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Injuries, punchless offense about to bring Giants' reign to an end

SAN FRANCISCO -- They added an elite hitter. Jettisoned dead weight. Got a pep talk from the home run king.

The San Francisco Giants have tried it all and none of it has worked; now they're watching the sand pouring through the hourglass. Though it's still too early for magic numbers or season countdowns, the defending World Series champions know that their yearlong joy ride is just about over.

"We know that we're running out of time," manager Bruce Bochy said Sunday after the Giants lost 4-1 to the Arizona Diamondbacks and fell a season-high seven games out of first place, with 22 games to play.

Sunday's loss followed the Giants' all-too familiar formula of great pitching combined with zero offense. Starter Ryan Vogelsong took a shutout into the eighth, clinging to a 1-0 lead. But with one mistake the game was tied and soon lost. Vogelsong blamed himself; the hitters said it was their fault. Same old story.

"A 1-0 lead is scary against a scrappy team like that," Mark DeRosa said.

The Diamondbacks are scrappy, confident and -- for now -- almost unstoppable. They've won 11 of 12 and didn't bat an eye Sunday when their best hitter, Justin Upton, was ejected or when Vogelsong stonewalled them for seven innings.

"It's a good feeling," manager Kirk Gibson said. "I'm not going to lie."

While Arizona has been soaring, the Giants have stumbled, going 5-7 on their longest home stand of the year, a stretch that was supposed to ignite them into postseason form. Instead, they dropped six games in the standings.

"You can't panic," Cody Ross said. "We've got to stay calm."

It's true that baseball is full of comebacks: the 2007 Phillies were seven games out on Sept. 12, the 2009 Twins were seven out on Sept. 6, the '95 Mariners were six games out on Sept. 6. Up until last week, the Giants could take solace in their own recent history: a year ago they trailed San Diego by six with 33 games to play and then launched the run that would end with a World Series title.

But such comebacks are fueled by teams with momentum and traction, something the Giants completely lack.

They look weary and frustrated. It could be the combination of simultaneously running a triage unit on the field and being the toast of the town off the field all season. The Giants are being feted for what they did last season without being able to live up to their championship billing. They have the worst offense in baseball. Their pitchers have done a good job of hiding their frustration publicly, but the process is exhausting.

The front office has tried to find solutions. On July 29, general manager Brian Sabean pulled the trigger on a major trade, adding Carlos Beltran. Beltran almost immediately succumbed to the Giants injury infestation. Healthy now, he went 8-for-11 against the Diamondbacks. But on Sunday he experienced the frustration of AT&T Park, seeing a sure home run die in triples alley; he was left stranded on third.

Addition didn't provide an offensive boost so, last week, Sabean tried subtraction. He discarded Miguel Tejada and Aaron Rowand, designating two veterans who were both unproductive and unhappy with their playing time. Rowand was publicly silent but gave off miserable body language. Tejada had complained about being asked to bunt. Their departures were termed a wake-up call to the team, a signal to the fans. But the boost lasted just two games before the Giants' lackluster play resurfaced.

On Saturday night Barry Bonds held court in the clubhouse. The session came from Bonds' own volition, not at the request of the team. An hour before the game, a dramatically slimmed-down Bonds sat in the clubhouse talking hitting with about eight position players who listened with rapt attention.

"A guy with so much knowledge, you want to know what he did, how he was so successful," Beltran said.

But the pep talk yielded little in return. The Giants could provide Saturday's starter, Tim Lincecum, with only two runs of support; Vogelsong got just one.

Rosters have expanded and the Giants' clubhouse is full of youth, but Bochy has stuck with the formula that provided success a year ago. He has continued to play his veterans every day: Aubrey Huff, who is hitting .242, is a lineup mainstay. So is Ross at .232. Pat Burrell, activated from the disabled list last week, was supposed to provide -- according to Bochy -- "power and presence," but made just two starts before leaving Saturday's game with a recurring foot problem.

On Sunday, with Andres Torres on second and nobody out, Bochy wanted rookie Brandon Belt to pull the ball to right. He didn't ask Belt to bunt Torres over, saying, "I'd like to think a left-handed hitter can get the job done." But Belt didn't, and with two outs, Bochy chose not to pinch hit for Eli Whiteside (.207 average) because Whiteside was catching a shutout. The inning ended with Torres still standing on second.

Beginning with the Buster Posey injury in late May, nothing has clicked for the Giants. The Giants have used the disabled list 24 times. Even when players have gotten healthy, circumstances have worked against them: on Sunday Bochy couldn't turn to recently activated Sergio Romo because he was in Arizona for the birth of his son.

Bochy isn't beyond unconventional thinking. Earlier this season he cured his decades-long dependence on chewing tobacco through hypnosis. His hypnotist has told him she might be able to help with the offensive woes, too. She said she could put a curse on the Diamondbacks, but warned of the possibility that the curse could rebound back on its sender.

"She's a little out there," Bochy said.

It's probably not worth the risk. The last thing the Giants need, as they desperately try to stay alive, is dealing with a ricocheting curse.

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