SAN DIEGO -- While strong starting pitching had been the standard for the Padres of late, Sunday afternoon was a slightly different story.
Robbie Erlin (1-2) faltered early, surrendering two runs in each of the first two innings, and the Padres could not recover as they missed a chance to earn their first series sweep of the season and fell, 4-3, to the San Francisco Giants at Petco Park.
Padres starters had only allowed more than three runs twice in 18 games this year, but after Buster Posey put the Giants on the board with a two-run homer in the first, Erlin was touched again in the next inning with a two-run single by Angel Pagan.
"The curveball early on was a little bit up and a little bit down," Erlin said. "As the game went on, I got a better feel for it."
Erlin recovered nicely from there, retiring the next 14 batters he faced in his third start of the season. He left the game after six innings, allowing four runs on three hits with three strikeouts and three walks, but enough damage had been done.
"I'm happy with that, but again, those adjustments should be made earlier on to stop those two runs from scoring," Erlin said. "It's something to improve upon going forward and something to work on."
Manager Bud Black liked how Erlin hung in the game and even limited the damage in the second, when the Giants could have blown the game open even more.
"There was a little variability in the fastball, and really all of his pitches, in the first few innings," Black said. "He really had to make some nice pitches in the second to keep it at four runs. Robbie did a really good job keeping it at four and put up four zeros after that. The way he finished, for a young pitcher, that's something to build off of."
Given that San Diego had the lowest run support average in the National League at 2.85 runs per game entering Sunday, a comeback from a four-run deficit seemed a bit daunting. That they were facing a nemesis in two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum (1-1), who owns a 14-6 record against the Padres and tossed a no-hitter here last season, did not help matters much.
Chase Headley sparked hope for the Padres offense when he lined a double down the right-field line with the bases loaded in the third. While it initially looked as though three runs had crossed the plate, Xavier Nady was ruled out after Giants manager Bruce Bochy challenged the safe call at the plate and it was reversed.
"It's a bummer," Headley said. "You're hoping he snuck in there. With the replay process, I think they probably got it right. It would've been great if it went our way."
Black preferred the original call, but accepted the changes that are resulting from the newly enacted review process.
"It would've been nice, but that's baseball," he said. "Would've been nice, obviously, to get the run, but like I've said, we are seeing a new era right before our eyes with replay. I didn't run in to look at the replay or anything like that. From my vantage point, it looked like a good call. I thought he was safe."
Lincecum cruised from there until Nick Hundley greeted him leading off the seventh with a solo shot that chased him from the game and cut the deficit to 4-3.
"We had a couple of chances to get the big hit and didn't do it," Black said. "We battled Lincecum. Our guys would tell you that they're probably dissatisfied overall with some of their at-bats, but they'll keep working their butts off to turn their averages around from where they are."
Black also addressed the Padres' scuffling offense, which has been showing signs of life, but the team has largely been relying on a stout pitching staff in winning seven of its last 11 games.
"We'd like to be in a better spot, obviously, with regards to won-lost," Black said. "Given where we are offensively, and I do think the numbers are going to come up from our position players, as far as offense, I think we are going to score more runs. We have to continue to pitch well, and once the run production increases, we'll win more games."
Lincecum pitched six-plus innings, allowing three runs on seven hits with three walks and seven strikeouts. His 14 wins against the Padres are his most against any opponent.
Tim Powers is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.