Bullpen bails out Cain, sets tone for road trip

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Bullpen bails out Cain, sets tone for road trip

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SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants had lost three consecutive Matt Cain starts going into Sunday's game against the Houston Astros, shocking considering they won his previous nine. Two of those three losses came in the ninth inning, after Cain left in line for the win.

Was the Giants' starter nervous when he was pulled in the seventh inning with one out and runners at the corners?

"No, not at all," Cain said. "I'm not nervous when those guys come in at all. Those guys are going to pick us up most of the time, and they've done a great job of that all year with everybody."

Some would argue otherwise, as Santiago Casilla's last seven outing have yielded three saves and four blown.

"It seems like when stuff goes wrong it's when (Cain is) pitching," Jeremy Affeldt said. "So hopefully that will change in the second half.

"I felt like we went out there and did our job today."

He -- and the rest of the four-armed monster of Casilla, Affeldt, Javier Lopez, and Sergio Romo -- certainly did, successfully protecting Cain's one-run lead in the 3-2 series-sweeping win over Houston.

And it wasn't easy. They picked up for Cain in a precarious situation in the seventh inning.

"That was big," Cain said. "For those guys to be able to shut that inning down. Affeldt picked me up bigtime. First and third right there with one out. That was real big to keep the momentum on our side."

The fact that Affeldt recorded the two required outs for the hold on just two pitches gave the recently-wavering bullpen a required shot of confidence.

Astros manager Brad Mills pushed all his chips in during the seventh-inning rally that chased Cain.

Affeldt first faced pinch-hitter Brian Bixler, and dispatched him with one pitch, a 90-mph sinker that was caught in foul ground by Buster Posey. Then, Mills called on Saturday's star for the Astros, Justin Maxwell, to hit in place of starting pitcher Bud Norris. Maxwell's RBI double off Casilla Saturday helped force extras, but he didn't last more than a pitch against Affeldt Sunday, either.

Affeldt said his 91-mph four-seam fastball to Maxwell was supposed to be inside, but he felt it trail out over the plate right out of his hand, and felt fear when Maxwell sent it to right field. He credited AT&T Park for keeping that one on Nate Schierholtz's radar.

The most nerve-wracking of Astros rallies quashed, Affeldt, Romo, Lopez and Casilla combined for uncharacteristically stress-free eighth and ninth innings. The only Astro to reach base was Scott Moore, who Affeldt hit before giving way to Romo.

What makes the four-pronged attack so effective?

"Different angles, different pitching styles," Affeldt said of his group of potential closers.

With the most dominant -- and unique -- duo of left- and right-handed specialists in Lopez and Romo, a veteran lefty with heat and hook from the left in Affeldt, and one of the most electric "stuff guys" in the game in Casilla, he's right.

Despite Bochy acknowledging that he will continue to mix things up late in games, and the less-than-enthusiastic response Casilla's ninth-inning entrance drew from the AT&T Park crowd, the team was unwavering in their trust.

"Casilla's been so good for us all year," Buster Posey said. "We've got the most confidence in him."

Casilla rewarded that confidence by striking out Chris Johnson and coaxing a groundout from Marwin Gonzalez to end the game, secure the sweep and record his 23rd save of the season -- good for third in the N.L.

"He's had some pretty big shoes to fill," Affeldt said. "He's gone above and beyond. He's got a power arm and two good breaking balls."

And, maybe most importantly, a team of support. Affeldt was eager to explain how much the relievers help each other, not only as cheerleaders, but also as coaches, frequently pointing out aspects of each other's motions that could be improved.

While there may be some that shudder at the concept of deploying the closer by committee tactic, others -- like Matt Cain -- will not, as long as "those guys" get the job done.

Wrigley's phones keep Giants from challenging one of three homers given up in loss

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Wrigley's phones keep Giants from challenging one of three homers given up in loss

CHICAGO — The Cubs have a brand new clubhouse that visitors often compare to a spaceship, and this season their front office moved into a sparkling building alongside Wrigley Field that has a Starbucks on the ground floor and arcade games sprinkled among the offices.

There are still plenty of old-school quirks at this 103-year-old park, however, and two of them teamed up to get to Jeff Samardzija and the Giants in the first inning Thursday. 

Kris Bryant lofted a ball to left and Mac Williamson settled under the basket hanging over the track. Williamson thought he had a bead on the ball, but a Cubs fan caught it as he reached over the basket, installed in this yard specifically to keep fans from unleashing their inner Jeffrey Maier. Williamson immediately pointed up, trying to signal to Giants coaches that they should take a second look at the homer. Bruce Bochy never had a chance.

“In this game you get a safety valve and one is replay,” Bochy said. “The phone wasn’t working and by the time Shawon (Dunston) ran down they were throwing the pitch to (Anthony) Rizzo.”

Bochy kept looking at the replay phone but it didn’t ring. Once the first pitch to Rizzo was thrown, the Giants were out of time to challenge. 

“I definitely would have challenged it,” Bochy said. “I didn't see any reason to at first. That’s something we definitely would have done differently … It’s ironic that as soon as it happened it stopped ringing.”

Bochy met with home plate umpire Laz Diaz after the inning and informed him that if the replay phone continued to give the Giants issues, he might have to stop the game and get it fixed. The Giants continued to check the phones every inning to make sure they worked, although there were no challenges from their side. 

It’s an interesting wrinkle to the loss, especially given the history of shenanigans here. But there are two postscripts. 

The first is that the ball was a home run. Unless you’re built like Kevin Durant, it’s just about impossible to pull a ball over the basket, which Williamson noted as he stood underneath the overhang. Still shots were deceiving because the fan tugged his glove down after making the catch, but the Giants checked with the league during the game and they were told that the home run call would have stood.

"If it would have gone in, it would have been like the (Javier) Baez homer in the playoffs where it just nicked it," Williamson said. 

The second postscript is that this goofy isolated play isn’t the reason the Giants lost. Jeff Samardzija gave up two more homers, Denard Span halted a rally with a mistake at first base, and the Giants managed just one run against the Cubs’ No. 5 starter and lefty reliever Mike Montgomery. They lost 5-1. 

“You’d like to think we could score in this ballpark, three to four runs,” Bochy said. “We couldn’t do it. We shot ourselves in the foot there with runners on first and third.”

With the corners packed and one down in the fifth, Span was picked off first by Eddie Butler. The Giants would never again threaten. 

“You never know what’s going to happen in an inning like that, but now he’s got two outs,” Bochy said. 

The Giants looked poised to tie the game or take the lead in that inning. Instead, the Cubs added another run on Ben Zobrist’s homer in the sixth. Two more scored on a bases-loaded wild pitch in the eighth. Samardzija took the loss despite striking out eight in three innings. He gave up three solo shots, two that landed in the basket. 

“Yeah, man, that’s a tough way to take it,” he said. “You give up one to Zobrist that he hit well and then two in the Easter basket. It’s unfortunate.”

The Cubs might have caught a break or two, but the Giants had no room to argue or complain. There’s something else about those baskets: They’re out there for both teams, and only one of the lineups was hitting it far enough to bring them into play.

Instant Replay: Samardzija, Giants unable to salvage split vs Cubs

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AP

Instant Replay: Samardzija, Giants unable to salvage split vs Cubs

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO — The Giants won the first two games away from home, but they’ll fly back to San Francisco with another losing trip. 

The Cubs hit three solo shots off Jeff Samardzija and that was all they needed. A 5-1 loss at Wrigley Field was the fourth in five games for the Giants, who still have not finished with a winning mark on a road trip this season. 

Here are five things you need to know from Wrigley Field, where the press box windows were closed on a sunny day because nobody here celebrates #GritWeek … 

—- A walk of rookie Ian Happ was Samardzija’s first since April 28. He faced 154 batters between walks. Samardzija was trying to become the first Giant to go five straight starts without a walk since the great Bill Laskey did it in 1984.

—- Samardzija smacked a one-out double in the fifth for his first extra-base hit of the year, and a wild pitch nudged him to third. A huge blunder helped get the Cubs out of the inning. After walking, Denard Span was picked off of first. Joe Panik grounded out. 

—- With eight strikeouts, Samardzija got to 79 for the season, passing Zack Greinke (78) for the NL lead. He’s nowhere near the MLB lead; Chris Sale (101) is on a different planet. 

—- Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford have a good-natured competition with just about everything on the field, and last year there was occasional ribbing in their stolen base race. Posey stole six bases in seven attempts; Crawford edged him, going seven-for-seven. They’re neck and neck (at one) this season after a surprise double-steal in the fourth. Posey took third and Crawford took second, but neither scored.

—- This spring, Dave Righetti talked about his desire to have relievers who could pitch two or three innings to help close a game out. The Giants haven’t found that guy. Steven Okert has gone deep at times, but also has dealt with inconsistency. The Cubs used the move after Eddie Butler departed, with lefty Mike Montgomery throwing three shutout innings to get the lead to the ninth. Must be nice.