SAN FRANCISCO -- Just a few days ago, the San Francisco Giants were thought to be in danger of a substantial collapse. As their 8-1 victory Friday night over the New York Mets proved, think again.
The Giants have amassed 18 runs and 32 hits while winning back-to-back games for the first time since July 30-31. Leadoff batter Denard Span, who went 4-for-5 with two RBIs, has become an offensive dynamo by collecting three or more hits in six of his last 16 games. Johnny Cueto delivered the type of quality start that has mostly eluded San Francisco's pitchers since the All-Star break.
Thus, the Giants have responded well to the adversity they encountered earlier this week when the Dodgers knocked them out of first place in the National League West for the first time since May 10. San Francisco has recaptured first place, slipping a half-game in front of Los Angeles.
Asked whether falling out of first place gave the Giants a "jolt," right fielder Hunter Pence said, "We have a jolt every day. We love to play this game. We love this time of year."
Cueto (14-3), winless in six previous second-half starts, surrendered New York's lone run -- Curtis Granderson's homer -- and eight hits in seven innings. With the score tied, 1-1, the Giants launched a two-out rally in the seventh that featured RBI singles from pinch-hitter Ehire Adrianza and Span off reliever Jerry Blevins.
The Mets' fill-in starter, Seth Lugo, was charged with three runs in 6 2/3 innings. The Giants jumped on New York's bullpen for five more runs in the eighth inning to stretch the lead to seven. The Mets have now lost eight of their last 11 games and sit 5 1/2 games behind the Cardinals for the second National League Wild Card spot.
"We know that we're getting some pieces back," said Mets manager Terry Collins. "You just got to bounce back. They did one thing we didn't, and that's get big hits."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Flashing the leather: The Giants supported Cueto in the seventh inning with one of their finer defensive sequences of the season. Pence deftly handled Granderson's leadoff fly, then raced into the right-center-field gap and left his feet to snare Asdrubal Cabrera's bid for extra bases. Eduardo Nunez, who is steadily adjusting to third base, ended the inning with a diving, backhanded stop of Rene Rivera's smash.
"Defense saves these guys," manager Bruce Bochy said. "We made a lot of good defensive plays tonight. That helps keep the pitch count down and gives a lot of confidence to the pitcher."
Pence explained he was able to put an unbridled effort into making his catch on Cabrera.
"It was a lot of fun, those balls that you get to just run as far as you can," he said. "Denard wasn't close, so I was free to chase it."
Baserunning blunder: The Mets appeared to be in prime position to break a 1-1 tie in the top of the fifth, after Kelly Johnson hit a two-out single to right field with runners on first and second. Lugo held at third base, but Jose Reyes apparently didn't catch the sign and rounded second. Reyes got caught in a rundown before Lugo took off for home. Eventually, Lugo was tagged out by Giants first baseman Brandon Belt, wasting a scoring opportunity for New York.
"I think [Reyes] just came around second on the hit [thinking] they were going to send [Lugo]," said Collins "When you're that fast, you look up and you're in the middle of the baseline."
Counting on Cueto: The right-hander showed glimpses of his first-half form, working seven innings for the second time in seven second-half starts. Cueto entered the game with a 4.84 ERA in the second half, nearly double the figure he compiled before the All-Star break (2.47).
"Johnny didn't have his best stuff, but he just had a gutty effort out there," Bochy said.
Opportunity squandered: The Mets' ineffectiveness with runners in scoring position continued to plague them Friday night. The team went 1-for-7 in those situations and stranded seven runners on base. The most glaring example of this problem occurred in the eighth inning when Jay Bruce came to the plate with runners on first and second and one out. The newly acquired Met grounded into a 3-6-1 double play and the Giants got out of the jam unscathed.
"We haven't hit with runners on base," said Collins. "We've had a lot of close games where a big hit here and there opens it up for us. That's been the big thing."
WHAT'S NEXT Mets:Bartolo Colon will take the mound for the Mets on Saturday at 4:05 p.m. ET. Colon posted back-to-back quality starts to begin August. However, he allowed five runs (two earned) in four innings in his last start at Arizona.
Giants:Matt Moore, San Francisco's starter for Saturday's 1:05 p.m. PT encounter, has never faced the Mets in the regular season. But he has crossed paths with current Mets at various career junctures, including Granderson (0-for-7), Reyes (0-for-7), Cabrera (1-for-8), Yoenis Cespedes (2-for-6) and Johnson (2-for-5).