Rewind: Giants at Cubs, Game 1

A close game turned in favor of the Cubs late. Giants relievers blew the lead, but it would have helped if the offense could have taken advantage of a few more opportunities to score runs.

Fans of the San Francisco Giants can take a degree of solace since their team plays in the weakest division in baseball. Having said that, losing games in this fashion isn’t the way to escape fourth place.

The Giants lost a tough one to the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field 3-2, as they held the lead going into the eighth inning but could not hang on. All this despite keeping MVP leading candidate Derrek Lee hitless.

Cubs rookie starter Rich Hill had it going on early, particularly with a curveball that fooled many a Giant. The Giants broke through first, however, on two bloop hits – a double by Mike Matheny and a single over the third baseman by Marquis Grissom – and took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning.

Giants starter Jason Schmidt wiggled his way out of what appeared to be a big inning for the Cubs in the bottom of the third inning. With one out, Cubs catcher Michael Barrett took a Schmidt offering deep into the left field bleachers to tie the game 1-1. Schmidt then proceeded to give up three straight hits to the pitcher Hill, Jerry Hairston Jr., and Todd Walker, but escaped without any further harm by getting Derrek Lee to fly out to left and Jeremy Burnitz to foul out to third.

The Giants regained the lead in the third, when arguably their hottest hitter, Pedro Feliz, hit a one-out solo shot into the seats for a 2-1 lead. The lead seemed to calm down Schmidt, who pitched efficiently aside from his troubles in the third inning. He set down the side without incident in the bottom of the fourth inning, and retired five in a row until walking Hairston in the bottom of the fifth with two outs.

The Giants had a golden opportunity to expand their lead in the top of the fifth. Omar Vizquel led off the inning with a single, and after a popout by Edgardo Alfonso, stole his second base of the season. Lance Niekro walked, bringing up former Cub Moises Alou with runners on first and second. But in a bizarre play, Vizquel was thrown out at the plate after stealing third, then Feliz grounded out to the pitcher to end the threat with no runs scored. The Giants likewise had another scoring opportunity in the top of the eighth, but stranded Alou and Matheny with one out.

Schmidt hit his moment of truth in the bottom of the sixth inning, and again escaped beautifully. After inducing Lee to ground out, Schmidt allowed a single to Burnitz, then hit Aramis Ramirez with a pitch to put two runners on. But the pitcher bore down, and struck out former Rookie of the Year Todd Hollandsworth, then got Cubs’ hero yesterday and former Giant Neifi Perez to ground out and end the inning.

The Giants relief pitching parade began in the bottom of the eighth inning. Giants manager Felipe Alou took a calculated risk by beginning the inning with former Cub LaTroy Hawkins in his house of horrors. Hawkins allowed a leadoff single to Todd Walker, then had to face triple crown candidate Lee, whom Schmidt had held hitless. Hawkins induced Lee into a fielder’s choice, then was promptly relieved by Scott Eyre. Eyre got his man, Burnitz, to ground out into another fielder’s choice. Scott Munter relieved Eyre, then after giving up a single to Ramirez, was in turn relieved by Jason Christiansen. Christiansen allowed a single to pinch hitter Matt Murton to load the bases, then gave way to closer Tyler Walker. Walker allowed the game-tying single to Perez, but got Barrett to pop out and finally end the inning. Stats for this inning alone: five Giants pitchers threw 23 combined pitches, and allowed one run on four hits. Ouch.

Shortstop Ronny Cedeno led off with a single off of Walker, then Hairston sacrificed him to second. Todd Walker’s third hit of the game put runners on the corners, and after intentionally walking Lee to load the bases, Alou put the Giants’ fate on the left arm of Jeff Fassero. Burnitz greeted the venerable pitcher with a sacrifice fly to center that ended the game.

SFDugout Player of the Game: Schmidt. The bullpen might have blown his victory, but the Giants don’t win a low-scoring game with any their other starting pitcher.

Notes: A tale of two extremes: Giants fans know Dusty Baker manages on percentages, so his choice of going to Mike Remlinger to face five of six Giants righthanders (with Vizquel being a switch hitter) might have seemed odd. Worked for him, though, as Remlinger retired all six batters he faced. Conversely, Alou used five pitchers in one inning, and four of them allowed a baserunner… The Giants ran amok on Cubs pitchers and catcher Michael Barrett. Vizquel stole second twice, and he and Alou both stole third… The bat of Ray Durham probably would have been very useful in this game, but alas, he is injured once again.

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