CHICAGO -- The Giants have lost eight of nine, often falling in heartbreaking fashion. Center fielder Angel Pagan, possibly the team's most irreplaceable player, wasn't even at the park Wednesday, instead flying to Phoenix ahead of the team to get a second opinion on his sore back.
And yet, the only sign Wednesday evening that players inhabited a losing clubhouse was the lack of music. The round tables in the visiting clubhouse at U.S. Cellular Field were full after a 7-6 loss to the Chicago White Sox, with players devouring a hearty spread while laughing at stories and checking their phones.
The last week has been a rough one for a team that was on cruise control, but not a demoralizing one. Don't call this a wake-up call, players said, or the start of a free fall.
"There were games early in the year we probably shouldn't have won but did," right-hander Tim Hudson pointed out. "Baseball has a way of evening out. There's really no panic with these guys."
The Giants' National League West lead is down to four games over the Los Angeles Dodgers. After holding the best record in the majors for nearly a month, the Giants now trail the A's by a game. But they were hopeful as they scarfed down chicken and fish in preparation for a night flight to Phoenix.
The Giants had a similar June swoon last year, their season spinning down the drain as Pagan dealt with hamstring surgery. The lineup's sparkplug missed a third consecutive game Wednesday and could end up having an injection in his lower back later this week, but the Giants still don't anticipate Pagan landing on the disabled list. If he does, though, they appear to be better prepared this time around.
Gregor Blanco. in Pagan's leadoff spot, reached base four times Wednesday and became just the second left-hander to pick up a hit off southpaw Chris Sale this season. Blanco paced a 14-hit attack that nearly made up for Hudson's rare off day.
That's been the story of the slump for the Giants. If it's not one blown tire, it's another. They scored five total runs in three losses to the Washington Nationals last week. When the lineup picked it up against the Colorado Rockies, the bullpen blew three straight games. In two games against the White Sox, Hudson and fellow starter Matt Cain were charged with 14 earned runs.
"If you get in a bad streak like we're in, that's usually the case," manager Bruce Bochy said. "The only way you get out of it is to focus forward and keep going hard. As long as they go hard for nine innings, good things will happen."
For that reason, the fifth straight loss was strangely encouraging to the clubhouse. The Giants got a clunker from their most consistent starter on a day when they were facing the best left-hander in the American League, and yet they had the tying run at the plate or on base in each of the last three innings.
"Today was a game we should have won," Hudson said. "We score six runs with any of our starting pitchers, we feel we should win."
Hudson ran into trouble early, hanging a 0-2 splitter to Jose Abreu and watching helplessly as the Cuban slugger's 20th homer rocketed into the home bullpen. Hudson had given up just three 0-2 homers in his first 440 big league appearances, but he made the same mistake in the fifth inning. With the Giants trailing 4-2, Hudson tried to elevate a two-strike fastball to Adam Dunn. He didn't get it up enough, and Dunn crushed a three-run shot to right.
Hudson tied a career-high by giving up 12 hits in his 42/3 innings. His ERA rose from an MLB-leading 1.81 to 2.39.
"It was hard to put my finger on one thing. It was a couple of bad pitches here and there," he said. "Obviously, I didn't hold up my end of the bargain today."
Hudson knows these Giants pride themselves on fighting regardless of the deficit, but he also knows the starter on the other side is nearly impossible to beat given the hole Hudson put the lineup in. Still, the Giants chipped away.
Sale gave up three earned runs on eight hits and didn't record an out in the seventh before being lifted with two on. The Giants loaded the bases in front of their big bats and scored a run on Buster Posey's sacrifice fly. But after a Pablo Sandoval single that again packed the bags, Michael Morse struck out and pinch-hitter Hector Sanchez flied out. Blanco was stranded at third in the eighth, and the Giants scored just one run in the ninth after a double by Sandoval and single by Morse put runners on first and third with no outs.
"It just seemed like we were one hit short for four or five innings," Bochy said. "One more hit gets us over the hump."
That's been the lament of the last week, in different forms. The Giants feel they've let several wins slip away by a small margin.
"Honestly we should have swept (the Rockies), but they swept us -- I know that's weird to say," Hudson said. "And we should have won two of four from the Nationals. It's a tough stretch, but with any luck we would have won 7 of 10 instead of losing 7 of 10."
"We'll be fine," said Bochy, "and hopefully we get good news on Pagan. We've just got to right this ship and get back on track."
Giants (Tim Lincecum 5-4) at Arizona (Josh Collmenter 4-4), 6:40 p.m. NBCBA