SAN FRANCISCO -- On most nights, Brad Hand's slider is one of baseball's most unhittable offerings, a perfect combination of late action and pinpoint accuracy from the left-hander throwing it.
On Monday night, it was nowhere to be found.
Hand's signature weapon deserted him when he needed it most, and the Giants walked off with a 6-5 victory as a result. The Padres' closer had thrown a season-high 36 pitches when Nick Hundley swatted his game-winning, two-run single to send AT&T Park into a frenzy. Fifteen of those pitches were sliders, only six for strikes.
"I don't know what it was, it just didn't feel normal," Hand said. "I just had a tough time getting comfortable with it, and I wasn't able to throw it for strikes."
Hand entered the game with one out in the eighth, and he quickly escaped a jam, keeping the Padres' two-run advantage intact. He wasn't so fortunate in the ninth.
Hand opened the frame by plunking leadoff man Austin Slater with an errant slider, but he struck out the next two hitters, putting left-hander Eric Lauer on the precipice of his first big league win. Lauer had rebounded from a three-run first inning to blank the Giants over the next four. It wasn't to be.
An epic 10-pitch battle with Buster Posey ensued, ending when Hand left yet another slider outside the strike zone. From there, he practically deserted the pitch.
The Padres bullpen remained quiet. Having already used his top three setup men, manager Andy Green was going to ride Hand through the ninth.
"Brad's our best choice right there in my estimation, even just with the fastball," Green said. "You trust that he could locate it. … It was one of those situations where you're living with him or you're dying with him, and it didn't work."
Hand came within a few feet of securing the save anyway. Following Posey's walk, Evan Longoria skyed a popup into shallow left field. In almost any other scenario it would've been a routine end to the ballgame.
But in a twist of fate, the Padres decided to play no-doubles defense for the first time all season. (Green cited Longoria's recent success driving the ball against left-handed pitching.) Franchy Cordero sprinted helplessly from the warning track as the ball dropped and the first run scored.
"You want to make them get more hits, you want to make them keep going," Green said. "It was one of those balls that just dropped in. It wasn't Franchy's fault. We had him back. It was my choice, if it's anybody's fault."
Hand walked Brandon Belt, putting the winning run in scoring position, and Hundley made him pay.
Hand has been vocal about his desire to be used as often as possible. But the Padres haven't found much work for him lately. He had pitched only once in the past 10 days before his 37-pitch effort Monday. Hand wasn't about to use rust as an excuse.
"My job is to shut it down, get the win," Hand said. "I didn't do it today. That's the good thing about baseball. Do it again tomorrow."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Hour of Lauer: Lauer found himself squarely on the ropes in the bottom of the first after a woeful debut in Colorado last week. He bent early, but he didn't break. Lauer held the Giants in check over five frames, striking out seven and allowing seven hits -- only three of which came after the first.
"His next outing, he should have a ton of confidence going into it," Green said. "Because he handled a good lineup."
Workingman's rally: After falling behind, 3-0, the Padres had cut their deficit to one entering the top of the sixth. From there, they pieced together a gritty rally -- the type they haven't found frequently enough this season. It started with a walk and an infield single, before Manuel Margot tied the game with a one-hopper through Longoria's legs. A.J. Ellis followed with a sacrifice fly, and Chase Headley -- pinch-hitting for Lauer -- plated Margot with a broken-bat single through a drawn-in infield. The Padres led, 5-3, and they held that lead until the ninth.
Padres catcher Austin Hedges struck out swinging in the top of the second, before Ellis took his place in the bottom of the frame. Hedges was removed from the game because of right elbow tendinitis, and he could be destined for a stint on the disabled list. The 25-year-old backstop had been nursing a somewhat balky elbow, but it tightened on him before Thursday's game.
"It hadn't been that tight," Hedges said. "I'd been dealing with it for a while now, but nothing that I couldn't play through. Today was just a different story."
Even if Hedges avoids the DL, it's a near certainty the Padres call up a catcher for some insurance before Tuesday's game. Raffy Lopez is the likeliest candidate.
HE SAID IT
"Gotta give the Giants credit. They battled to the end against one of the best closers in our game. That Buster Posey at-bat showed why he's Buster Posey." -- Ellis
Tyson Ross' return to the Padres has been a triumphant one. After missing 2016 with shoulder injuries and struggling for Texas in '17, he's regained his near-unhittable slider of old. He gets the ball Tuesday at 7:15 p.m. PT in San Francisco. The Giants counter with left-hander Andrew Suarez.