CHICAGO — Hunter Pence isn’t sure what he’s going to do.
He is not sure if The Reverend will make a cameo on Monday night at AT&T Park. He’s not sure if he’ll get up and start frothing, if he’ll maybe tell his teammates that he wants to see what song Johnny Cueto dances to the next day. Pence, four years past his rousing performance in Cincinnati, indicated it might not be necessary. He said he already sees a club with a good spirit, with the energy to get through this. But he also knows the task ahead is daunting.
“We’ve been down in the first series 0-2, but not in this exact position,” Pence said. “Every year is a different year. It’s definitely not an ideal situation. We understand the situation. Our backs are against the wall.”
It’s much more than that. The Giants were underdogs going into this series against the 103-win Cubs and they have done little through two games to show that a historic comeback is coming. A 1-0 loss on Friday was followed by a 5-2 defeat Saturday. In 18 innings at Wrigley Field, Cubs pitchers drove in more runs than the Giants scored. The Giants looked lifeless most of Saturday night, the lone exception being a quick rally that wasn’t nearly enough. Even the manager’s moves are going south this time around. Bochy chose Jeff Samardzija over Matt Moore, and it backfired spectacularly.
Samardzija recorded just six outs while facing the team that drafted him. He said he was not nervous, or amped to stick it to a team that traded him away two seasons ago.
“I felt pretty good,” he said. “I didn’t think I was gripping it too hard or moving too fast. Like I said, it was the way it went. I like to get settled in there and get into those mid-innings and where I like to be, which is late in the game with a lot of pitches and feeling good. I just never got in that rhythm and wasn’t able to find that groove.”
The Giants’ coaches and executives were left to second-guess themselves. Samardzija has been better at home this season, and his strong finishing stretch — which earned him the Game 2 nod — including a clunker at Wrigley Field the first day of September.
That start lasted four innings, and Samardzija was livid when he was lifted right as he felt he was finding a groove. This start was half the length, but there would be no arguing. Samardzija gave the Giants a 4-0 deficit, and against the major league ERA leader — Kyle Hendricks — and a deep bullpen, that was more than enough.
“You can’t put your team in that much of a hole early in the game, especially against the staff like they have over there,” he said.
The back-breaking hits came on a soft single to center from Hendricks and a fly ball to right that dropped from a diving Pence’s glove. Samardzija was charged with four earned runs, but he was hardly alone in facing blame.
The Giants do not have a run-scoring hit from a player who was expected to be a postseason starter. Conor Gillaspie, playing for the injured Eduardo Nuñez, saved the day in the Wild Card Game. The entire team was blanked Friday. In Game 2, Gregor Blanco drove in a run with his first hit in 48 days. Brandon Belt brought the only other run home with a sacrifice fly.
“I thought we had a little momentum going when we got the two runs back,” said Joe Panik, who scored the first Giants run of the NLDS. “(Travis) Wood did a good job of shutting us down and the home run turned the momentum back.”
Wood, who replaced the injured Hendricks, hit a solo shot off George Kontos in the fourth. It was the first postseason homer by a reliever in 92 years. It was also the lone blemish for a bullpen that was supposed to be the biggest hurdle on the way to another even-year title. Even Santiago Casilla put up a zero, with an assist from an eagle-eyed Matt Cain, who was in the video room with Shawon Dunston and Chad Chop and made the call to challenge a Javier Baez slide into second base.
The Cubs’ bullpen was ready to match, with four pitchers getting the ball to Aroldis Chapman, who struck out two for his second save in as many days. The Giants finished with just six hits. They have five runs in three postseason games.
“It’s playoff baseball and we know it’s going to be low-scoring,” Panik said. “But obviously we have to be better as an offense, to jump out to a lead and keep going.”
The Giants weren’t able to do so until the ninth inning of Madison Bumgarner’s last start, and once again, they’re putting their season on the left-hander’s shoulders. He has thrown 23 innings in winner-take-all games. He has not allowed a run.
“That gives us a little confidence, obviously,” Panik said. “It’s about winning one game at a time. I know that’s a cliche, but you can’t worry about winning three if you don’t win the first one.”
On his way out of the ballpark, Bumgarner did not look like a man stressed by the task ahead. He smiled at reporters, nodding as he swallowed the final bite of his late dinner.
Before the game, Bumgarner grabbed his bat, walked up the dugout steps, and warned an onlooker to grab some earplugs because batting practice was about to get loud. He then smacked a series of homers onto Waveland Avenue and crushed a baseball off the scoreboard beyond the bleachers in left. So far, that has been the offensive highlight of the series for the Giants.
“You’re hoping to at least split here and that didn’t happen,” Bochy said. “Now we have our work cut out. But we have been in this position before.”