CHICAGO — Bruce Bochy started Thursday’s game with 11 relievers at his disposal, and for a while it looked like that would be a godsend.
Jeff Samardzija’s 47-pitch first inning put the Giants in a hole, but the overflowing bullpen looked ready to dig him out and get a lead to the ninth. It all floated away on one pitch in the seventh, leaving the Giants with a 5-4 loss to the powerhouse Cubs.
“They have the best record in baseball by a lot of games for a reason,” Chicago native George Kontos said.
The Cubs showed how they’ve gotten here, getting a timely late-innings hit and resilience from a deep bullpen, which also worked five innings. The Giants showed how they’ve ended up in second place, failing to tack onto an early lead and failing to hold on at the end.
The trouble started in the first, when Samardzija gave back a 2-0 lead. He was a batter away from being pulled, but he hung on and managed to get out of the nightmare frame with the Giants down just a run. Samardzija made it through three more before being lifted, and the lineup gave him a lead. Still, the damage had been done.
“It’s unfortunate when you’ve got to burn so many pitches to get through the first,” he said. “I’ve said it before: I enjoy letting those guys (in the bullpen) take a day off and save those innings for down the road. It’s unfortunate when you have to burn seven guys on your day.”
Josh Osich was the first one out of the bullpen and he threw a dominant inning. Kontos struck out three in the sixth, pumping his fist as he walked off a mound he grew up a few miles from. Hunter Strickland had the seventh, but he was pulled after an infield single and a walk. Will Smith did some quality work getting two outs, but he also walked one and left with the bases loaded. Bochy liked the matchup with sinker-balling righty Cory Gearrin facing young shortstop Addison Russell, and Gearrin felt he made a good pitch.
But Russell muscled a sinker into shallow left, just out of reach of shortstop Brandon Crawford. Before the ballpark erupted, you could hear the sound of his bat snapping.
“Those are the situations I want, and I felt I had a good game plan for him,” Gearrin said. “As a pitcher, you can only do so much. I broke his bat and it found a hole. That’s pretty much it. It got in on him and found a hole in a rough spot.”
Matt Reynolds, the sixth and final Giants reliever of the night, kept the deficit at one and pitched a solid eighth. But all that did was magnify the trouble hitting the other side. The Cubs bullpen threw five perfect innings after Mike Montgomery was pulled after four. Carl Edwards capped it off, nailing down an easy save in place of Aroldis Chapman, who needed a breather.
“We just couldn’t tack on,” Bochy said. “That was the difference. Their ‘pen did a nice job on us.”