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Ninth-inning collapse punches Giants in the gut

Lately, the Giants’ clubhouse mood has been somber more times than not. San Francisco has endured their fair share of blown saves, landslide losses and slim shutouts in this second half.

But the aura around the home clubhouse after the Giants devastating 6-4 loss to the Padres Tuesday night — San Diego’s fifth-straight win against San Francisco this second half — was darker than ever.

They lost it on a ninth-inning go-ahead home run. Hunter Strickland, the losing pitcher, exhaled:

“It’s terrible. This is as bad as it gets.”

We’ve heard that before, from Bruce Bochy to some of his players. This response felt particularly heavy.

Strickland (L, 3-3, 3.24 ERA) took over the ninth inning with a 4-1 lead, hoping to secure his fourth save of the season. Bochy was leaning on him more than ever as a new-ish closer, of sorts. Though, he’ll never pin labels.

The inning went from tense to nightmarish within moments. Every out felt decades apart.

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

Derek Norris plunked a leadoff single to left field, Alexi Amarista struck out swinging and Jon Jay singled.

Luis Sardinas laid a soft ground ball past Buster Posey‘s glove in shallow right field and Strickland was late to cover first. The bases were loaded and the Padres were finally getting something out of a game’s worth of hard-fought at-bats. Strickland acknowledged his miscue, it was a frustrating sequence of events:

“I can’t control where the ball lands. I can only control the walk.”

Wil Myers walked in the Padres’ second run. Strickland wasn’t going to give the All-Star anything to hit.

But Yangervis Solarte grinded a productive out to put the Padres within two.

The ninth-inning collapse unfolding didn’t surprise Albert Suarez, Tuesday’s starter, who drudged through five innings and gave up just one run:

“Every hitter they had was putting up good at bats.”

Steven Okert got the call to get the final out, but the other rookie facing him, Ryan Schimpf, bested him, blasting a 1-2 pitch to the center field bleachers.

The Padres scored five runs in one inning, and the Giants were one strike away from a one-run win. Okert was a little shook:

“I definitely had some nerves going in.”

Okert blew the Giants’ 27th save. They are now tied with the Marlins for most in the National League, second most in the majors. They’ve blown six of their last 10 save opportunities, which won’t fly in a do-or-die playoff series, let alone a Wild Card game.

Yet, the Giants are still in the thick of this postseason race.

With the Dodgers losing to the Yankees a few hours prior, and the Mets and Cardinals winning, it felt a perfect opportunity for the Giants to tighten their grip in the race. Even gain a game in the West. Now they hold a slim half-game lead in the Wild Card race and remain four games back of LA.

If this game could get any more gut-wrenching, know that the offense sure looked postseason ready, said Bochy:

“Up until that inning it couldn’t have gone any better.”

A few sources of unlikely power gave the Giants a clear path for landing. Angel Pagan and Gorkys Hernandez, this time, clobbered a couple home runs.

Pagan took a first-pitch curveball off Padres starter Clayton Richard, breaking a 1-1 tie in the fifth inning for his fifth second-half home run.

Hernandez’s two-out dinger off Jose Dominguez forced a sigh of relief from the crowd, putting the Giants up 4-1. Hernandez had his third three-hit game of his career and the Giants had their cherry-topper, it seemed.

Tuesday night’s game saw more than just a surge of power — the heart of the lineup actually got hits with runners in scoring position.

After Pagan’s home run, Kelby Tomlinson hit a first pitch single and Hunter Pence walked. Brandon Crawford, the aggressor, knocked a first-pitch single up the middle to score Tomlinson.

Pence answered the Padres’ second-inning run with a scorching double down the first base line to tie the game at 1-1. Pence extending his hitting streak to seven games, he has 14 hits in 24 at-bats.

The bullpen had this game on lock, even, until that ninth inning. Javier Lopez retired the side in the sixth and George Kontos sealed a key third out with the bases loaded in the seventh. Will Smith eased through a quick 1-2-3 eighth.

But when all units seem to be clicking, it’s up to another one to bring the team back down to Earth. The closer-by-committee, this time and as it has before, crumbled big time.

Bochy, Okert, Strickland and Suarez had one thing to say:

“That’s baseball.”

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

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