CHICAGO — Jeff Samardzija’s return to Wrigley nearly went off the rails in the first inning. Somehow he managed to leave Thursday’s game with the lead, but the Giants couldn’t hold on.
Addison Russell hit a two-run single in the seventh that was the difference in the first of four games here. The Giants lost 5-4 to the best team in baseball on a night that started with plenty of promise for the offense.
Hunter Pence gave Samardzija a 2-0 lead with a monstrous blast to left in the first, but Samardzija gave it back during the longest inning of his career. He needed 47 pitches to get through the first, with three runs scoring. Dexter Fowler started the trouble by working a 13-pitch walk to lead off. Three singles and a double got Matt Reynolds up in the bullpen, but Samardzija was able to keep his night alive. He intentionally walked David Ross and struck out opposing pitcher Mike Montgomery to finally end the nightmare inning.
Montgomery wasn’t any better, and he gave the lead right back. Samardzija’s sacrifice fly tied the game in the top of the second, and an error put the Giants up 4-3 after three.
The bullpens took over in the fifth and kept the game scoreless for an hour, but the Cubs broke through again in the seventh. Fowler led off and lined a fastball off Hunter Strickland’s back for an infield single. Strickland was pulled after walking Kris Bryant. Will Smith got two outs, but also loaded the bases for Cory Gearrin. The right-hander entered for Russell, who muscled a broken-bat single to left to put the Cubs up a run.
Starting pitching report: Samardzija’s previous high for pitches in an inning was 46, done as a reliever with the Cubs in 2011. His previous high as a starter was 38.
Bullpen report: Josh Osich was sharp in his return to the big leagues. He pitched the fifth and got Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist to ground out before throwing a changeup past Jason Heyward. Osich worked on the changeup quite a bit during his rehab assignment.
At the plate: Pence’s homer went an estimated 419 feet. Without the wind blowing in, it might have hit the scoreboard.
In the field: Eduardo Nuñez made a strong one-hop throw from foul territory to get Samardzija out of the third. Nuñez practiced that exact off-balance play during BP.
Attendance: The Cubs announced a crowd of 38,536 human beings who realized that it no longer feels like summer in Chicago.
Up next: Albert Suarez faces Jon Lester. Bruce Bochy announced before Thursday’s game that Suarez will be his No. 5 starter for now.