MILWAUKEE -- Angel Pagan's broken bat lay on the infield grass. Ryan Braun was in a similar position in the outfield, having come up short in a diving bid to reach Pagan's leadoff flare to right field.
With that, Pagan was back and on base, but his return wasn't enough for an overmatched Giants lineup. Pagan had two well-placed singles, but the Giants struck out 12 times while falling 3-1 in the series finale Thursday against the Milwaukee Brewers.
The result might have been secondary, though. The day was a win the second Pagan's name was put on the lineup card for the first time since June 14.
"I know we lost and everything, but I can see something good coming," Pagan said. "We're still in this fight, we're still in the running. We're a couple games behind, but we've got time to get on a roll and finish strong."
The Giants went 18-26 in the 44 games Pagan missed with a bulging disk and inflammation in his lower back. His presence was felt immediately, with the Giants loading the bases in the first after Pagan's leadoff single. But they failed to score.
Pagan had another single in the fifth, moving Jake Peavy over to second. The pitcher scored a batter later on Hunter Pence's single.
Pagan came up as the tying run in the top of the seventh but struck out looking on the eighth pitch of the at-bat from Wily Peralta, a 97 mph fastball at the knees. Pagan ended the game with a fly ball to left.
The center fielder looked quick on the bases and got good jumps on fly balls. Most important, he didn't feel anything in his back.
"I feel great," Pagan said. "Once I warm up, I don't feel a thing."
Pagan said his back can still be cranky in the mornings, but that's nothing a heat pack can't fix. He has missed plenty of time in his three seasons with the Giants, but he's confident that the back won't keep him out of the lineup down the stretch.
"Injuries happen -- you never have any control," he said. "If anybody had control, they would never get injured. But I feel really good right now. I'm going to go out there and compete. I'll contribute in any way I can."
When he first went down, Pagan hoped to be back in a few days. That turned into few weeks, and he was forced to readjust the timetable. At one point, Pagan hoped to return for the July 1 game against the Cardinals, but he didn't feel comfortable. He went to the team's facility in Scottsdale, Arizona, and the Giants moved on without him, struggling to score runs at times.
Little by little, Pagan felt improvement. "Everything started going my way," he said. Pagan played just four rehab games before flying to Milwaukee on Wednesday.
"I think I'm back quicker than I expected," he said. "My goal is to stay healthy, contribute to the team and come out and win another championship."
To do that, or even to get close, the Giants will have to get timely hits and quality starting pitching.
Peavy kept the Giants in the game for most of the day, but they never got the backbreaking hit. The lineup went 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position and left nine on base. Peavy gave up three hits and a run in the first inning and then held tight until the sixth. Back-to-back doubles and a sacrifice fly turned a tie game into a two-run deficit for the Giants.
"He battled well today," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He gave us a gutty effort and kept us in the game and gave us a chance. That's what you want from your starter."
Peavy's third defeat in three starts with the Giants clinched a series loss for a group that hasn't taken a series from a team with a winning record in more than two months. That last time was May 29-June 1, when the Giants won three of four in St. Louis. Pagan had five hits and scored four runs in that series. Now that he's back, the Giants hope to finally turn the tide.
"He was bouncing around well," Bochy said. "He got a couple of hits and that's a pretty good start for him, I'd say. The important thing is that I didn't see him hesitant at all, swinging or running. He looked good."
For more on the Giants, see Alex Pavlovic's Giants Extra blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/Giants.