SAN FRANCISCO -- Before Sunday's series finale against the division-leading D-backs, Giants manager Bruce Bochy admitted his club couldn't afford to slide any further than six games back in the National League West.
A loss wouldn't mean the season was over, he said, but it would make their plight considerably more difficult. So, Bochy concluded, the Giants needed to give everything they had to win Sunday's game at AT&T Park.
Ryan Vogelsong certainly gave everything he had, and Cody Ross got things started off right with a leadoff homer for a lead that lasted most of the game. But it wasn't enough.
The Giants entered the eighth inning clinging to a one-run lead before the D-backs rattled off four runs, leaving AT&T Park with a 4-1 victory -- and perhaps the division crown -- as they pushed their NL West lead to a seemingly insurmountable seven games with 22 remaining. If the D-backs manage to go just 11-11 the rest of the way, the Giants would have to finish 18-4 to force a tie atop the division.
"We know we're running out of time. There's no question about that," Bochy said. "This was, I thought, critical that we take this series. We all know it. We didn't.
"We're still breathing. Are we hanging by a thread? I'd say so. So, we've got to come out fighting."
Vogelsong pitched outstanding in the biggest game he's ever played in the Majors, shutting out the D-backs until Ryan Roberts' game-tying solo homer with one out in the eighth. Vogelsong then allowed an infield single by Gerardo Parra and exited the game. Jeremy Affeldt walked the only batter he faced, and Ramon Ramirez surrendered consecutive run-scoring hits to Willie Bloomquist and Aaron Hill, giving Arizona a three-run lead.
Vogelsong left after 7 1/3 excellent innings having allowed two runs on five hits and a walk while striking out six. As good as he was for most of Sunday afternoon, he certainly deserved a better fate, Bochy said, seemingly summarizing an entire season of great pitching wasted by poor hitting. But you won't hear anyone in the Giants clubhouse saying it's simply not their year.
"You definitely have to give them credit. They've played well," Ross said of the D-backs. "I think you create your own destiny, and we still have an opportunity here. Nobody in here is going to go out there and lay down, and we're not going to quit. We're going to keep fighting and turn it into our year again."
Ross' leadoff homer in the first inning proved to be all the support Vogelsong would get. Arizona right-hander Daniel Hudson was unforgiving after the first batter he faced, retiring 13 straight before Carlos Beltran smashed a triple off the center-field wall in the sixth. Beltran was nothing short of dominant this series, going 8-for-11 with four singles, a double, two triples, a home run and a walk, but the Giants still couldn't muster more than one run in arguably the biggest game of their season.
"We really could have taken this game. It could have been our series," Bochy said. "It really came down to their guy settling down. We ran his count up, but we just didn't swing the bats. What did we get, three hits? That's tough when you don't have a margin for error there. It's a tough loss. We've got to put it behind us."
Other than Beltran's two-out triple, the most trouble the Giants gave Hudson came in the bottom of the second, when Brandon Belt battled through a 16-pitch at-bat, fouling off 12 pitches, including nine straight, before striking out. Hudson left after seven innings in line for a loss despite scattering only three hits and walking one batter.
That was because Vogelsong managed to pitch even better than Hudson until the eighth. But he ran into trouble in the eighth inning, which was enough to end the Giants' hopes of winning the series. Asked to describe his performance, Vogelsong said, "Good for seven innings. I couldn't finish. It's been a problem I've been having all season. ... I didn't do it today, and it cost us the game."
But the Giants were truly hurt by the same thing that put them in their all-but-inescapable seven-game hole: a lack of timely hitting. They had a chance to extend their one-run lead in the seventh with Andres Torres on second base with no outs. But Belt and Orlando Cabrera flied out, then Eli Whiteside grounded out.
Bochy didn't want Belt to bunt Torres over, trusting the rookie's ability to pull a ball into right field or get a base hit. He didn't want to pinch-hit for Whiteside, either, because he was catching a shutout, and a better hitter would have likely been walked with Vogelsong on deck.
And the D-backs took advantage of the Giants' inability to extend their lead, putting up four runs in the eighth to run away with the game.
"What we never wanted to do was get in a situation where we were looking at the scoreboard and wanting someone else to do our dirty work," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "We just always go out and try to take care of our business. There's no comfort. I don't care how many games we're up. Until we secure a spot in the playoffs, there's no comfort. It's not a scary thing. We know we have to continue to not take things for granted and play good baseball."
As for the Giants, demoralized but still not defeated after dropping a make-or-break series, they will try to beat the odds and get back into the playoffs. But to make another improbable run through September, they will have to play with the belief that they can accomplish something nearly impossible.
"Win every game from here on out," Vogelsong said. "Make it interesting."
Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.