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An ‘unbelievable’ play helped put Giants in precarious playoff position

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The wordplay was incidental but hard to miss.

“We had some opportunities early in that game to blow it open, to deliver a knockout punch. We weren’t able to do it,” Gabe Kapler said after the Giants’ 5-4 loss in 11 innings at Oracle Park on Thursday. “I think that’s the most important story from today’s game.”

The manager was right. But there was a capital-s Story who loomed as maybe the second biggest.

The Giants’ bullpen had done its job, Tyler Rogers and Caleb Baragar combining to strike out the side in the 10th and strand the Rockies’ automatic runner on base. Wilmer Flores did his job, hitting a long fly out that died on the warning track but still brought the Giants’ runner, Alex Dickerson, to third. Which is when Rockies manager Bud Black did his job.

Colorado intentionally walked Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford to load the bases with one out for Evan Longoria and employed a rare five-man infield, all of them in on the grass. They were coming home with anything. Longoria saw 98-mph heat from Daniel Bard and blistered it, 104 mph off the bat.

And right into the glove of shortstop Trevor Story, who had to twist his body to come up with the grounder. He received it with his back to home plate and spun from his knees, throwing out Dickerson at home.

“He smoked that ball,” starter Kevin Gausman said over Zoom after his six innings and two runs were not quite enough. “Story makes an unbelievable play. Comes up and throws a strike to home plate.

“It’s tough. Obviously every game right now is important.”

The righty was right. The Giants (28-28) sunk back to .500 and precariously sat in the last wild-card spot before late games were finished. The Brewers (27-28), who own the tiebreaker over San Francisco, were playing in St. Louis. The Phillies (28-29) were off. The Giants have three days and four games left, and each play and game will be maximized.

The ones they do make, like Mauricio Dubon smacking against the wall to steal extra bases from the Rockies. And the plays opponents make, as the Rockies salvaged a split in a series the Giants needed to win.

As Kapler alluded to, the club went 3-of-18 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11 on base, Flores was thrown out at home and the game finished with an Austin Slater double play that kept Dubon from touching the plate.

“That’s definitely a tough loss right there,” Brandon Belt said after his eighth-inning home run tied it and accounted for the 1,000th hit of his career. “Especially thinking that we had that one in the bag. We let up a little bit too early — we needed to keep pushing as an offense and we didn’t. Ended up paying for it.”

They will have a doubleheader against the superior Padres at home on Friday, with Tyler Anderson starting one game and no announced starter for the other. Jeff Samardzija has been in the mix, but perhaps they do not want to risk a pitcher who had been ineffective before injury after a loss that really hurts their playoff odds. They will have decisions to make and quickly.

“We don’t really have the luxury of sitting around and feeling sorry for ourselves,” Gausman said.


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