Kruk & Kuip: 'It wasn't the Giants day to win'
The Cubs scored twice off Sergio Romo in the ninth inning for a walk-off win Friday. (AP)
CHICAGO – The Giants staged their third comeback in four games, and it was Brandon Belt who sloughed off his poor start and came through, delivering the resurgent hit with the club down to its final out in the ninth inning.
But it was not a comeback victory. Not this time.
It took two pitches for Sergio Romo to blow his first save in seven chances. Dioner Navarro’s pinch home run tied it, and the Cubs didn’t need to go to extras to treat a shivering crowd to a 4-3 victory. David DeJesus singled and Starlin Castro’s deep drive traveled along with the breeze, bouncing off the brown ivy just out of Angel Pagan’s reach for the game-winning hit.
Romo had been 6-for-6 in save chances and held opponents to 2-for-20 with 10 strikeouts and no walks. He had to get ready for this one in a hurry after Belt’s two-run double capped a three-run rally off Cubs closer Kyoji Fujikawa.
Starting pitching report
Matt Cain (0-2) was much improved from his previous start, when he became the first Giants pitcher in the modern era to get tagged for nine runs in an inning.
But he had no margin for error against Carlos Villanueva, a right-hander and erstwhile Giants farmhand who toiled for a few years in Milwaukee’s bullpen after a 2004 trade that sent him there for forgettable relievers Wayne Franklin and Leo Estrella.
Villanueva was on his game into the eighth inning and this time, the Cubs caught the ball behind him. Meanwhile, you needed a beer in one hand to catch either of Cain’s mistakes.
The wind was blowing out to right field and DeJesus took advantage when he got the barrel to a first-pitch inside fastball in the third inning. Cain’s other mistake was a bad one – a 1-2 slider that did nothing – and Castro lashed it into the left field bleachers in the fifth.
They were the first home runs Cain had allowed this season. It marked the first time he had given up multiple home runs in a regular-season game since last July 21 at Philadelphia.
There were no other lingering effects from Cain’s horrific, nine-run fourth inning in his previous start – matching the largest against one pitcher in an inning in Giants all-time history.
In fact, Cain might have been a little stronger for the abbreviated outing. The Giants were even able to squeeze one more inning out of him after he had thrown 101 pitches through six. The right-hander got three outs on 12 pitches to save the bullpen from a bit more work.
Chicagoland native and Northwestern University alum George Kontos was much better in his second career appearance at Wrigley Field. Last year, clearly amped up to pitch in front of dozens of family and friends, he served up a homer to Anthony Rizzo.
This time, he worked a 1-2-3 eighth inning.
It looked like that would be all the relief required, but Romo barely had time to warm up after Belt’s two-run double.
At the plate
The Giants scored a boatload of runs while coming back from four- and five-run deficits in recent days, but the hitters continue to lag when their opponents don’t bail them out.
The Cubs didn’t kick around the baseball this time and Villanueva executed a solid gameplan to keep the Giants quiet. Angel Pagan hit a leadoff single and was caught trying to steal – and the Giant didn’t get another baserunner until Hunter Pence singled in the fifth. He did manage to steal second base on a bang-bang play, but Brandon Belt lined out.
The Giants hit a few other balls hard, notably Pablo Sandoval’s lineout in the seventh as the Cubs shifted their infielders perfectly for him. Belt hit into two hard outs as well – little consolation when he’s off to a 5-for-36 start.
The Giants finally got a runner to third base in the eighth, when Gregor Blanco’s one-out single ended Villanueva’s afternoon and Brandon Crawford followed with a single up the middle off left-hander and Brawny paper towel pitchman James Russell. But pinch hitter Andres Torres’ firm grounder down the third-base line was scooped cleanly. Luis Valbuena, who had moved from second to third to start the inning, made a quick transfer to start a 5-4-3 double play that Torres couldn’t beat out.
Then came the ninth. They broke the shutout when Marco Scutaro doubled and scored on Pablo Sandoval’s single down the right field line. Fujikawa hit Buster Posey on the left triceps with a two-strike pitch to move the tying run into scoring position.
After Hunter Pence barely beat out a double-play grounder to keep the game alive, Belt took two close pitches before a swing that could put his slump in the dust. He lashed a double and Pence chugged home from first base on Tim Flannery’s aggressive direction.
No circled plays in my scorebook. But perhaps it’s worthy of comment that Pagan is just 1 for 3 in stolen-base attempts thus far.
The Cubs announced 30,996 paid. The fans cheered loudest when the sun peeked out for five minutes.
The Giants and Cubs continue their four-game series on Saturday. Madison Bumgarner (2-0, 1.32 ERA) will oppose right-hander Jeff Samardzija, who struck out 13 in 5 2/3 innings but lost to the Atlanta Braves in his last outing.