NEW YORK -- A Sports Illustrated cover autographed by Buster Posey and Sergio Romo that pictures the beginning of their World Series-winning celebration last October laid on a table inside the visitor's clubhouse at Citi Field on Thursday afternoon, a reminder of how quickly the Giants have fallen from baseball's pinnacle.
If they're going to get back there, it'll likely be on the left arm of Madison Bumgarner, whose approach during the first meaningless September of his career continues to impress Giants manager Bruce Bochy.
Bumgarner tossed seven strong innings on Thursday and the Giants scored two runs in a 15-pitch span in the fourth inning to edge the New York Mets 2-1 in front of 22,897 at Citi Field.
Bumgarner allowed four hits and three walks while striking out 10 as he lowered his overall ERA to 2.77, which would be a career low by almost a quarter of a run. He has a 1.80 ERA in four September starts.
"He's such a competitor, which you love -- he's got that fire in the belly, every start," Bochy said. "He's never backed off. He's been a pleasure. At his age, it's pretty amazing, his development on the mental side as much as the numbers."
As a rookie in 2010, Bumgarner posted a 3.00 ERA in 18 regular-season starts before going 2-0 with a 2.12 ERA in the playoffs while helping the Giants win their first World Series since 1954. In 2011, Bumgarner posted a 3.21 ERA in 33 starts for the Giants, who weren't eliminated from contention until the 157th game. Last year, he went 16-11 with a 3.37 ERA as the Giants won it all again.
On Thursday, Bumgarner broke his previous career high of 191 strikeouts (he's at 199) and exceeded 200 innings for the third straight year.
"(Not contending) doesn't change the fact (of) what we have to go out there and do," Bumgarner said. "Whether we're in it or not, we've still got to go out there and do our job."
Bumgarner's recent performance has mirrored that of the Giants (71-82), who have won five of their last six and are 11-7 this month. The Giants will be the third World Series champion since 1990 to finish below .500 the following season, but they're trying to avoid becoming the second defending champion to finish last in its division.
The Giants' win extended their lead over last-place Colorado to two games, pending the results of the Rockies' game against the St. Louis Cardinals.
"It's what we're paid to do, despite where we are," Bochy said. "You've got to go out there and give it your best."
Bumgarner didn't allow a hit until the fourth inning, when Josh Satin led off with a double and scored on Daniel Murphy's single. Bumgarner retired the next seven batters before the Mets threatened again in the sixth, when Satin walked with one out and went to third on Andrew Brown's two-out single.
Wilmer Flores then hit a line drive at Bumgarner, but the ball bounced off Bumgarner's left shin and right to first baseman Buster Posey, who stepped on the bag for the final out.
"(The shin) felt a lot better when we got him out," Bumgarner said.
With two outs in the seventh, Omar Quintanilla singled and pinch-hitter Zach Lutz drew a walk before Bumgarner got Eric Young to ground out on his final pitch of the afternoon.
Jean Machi threw a perfect eighth inning for the Giants. Santiago Casilla issued a leadoff walk to Matt den Dekker in the ninth before Javier Lopez posted his first save of the year by retiring the final two batters.
Rookies Juan Perez and Ehire Adrianza had an RBI apiece in the fourth inning. Perez, a Bronx native playing in front of about a dozen family and friends, finished with a career-high three hits.
"I know he wanted to have a good day," Bochy said of Perez. "Putting on a show for Mom."
The Mets (68-84) lost seven of 11 on their penultimate homestand of the season.
Starter Jonathon Niese fell to 7-8 after allowing the two runs, seven hits and two walks while striking out four in seven innings. He has a 3.06 ERA in eight starts since missing almost two months with a partial tear of his left rotator cuff.
"Very impressive," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "Our focus with him for the next 10 days is to make sure he feels good to give him a good start towards his preparation for next year."
NOTES: Collins said 3B David Wright (strained right hamstring) would likely return to the Mets' lineup for Friday's series opener in Philadelphia. Wright suffered a Grade 3 strain on Aug. 2. ... With SS Ruben Tejada out for the year after suffering a broken right fibula on Wednesday night, the Mets are expected to recall SS Wilfredo Tovar in time for Friday's game. Collins said Tovar will platoon with Quintanilla during the final nine days of the season. ... The Giants visit the New York Yankees in a three-game series on Friday through Sunday, which makes this week the first time the Giants have played six straight games in New York since the franchise's final season in New York in 1957. ... With his next strikeout, Bumgarner will become the fifth left-hander in Giants history to whiff 200 in a season.