For Giants, Saturday sucked a very great deal

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For Giants, Saturday sucked a very great deal

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Brandon Phillips saw his starting pitcher Johnny Cueto shut down after eight pitches. He heard the crowd at the Thing On King roar their delight. And he copped to the feeling of despair that washed over the one part of the ballpark that wasn't populated by Giants or their faithful customers.

"When Johnny went down, I was like, 'Oh gosh. Oh no. We're done. Why? Why?'" the Cincinnati second baseman said. "It sucked a little bit."

Well, it sucked more than a little bit for the Reds. But as time went on, it started to suck less and less until it didn't really suck at all, except for the Giants. For them, Saturday sucked a very great deal.

BAGGS' INSTANT REPLAY: Reds beat Cain, Giants in Game 1

Phillips was one of several Reds who gave the Giants that general feeling of suck in Game 1 of this National League Division Series. He turned on a delicious and nutritious Matt Cain curve ball to give the Reds a 2-0 lead, he drove in an insurance run in the ninth with a two-out single, he dove to save extra bases on a leadoff single by Giant right fielder Hunter Pence, and he verified what he claimed after the game:

"I'm good on TV."

RELATED: Phillips shines under bright lights

But lots of Reds were good on TV, including manager Dusty Baker and pitching coach Bryan Price. Between their jerryrigging a solution to Cueto's first-inning back spasms, Mat Latos' four-inning relief performance, Jay Bruce's homer, Ryan Ludwick's defense, and mostly from relief pitching, the Reds took a 1-0 lead in the series that feels a lot more like 2-0 or 3-1, and in doing so, they saw to it that the only Giant that looked good was Buster Posey.

In other words, they brought home the suck.

There is no truly elegant alternate way to put it, for this was not an elegant game. It was more a white-knuckler on a 20-seat plane through bad weather and turbulence, and though the box score suggests that the Giants were dominated, what they really endured was a night of vertigo. Cueto to Sam LeCure to Latos to Sean Marshall to Jonathan Broxton to Aroldis Chapman is enough to make anyone's head wobble on its axis, and even though Broxton and Chapman seemed most vulnerable to offensive coercion, the Giants did too little too often to have it matter.

And therein lies the difficulty they face going into Game 2. The only quality at-bat they got with runners in scoring position all night was Cain's line-out to Bruce to end the second. Posey's home run off Latos was the one at-bat that brought the sellout crowd of 43,492 out of its torpor, but it was followed by nothing of substance.

The Giants' offense forced Cain to be perfect, which is not unusual for him or them. But it happened on a night when he plainly wasn't. He missed spots, he left curve balls like the one to Phillips in hittable places ("If he throws a fastball or a cutter, I'm back in the dugout with everyone else"), and he was not dominant on a night when dominance would have barely broken him even.

Suddenly, the onus of the series is squarely on San Francisco. A split is barely tolerable, but it is all the hope the Giants have, and they need Madison Bumgarner to be what Cain was not -- masterful. The Reds, who looked to be in shambles after eight pitches, may still have Cueto for Game 3 against (in all likelihood) Ryan Vogelsong, in which case they have lost nothing at all from a night that looked so . . . well, suckworthy halfway through Marco Scutaro's first at-bat.

Cueto said he feels fine, and Baker said, "You know how back spasms are. When it lets you go, it lets you go when it wants to."

But that's too far away for the Giants. They have to navigate another of Cincinnati's nasty starters, Bronson Arroyo, Sunday or go to Ohio needing a sweep in a park that is not kind to their kind of pitcher, whether it be Vogelsong, Barry Zito or Tim Lincecum.

In short, and with all apologies to the gods of strained metaphors, the suck is already on the other foot.

Williamson stuns Davis in ninth, but earlier mistakes haunt Giants

Williamson stuns Davis in ninth, but earlier mistakes haunt Giants

CHICAGO — Had a half-dozen other things gone differently Wednesday night, the Giants might have spent the hour after the game shrugging off a blowout loss or celebrating one of the best at-bats of the year. 

Three innings after the game was nearly lost for good, Mac Williamson saw 12 pitches from Wade Davis, who entered with a perfect ERA in 19 appearances, fouling eight of them off before slamming a two-run homer to right. The play came with some comedic value, as Williamson nearly passed Eduardo Nuñez on the bases. It also came with some historic value, as it snapped a streak of 19 consecutive solo shots that was two shy of the MLB record. 

The homer was not, however, the talking point after the game. A few minutes after Williamson went deep, Joe Panik was tossing his bat into the grass in frustration over a called third strike that ended the game and clinched a 5-4 win for the Cubs. Ten minutes after that, Bruce Bochy watched the highlight and tossed his phone onto his desk. 

“It’s a shame to end on that call, it really is,” Bochy said. “We had him on fumes and that’s not a strike. But they got the call and that’s it.”

The Giants were left with their third loss in four games, a run that has halted their momentum. They again are 11 games back in the National League West, with so many nights like this one: A comeback seemed real, but the mistakes were too much to overcome. 

Williamson, in talking about his homer, pivoted and pointed to a blunder of his own. In a tied game in the fifth, Miguel Montero hit a single to right with Addison Russell on first. The speedy shortstop watched Williamson as the ball rolled into the outfield, and when Williamson didn’t charge as hard as he otherwise might, Russell took off for third. The throw was perfect, but late. Russell scored on a fly ball. 

“The home run is really cool but it would have been a lot cooler if I hadn’t have made the mistake earlier in the game and given them the extra run,” Williamson said, explaining that he has tried to focus on being smooth to the ball and not rushing on fast outfields. In the past, rushing has led to bobbles and extra bases. 

Another costly sequence came in the eighth. After the Giants left the bases loaded in the top of the inning, Steven Okert gave up a triple to Jason Heyward, who scored on a sacrifice fly. Okert, so good when he was first called up, has been less effective of late. 

“We’ve got to get our lefties going,” Bochy said. “We gave them a run there and that put it at three and that’s just enough to cover it for them.”

Truth be told, the Giants were probably lucky to even have worries at that point. The wind blew a three-run Heyward homer inches foul in the sixth, and while the Giants grumbled about the final call of the game, an earlier call on Heyward for running inside the base path took a Cubs run off the board and killed a rally. It was correct by the letter of the law, but one you rarely see. The Giants escaped, but they wouldn’t come all the way back, despite Williamson’s late push. 

The young outfielder has been looking to make an impact since coming back up on the last homestand. He knew how tough Davis has been. 

“He’s been the best in the game this year and the numbers speak for themselves,” Williamson said. “He has phenomenal stuff. You get in the box and figure you’ve got nothing to lose, battle as tough as you can.”

Williamson fouled off good strikes and tantalizing balls. When he lofted a 2-2 pitch toward right, he took off out of the box. The ball carried just over the wall, and Williamson didn’t look up until he rounded third. That’s when Phil Nevin started yelling at him to slow down. Nuñez, who had a tight hamstring, turned and told Williamson to slow down.

“I kinda blacked out for a second there,” Williamson said. 

“I was like, ‘Bro, it’s a homer — just jog,’” Nunez said.

The moment temporarily sent a rush through the dugout. Minutes later, the Giants were left livid over a game that probably shouldn’t have been so close, but nonetheless was right there for them to steal. 

Instant Analysis: Giants' rally falls short in 5-4 loss to Cubs

Instant Analysis: Giants' rally falls short in 5-4 loss to Cubs

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CHICAGO — The Giants will need a win on getaway day to clinch their first winning road trip.

Wednesday's comeback attempt fell just short, as the Giants scored two in the ninth but lost to the Cubs 5-4. Since taking the first two games in St. Louis, they have dropped three of four, falling 11 games back of the Rockies in the division.

Here are five things to know from the coldest Giants game of the year … 

— Mac Williamson fouled off eight pitches before going the opposite way against Wade Davis, who entered with a 0.00 ERA in 19 appearances. The two-run homer ended a run of 19 consecutive solo shots by the Giants, two short of their own MLB record. It was the first homer off Davis in two years. 

— The sixth inning was one of the stranger escapes we’ve seen from a pitcher this season. With two on and one out, Jason Heyward blasted a Matt Moore pitch right down the line and it looked like it would give the Cubs a 6-2 lead. The wind blew the ball a couple of feet foul. Heyward then topped one down the line and Moore’s throw bounced away from first, allowing a run to score. But the umpires called — correctly — Heyward out for running inside the line. It’s a call you rarely see. Moore then struck out Addison Russell to keep what could have easily been a 6-2 or 4-2 game at 3-2. 

— Before the first game of this series, a Giant asked in the dugout, “I wonder what some of the Cubs’ numbers would look like at our place?” Anthony Rizzo is a .159 hitter with no homers in 18 career games at AT&T Park, but he had no issues on a night when conditions were worse than they are most nights in San Francisco. Rizzo homered off Moore in his first two at-bats. 

— Rizzo will occasionally put a bunt down to beat the shift — he had an accidental bunt in his third at-bat — which the Giants have long wanted Brandon Belt to do. Belt pushed one away from the shift in the sixth, and even though it was too close to pitcher Kyle Hendricks, the throw was off and Belt reached second. One of those a week would open up a few more holes. 

— This lineup has made a habit of making mediocre and downright bad pitchers look good, and the actual good ones are taking advantage, too. A night after Jon Lester recorded his first complete game of the year, Hendricks threw seven innings for the first time.