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NEW YORK -- It became much more difficult on Wednesday night to regard the Giants as contenders in the National League West.
They remained in third place, six games behind the first-place Diamondbacks. But their 5-0 loss to the Mets left them a season-high 13 games under .500 (39-52), which is not what was intended when general manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy recently declared the team to be in the division race.
Baseball people know that timing is everything -- that is, encountering the opposition when it's surging or struggling makes a huge difference -- and in fairness to the Giants, the Mets own a five-game winning streak and look capable of dashing through the league as if it were a subway turnstile.
But the Giants have looked downright feeble at Shea Stadium, collecting three hits for the second night in a row while enduring consecutive shutouts for the first time this year.
"We're sputtering, no question about it," Bochy said.
"We didn't work a lot of counts, we didn't do much of anything tonight or last night offensively," said infielder Rich Aurilia, whose fourth-inning double off the left-field wall was the Giants' loudest hit of the series. "We need to figure something out tomorrow and put a couple of runs on the board early."
More ominously, Tim Lincecum and Jonathan Sanchez, San Francisco's most successful starting pitchers, have lost back-to-back games for the first time all season. Though this was bound to happen sometime, the sudden fallibility of the team's twin aces symbolically dragged down the team further.
The Giants have lost four of their last five games. Should this trend continue, Sabean, who accompanied the Giants to New York, will almost certainly accelerate his efforts to trade veterans and add younger players to the roster.
Meanwhile, the Giants have little time to recapture momentum before the four-day All-Star break next week.
"We have four big games ahead of us before the break. We're doing all we can to finish strong. It's not happening now," Bochy said. "It's not going to get any easier. We're going to face good pitching tomorrow; we'll face good pitching in Chicago. But you have to figure out how to get some runs on the board. Hopefully, we'll get some guys swinging the bats here the next four days."
The Mets weren't much more productive than San Francisco, amassing five hits until they added two superfluous runs on four hits in the eighth inning. But they made their hits count in the fourth inning off Sanchez (8-5), who allowed a three-run homer to Ramon Castro that opened the scoring.
With two outs in the fourth, Sanchez came a strike away from ending the inning against the next three hitters. But Carlos Delgado doubled and Fernando Tatis walked on full-count pitches. Pitching coach Dave Righetti visited Sanchez to remind him that he had a base open with opposing pitcher Johan Santana up next.
"You don't want them beating you there," Bochy said.
But that's what Castro did, golfing a 1-2 slider into the left-field seats.
Since Castro flailed at a slider on the previous pitch, Sanchez was mildly surprised when the Mets' backup catcher connected on the same delivery -- although the home-run pitch seemed to hang just a trifle.
"He just guessed and got it," Sanchez said. "I don't know how he hit that."
Mets ace Santana (8-7), who ended a four-decision losing streak, worked five innings before a 42-minute rain delay and allowed all three San Francisco hits. Relievers Aaron Heilman, Duaner Sanchez and Joe Smith combined to pitch four perfect innings.
"We thought we were catching a break by getting Santana out of there because of the rain," Aurilia said. "It didn't work out that way."