SAN FRANCISCO - A few minutes after his team stayed quiet at the trade deadline, vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean dropped a well-worn line on reporters.
"Not being flip, but the more you've been around the game, it's not how good you are, it's how well you play," Sabean said.
That's what the Giants had to hold onto at the time, and that's still the hope they have. With all their injuries, they can't go man-to-man with the teams atop the division. They simply have to play better, which is what made the first game of this series so discouraging. Coming off two brutal losses, the Giants tanked Thursday night, pitching and hitting poorly and playing awful defense.
It was the kind of performance that makes one want to wave the white flag, and perhaps some of that was going on. Manager Bruce Bochy was more than a half hour late to his pre-game media session because he was in a long meeting with team officials.
"We talked about the club and ways we can get better," was all Bochy would offer once he finally settled into the dugout.
The Giants certainly were a bit better a few hours later, beating the Pirates 13-10 in a game that was far closer than it should have been. This wasn't all about how well they played, though. Sometimes it really is about how good you are.
This team was not built for depth, although there is more of it in some spots than we thought. It was built around stars, Face of the Franchise types, and in recent days Bochy has grouped them together in a desperate bid to get going. That meant Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey, Evan Longoria and Brandon Crawford hit atop the lineup. Bochy was telling his veterans to lead the way, and on Friday they did.
McCutchen got it going with a leadoff homer, his first in 19 at-bats this season against his former team. Posey followed with a rare infield single, and that was just the beginning. His first hit helped the Giants score two more in the first. In the second, Posey singled again. In the third, he singled in two more runs as part of a four-run frame. In the fourth, he singled yet again, capping a three-run inning.
"He's been swinging the bat a lot better," Bochy said. "That's the kind of hitter he is."
Through four innings, Posey had raised his average seven points. That's extremely difficult to do in August. He was pulled after grounding out in the sixth of what was then a blowout.
McCutchen had a homer and four walks. Longoria reached base twice and drove in a run. Crawford had two walks and a double.
A night after the four All-Stars at the top combined to go 1-for-14, they reached base 14 times, scored six runs and drove in five.
"They had good at-bats and got in hitters' counts and took advantage of it," Bochy said. "They had some good pitches there and were letting it go. It's good to see them have some success. They've been due for a game like this where we break it open."
The Giants would need every bit of the production. Derek Holland was hit around and Pierce Johnson cashed in two of his runs while giving up a grand slam in the seventh. Even Tony Watson couldn't stop the bleeding. He gave up two runs in the eighth and Josh Bell came a couple feet short of cutting the deficit to one.
In a game he led 11-3 after six, Bochy used his closer in the ninth. Will Smith gave up a run, but finally ended a long night.
"We had to keep tacking on," Bochy said. "These guys did a nice job of it."