge. The third baseman lined a first-inning double to left-center field to extend his career-high hitting streak to 15 games. That also gave Sandoval nine straight games with an extra-base hit, passing Jack Clark and Barry Bonds for the Giants' longest such streak in the last 48 years.

While that hit didn't provide any run support for San Francisco's pitchers, Sandoval made sure his next one did. The third baseman hammered a 2-1 pitch from Padres right-hander Ernesto Frieri into McCovey Cove to cut the Padres' lead to 3-2. The two-run bomb was the Giants' first splash hit this season, the fifth for Sandoval and the club's 56th overall.

"I just wanted to hit the ball. I just wanted to get a base hit," Sandoval said. "I got lucky he made a mistake, and I appreciate that."

Sandoval returned from surgery to remove his fractured right hamate bone facing questions about his power and his ability to drive the ball given the weakness in his hand. His first 11 games back seemed to fuel the fire, as he went without an extra-base hit from June 14-25 before starting his power streak on June 26.

He admitted after the game it's still a little sore from time to time, and he's had to work a little extra to get back to 100 percent, but he quickly replied "98" when asked where he was at now, if not 100.

"I have to deal with that. It's not easy, but I'm going to keep fighting and get 100 percent," Sandoval said. "When I get to home plate, I don't want to think about my hand. I just want to look for some pitch. I just want to get good at-bats every day. That's what I've got on my mind."

Lincecum, meanwhile, was simply off. He said he didn't have it from the start, never got in a good rhythm and termed it "all around a pretty bad outing." He gave up two runs in the first inning and another in the fifth, looking more like the pitcher who struggled through the first weeks of June instead of the one who bounced back with consecutive dominant outings to end the month.

The right-hander left the game after five innings, scattering seven hits and walking one while striking out four. He threw 93 pitches, his second-lowest total of the season -- more than only the 73 he tossed in a rough four innings of work against the Reds on June 11.

While Lincecum wasn't pleased with his performance, Bochy was actually encouraged with how the right-hander got through five innings and managed to keep the damage at three runs.

"Some days you just don't feel as strong and you're not quite as sharp," Bochy said. "If a starter makes 10 starts, he's probably going to have one of those. That's when he's got to compete, he's got to battle. Timmy did that. I thought he did a good job of it."

Lincecum said he knew his stuff wasn't there in the first inning, and the Padres took advantage. Will Venable knocked a leadoff single, advanced to second on a passed ball, moved to third on Jason Bartlett's single and scored on a sacrifice fly by Chase Headley. After Lincecum struck out Ryan Ludwick, Bartlett stole second and came home on Orlando Hudson's single to right field.

"It's never an easy task facing Lincecum right out of the chute," Padres manager Bud Black said. "But we got a few balls to drop. It's never comfortable with him."

Down 4-2, the Giants threatened in the ninth, with Brandon Crawford singling home a run off Heath Bell and San Francisco putting runners on second and third.

But, as has been the case seemingly all year inside the friendly confines of AT&T Park, the Giants couldn't manage another hit with runners in scoring position. Andres Torres flied out to shallow right field and Aaron Rowand grounded out, netting Bell his 25th save.

"These guys swung it well at times on the road. We had some big days there. At home here is where we need to get it going a little bit," Bochy said. "That's been probably our biggest struggle, I think. You expect to play tighter games in this park, sure, but I just think the quality of at-bats needs to pick up. That's what you're looking for.

"You hate to sound like Debbie Downer here. We're in first place. That's not what this is about," Bochy added, injecting a bit of optimism into an otherwise uninspiring day. "These guys are battling. They just came off a tough road trip with a day game. I'm actually proud of how they bounced back from a couple of tough losses in Chicago. They've been resilient all year, and they will be now."

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