Stumbling Giants­ slip behind Dodgers in NL West

First place in the NL West was up for grabs Tuesday evening, and the Los Angeles Dodgers put in their best bid with a 10-run win over the Phillies that ended just before the Giants game begun. They’d have to wait through a nail-biter to finish up North.

One swing of the bat from Jung Ho Kang handed the Dodgers the top spot; the Pirates edged the Giants 4-3 Tuesday night, ending San Francisco’s reign at the top at 121 days.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at AT&T Park.

Second place seemed an inevitable home for the bumbling Giants. They’ve accumulated an MLB-worst 9-20 record this second half, after all. It’s been a struggle, and a shift in standings isn’t sounding off the alarm any louder, Buster Posey assured:

“The alarm has been there for a while. I don’t know if there’s any more sense of alarm now that we aren’t in first.”

Added Joe Panik:

“We know we’re not playing the way we should.”

If one moment should capture the Giants’ second-half struggles, look no further than the bottom of the ninth inning. The Pirates, up a single run with one out down, allowed pinch hitter Trevor Brown on base with an error by shortstop Jordy Mercer. Panik doubled down the third base line to put the tying run on third.

Then, as per usual, the sludge came crashing down: Ehire Adrianza popped up and Denard Span grounded out on the first pitch. It was settled: the Giants went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. Seemed about right.

The team refuses to look at the bigger picture, though. They’ll take it day-by-day, game-to-game. This one, Bruce Bochy noted, wasn’t all that bad:

“It was a really well-played game. But they get the big hit that we couldn’t.”

Kang’s home run was the dagger, but the baseball gods twisted the knife. The game-decider broke Derek Law‘s (L, 4-2, 2.11 ERA) streak of 19 scoreless appearances and marked just his second home run allowed this season. The other one, a walk-off down in Atlanta.

And it came just a few pitches after an ailing Buster Posey flicked Andrew McCutchen off the path as he attempted to steal second. He was one strike away from the dugout:

“I tried to make that one more pitch and couldn’t get the job done.”

Posey called slider, Law wanted a fastball — he dealt one that caught too much plate.

Until that swing, the game could have gone either way.

Starters Jeff Samardzija and Jameson Taillon pitched identical lines: six innings, three runs allowed on six hits with five strikeouts and one walk.

Every run scored had an answer nearly inning by inning. The Pirates marked the board with a one-run first and the Giants answered with a Buster Posey two-run RBI double. The Pirates answered back in the second with a game-tying double from John Jaso.

Pittsburgh took a one-run lead in the sixth on a ground out. The Giants did the same in the bottom of the inning.

Law took it hard:

“You wanna get the team set up for success and I couldn’t get that done today.”

It may feel like doomsday, what with the Clayton Kershaw-less Dodgers streaking to the top in mid-August. But this team is used to having their backs against the wall. Wake Bochy up with division qualms when September ends. Though, he and his team are well aware of how far the’ve fallen — and so quickly:

“There’s lots of baseball left. We created this with our struggles. More than anything. And we know that.”

The Giants held an 6-1/2 game lead in the West when the second half ended. Remember when that lead looked untouchable?

The Giants will try to gain ground — maybe even some momentum — Wednesday afternoon with Matt Cain on the mound. The Mets, who have also struggled, come into town Thursday to face Madison Bumgarner.


Shayna Rubin is SFBay’s San Francisco Giants beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @ShaynaRubin on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Giants baseball.