The rubber match between the Cubs and Giants Wednesday was yet another in the mold of the low-scoring nail-biter so familiar to Giants fans this season.
Like Monday’s series-opener, declaring a winner took more than regulation. The Cubs (52-38) tied it up in the seventh on a Javier Báez solo home run (18) that snapped a streak of 18 scoreless innings for Tony Watson.
It took another six innings to break that tie, and it was Buster Posey who slammed a two-out opposite-field walk-off single off the bricks in the 13th, handing James Norwood (L, 0-1, 5.24) a loss in his major league debut and giving the Giants (49-46) their seventh extra-innings win, 5-4.
A parade of relievers — Ty Blach, Reyes Moronta, Watson, Mark Melancon and Will Smith — carried San Francisco through 10 innings before it fell to manager Bruce Bochy to sacrifice starter Dereck Rodríguez (W, 4-1, 2.89) for the cause.
Bochy wasn’t worried about Rodríguez going out in an alien role, though. He believes the rookie has the background to rise to any occasion:
“You look at this kid, he grew up in baseball, he’s been around major leaguers all his life. I’m sure his dad [Ivan Rodríguez] has mentored him, worked with him on pitching. He’s not gonna be in awe of anything cause he grew up in the game — it’s in his blood and so he carries himself like a veteran.”
Using either Rodríguez or Jeff Samardzija out of the pen was an idea Bochy had toyed with Tuesday in the wake of an 11-inning win over the Cubs Monday. But with the stellar spot-start from Derek Holland, it hadn’t come to that.
Wednesday, it came to that.
Of coming out of the bullpen, Rodríguez said:
“It’s a lot of fun, it’s a little different than starting. Starting you get to set the pace, here you just gotta go with the flow and shut it down. But it was a lot of fun and Buster helped me out a lot back there.”
By the time the game ended, Cueto was an afterthought as the two teams had played almost an entire game’s worth of innings since he threw his last pitch. But Bochy was pleased with his performance considering it’s only his second after recovery from elbow inflammation that placed him on the verge of season-ending surgery:
“I thought it was better today, [it] looks like he’s getting close. That’s a dangerous club, they were hitting the long ball on us and that’s what they do well, but he found a way to get through five [innings].”
Cueto has historically been vulnerable in the first inning, and last week, in his first start since coming off the disabled list, he allowed four runs on four hits in what would be a 2-11 blowout loss to the Cardinals.
He ran into trouble Wednesday, too. He hit leadoff batter Ben Zobrist then walked Jason Heyward, but not before allowing Zobrist to take second on a wild pitch. He was able to shake it off and put the next three Cubs down in order without further incident, but it was an indication of things to come.
Someone in the Giants dugout, perhaps Chase d’Arnaud, found the on switch for the Orange and Black’s offense, though, and San Francisco bats gave Cueto a four run lead from the get-go.
In just his second start with the Giants, d’Arnaud led off by launching an 0-2 curveball into the ambulance bay in left field for his first career leadoff home run (1), and his first in a San Francisco uni.
The Giants added on when Gorkys Hernández doubled and made it to third on a Kris Bryant error, scoring Andrew McCutchen and Brandon Crawford. Steven Duggar singled to top the Giants off at 4-0 by the end of the first inning.
d’Arnaud has spent a seven-year career skipping around the major leagues (the Giants are his sixth organization) never spending any full season in the big leagues, and maxing out at 84 games with Atlanta in 2016.
After the team called him up, Bochy praised his utility and his speed:
“Chase [was] having a good year down [in Triple-A]. [He] made the All Star Team in the PCL, and there’s versatility, that’s gonna come in handy. He’s played everywhere, first, second, short, third even outfield. [He can] swing the bat well, steal you a base and he’s got some experience up here so he’s not gonna be in awe of anything.”
It did come in handy Wednesday, not least of all because when Bochy pinch-hit Pablo Sandoval in the 10th inning he planned to replace d’Arnaud, but when Sandoval developed some hip tightness d’Arnaud was able to stay on.
But the Cubs put Cueto in the stretch every single frame he pitched, scattering six hits over five innings, including two homers. In the third it was a leadoff homer from Heyward, and in the fifth Heyward got on for Kris Bryant, and in his first game since returning from the DL he launched a ball to the Giants Garden in centerfield to bring the Cubs within a run at 4-3.
Cueto got out of the inning on his own steam without further damage but at 88 pitches, Bochy called it a day and replaced him with Ty Blach.
Blach had a couple of tough breaks in the sixth after getting two quick outs. Zobrist hit a slow grounder to third that d’Arnaud made an excellent play on, but Zobrist’s speed was insurmountable. So when Heyward hit a flare to left, with two on and two outs Bochy swapped Blach out. Reyes Moronta upped the drama immediately with a walk to load the bases, but an Anthony Rizzo grounder to third gave d’Arnaud another shot to flash the glove. This time d’Arnaud got his man, throwing a strike to Brandon Belt at first to get Rizzo, prevent the run and end the inning.
After 13 innings in the squat Bochy believes it’s likely Posey had a stronger motivation than most to bring the game to its conclusion:
“I can assure you, Buster wanted to end that game as much anybody I’m sure he was tired. This day off couldn’t come at a better time.”
Posey has been dealing with season-long issues with his right hip, for which he will forgo the All-Star Game and receive cortisone shots over the break. He has said the injury does affect his hitting to some degree, but he’s used to working around it:
“Everybody’s got stuff they’re dealing with. I try not to make more of it than what it is. If I hadn’t been fortunate enough to [be selected to] go to the All Star Game, you probably wouldn’t know about it at this point. Obviously it’s not something I want to talk about.”
Rodríguez saw no difference in Posey’s performance behind the plate, or at the plate for that matter, despite the inning:
“I mean, you can never tell with him if it’s the first inning or the 14th, he still has that energy back there. I guess he didn’t want to play another inning [though], cause he got us that hit.”
“Catchers are a whole different breed, they get banged up back there and they go like it’s nothing. So to be feeling something for the majority of the season with his hip and still going back there every day and hitting the ball as well as he is—you know he’s just a whole different animal. Buster’s a future Hall of Famer, what do you expect?”
The Giants have their first off-day Thursday after 16-straight games, and with the use of Rodríguez in relief Wednesday the weekend’s rotation has finally been set. Madison Bumgarner will face A’s righty Edwin Jackson Friday with first pitch at 7:15 p.m. at AT&T Park. The rotation from there will go Samardzija Saturday and Andy Suárez Sunday.
“I just want to say congrats to Jésus and [Mariners shortstop] Jean [Segura], they definitely deserved it. I want to say thank you to all the fans for voting, that was pretty amazing. One of the coolest things [was] just to see my teammates behind [me]. They already have so much stuff to do, but to take time out of their schedule and promote me really meant a lot, so thanks to all my teammates, too.”
In addition to social media campaigns from several Giants on Belt’s behalf, Holland and Hunter Pence shot two goofy campaign videos promoting Belt this week.