Rewind: Giants back in an 0-2 NLDS deficit

Rewind: Giants back in an 0-2 NLDS deficit

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.”

Jeff Samardzija to miss start of season after MRI reveals strained pectoral muscle


Jeff Samardzija to miss start of season after MRI reveals strained pectoral muscle

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants nearly left Scottsdale unscathed. Instead they'll leave with an injured No. 3 starter, but the news on Jeff Samardzija late Thursday night was good news. 

Manager Bruce Bochy told reporters that Samardzija has a strained pectoral muscle that will sideline him for the start of the season. But given that Samardzija, who has had a rough spring, went for an MRI on his shoulder a week before the season opener, team officials have to be breathing a sigh of relief. 

"He'll go a week without throwing the ball and then crank it back up," Bochy told reporters, including Kerry Crowley of the San Jose Mercury News. "It should't take long to get him back on the mound so it's good news."

Samardzija was supposed to take the ball next Saturday at Dodger Stadium. Instead, the Giants will rely on two young pitchers and a non-roster invitee at the back end of their rotation. The injury ends a three-way race for the final two spots between Chris Stratton, Ty Blach and Derek Holland. The Giants could use all three in the rotation until Samardzija is healthy, or they could skip their No. 5 starter and move one of the pitchers into the bullpen. 

Because the Giants have two off days before their seventh game, Madison Bumgarner can line up to pitch three of the first nine games. The Giants have been considering that all spring, although they have yet to publicly announce a decision one way or the other. Bumgarner said early in camp that he would be up to the challenge, and given how sharp he was all spring, that might be the best way to tread water until Samardzija is cleared to return to the rotation.

No. 79? No. 53? Before they were stars, Giants wore random numbers


No. 79? No. 53? Before they were stars, Giants wore random numbers

SCOTTSDALE — A couple of veterans walked past a clubhouse TV earlier in camp and saw that the Giants and Padres were tied heading into the bottom of the 10th of an exhibition game. The Padres infielders were just standing around, and there was not yet a new pitcher on the mound. 

“It’s that time when No. 99 comes in to pitch,” one of the players joked as he headed home for the day.

A few seconds later, a big left-hander took the mound. He was, in fact, wearing No. 99, and in his inning on the mound he would face a No. 74 (Aramis Garcia) and No. 78 (Steven Duggar). This is the norm for spring training, when dozens of players — including teenagers and journeymen still hanging around the low minors — get into every game. That leads to action between numbers you would never see in a normal game. The Giants had 60 players in camp, plus 10 coaches and staff members with numbers. Throw in their 10 retired numbers and the unofficially retired ones (25, 55, etc.) and, well, there aren’t a whole lot of choices left. 

If Duggar makes the Opening Day roster, he’ll get an upgrade from his lineman’s number. Ditto for Garcia, who could be Buster Posey’s backup as soon as next season. Still, a taste of big league action doesn’t guarantee a normal number in camp, when young players regularly find themselves back at the end of the line. 

Ryder Jones wore 83 in camp last year and 63 in the big leagues. When he showed up this year, with 150 big league at-bats under his belt, he was told that he would have to wait until the end of the spring to upgrade. Players with more service time (think No. 2 Chase d’Arnaud or No. 19 Josh Rutledge) get priority, at least until all the cuts are made. Jones said he has a few numbers in mind for his next stint in the big leagues, but he won’t be picky. 

“Anything under 40 works,” he said, smiling. 

The steady climb toward single digits happens to just about everybody. Long before Brandon Crawford’s became @bcraw35, he wore 79 in his first camp. He moved up to 53 after that and Mike Murphy flipped that to 35 when Crawford became the big league shortstop. Hunter Pence doesn’t remember his first spring training number with the Astros, but he knows it was in the low eighties. Joe Panik wore 66 the first time he spent a spring at Scottsdale Stadium. “I was an offensive lineman,” he joked. Tyler Beede, now on the cusp of his big league debut, got promoted from 63 to 32 when he arrived last spring, only to swap to 38 this year because of some in-season shifting. When Pablo Sandoval arrived last summer, Steven Okert switched from 48 to 32.

Then there are those who have only known one jersey. Posey was a can’t-miss prospect when he arrived and doesn’t remember wearing anything other than 28. Brandon Belt was a top-25 prospect when he came to camp for the first time, and he’s been 9 since that day. Madison Bumgarner wore 40 in his first big league camp because he had already made his big league debut, but somewhere in the team archives, there are probably a few photos of a 19-year-old Bumgarner wearing something else. 

“The previous spring I came up to pitch a few times,” Bumgarner said. “I’m pretty sure I had a different number every time I came over and I’m pretty sure it was always in the eighties.”

There were seven Giants in the eighties this spring. Duggar was one of two top prospects — Chris Shaw inherited Crawford’s old 79 — to come close, and he didn’t mind one bit. He’s not thinking too far ahead, even though he could be a big leaguer in eight days. 

“I’ll take anything if I’m in the big leagues,” he said. “I’ll take No. 112 if that’s what they give me.”