SAN FRANCISCO — Through good times and bad, a strong first half and a stunningly awful second half, the Giants tried to find a solution for the ninth inning. They never did, and on Tuesday night the ongoing issue ended their season.
Five relievers combined to give up four runs in the top of the ninth as the Giants lost 6-5 to the Cubs, ending a record streak of 10 consecutive wins in elimination games. The end came quickly, but it was not surprising. The Giants blew 30 saves in the regular season, the most by a playoff team since saves became an official statistic in 1969. They could not hold the lead in the ninth inning of either of their home playoff games.
The collapse wasted a brilliant effort from Matt Moore, who was making his third playoff start.
The Giants have learned that there are two versions of Moore: The one be prone to wildness in short outings, and the one who can look as good as any lefty in the game when his power repertoire is on. Moore brought the good stuff early on Tuesday, allowing just one run — a David Ross homer — through four.
The Giants manufactured a run off John Lackey in the first, with Denard Span doubling, taking third on Brandon Belt’s fly ball to deep left, and racing home on Buster Posey’s sacrifice fly. They put together an extended rally three innings later. The red-hot duo of Conor Gillaspie and Joe Panik put runners on first and third with a pair of singles. A walk of Gregor Blanco loaded the bases with one out, and it appeared Moore was instructed to watch a strikeout and set the stage for Span. He stared at two pitches and then stunned Lackey by pulling a fastball into right field. The RBI was the second of Moore’s career and his first in four years. When Lackey’s foot missed first on the back end of a double-play grounder, the Giants led 3-1.
A three-base error by Brandon Crawford led to a run in the fifth, but the shortstop came right back and got within an inch of doubling that damage. With Hunter Pence on first, Crawford smashed a fly ball off the very top of the right field wall. He settled for a hard-luck double. Gillaspie’s third single of the night pushed Pence across, and Crawford scored on a sacrifice fly from Panik.
Moore’s occasional command issues showed up in the sixth, and when the lefty opened the frame with seven straight balls, Derek Law hopped up the dugout steps and sprinted to the bullpen. Kris Bryant hit a flare to right that looked like it would bring the tying run to the plate, but Dexter Fowler — who had walked — read the play wrong and Pence scooped up the single and threw Fowler out at second. Moore turned to the outfield and screamed, “Attaboy, Hunter!” before getting two quick outs to end the threat.
Moore’s 120th and final pitch was a fastball that froze Fowler for his 10th strikeout. He allowed just two hits in his eight innings, but the Cubs quickly got to work in the ninth.
Law gave up a single and was promptly pulled. Javier Lopez walked Anthony Rizzo and he was also pulled. Sergio Romo gave up an RBI double to Ben Zobrist and he gave way to Will Smith. Pinch-hitter Willson Contreras bounced a single back up the middle, tying the game.
After a fielder’s choice and error put the go-ahead run on second with one out, Smith handed it off to Hunter Strickland. He fired a 100 mph fastball at Javier Baez with two strikes and it was lined right back up the middle. Jason Heyward raced home for the go-ahead run.
A night after Gillaspie’s heroics, the Giants had no answer for Aroldis Chapman. The team that could never hold a lead in the ninth went down quietly.