Rewind: Giants vs. Cubs, Game #2

The Giants have an early engagement every day this weekend in Chicago. Matt Cain's day relied on power: his power pitching and the Giants power hitting. Just about everything went right, until the very end. Things took a turn, but not the turn expected when Armando Benitez takes the mound. Calming presence from a veteran reliever salvaged a situation gone far beyond wrong and ended up winning it.

Matt Cain follows Noah Lowry's lead to pitch well late in the season. He allowed one run in his last three starts, and won two of those games. Saturday he pitched seven and two thirds innings to keep the San Francisco Giants ahead of the Chicago Cubs all day.

Cain retired the first twelve hitters he faced before giving up a base hit to the fearsome Derrek Lee. By the time Lee hit the ball the other way for a single, Cain had a 1-0 lead courtesy of Barry Bonds. Bonds' power stroke has come back at least for one week, and his solo shot in the fourth inning counted for his 728th career home run. Bonds pulled the ball barely over the net in right field, but they don't count distance, just the run.

The other Giants' runs came from the long ball as well. Ray Durham and Moises Alou went back-to-back in the sixth inning. Bonds walked ahead of Durham, who connected for the two-run home run. Alou's home run lifted on the wind and seemed to float into the bleachers. It was the first time this 4-5-6 combination in the lineup has homered in the same game.

The innings went by routinely for Cain, save for the run he allowed. Lee scored from third on a bunt single. Ronny Cedeno laid the bunt down perfectly, and with his speed it would have taken a Gold Glover to make the play to get him out at first. Cain pounced on the ball but could not make a throw to either first or home, and Lee made it to the plate uncontested.

The run was unearned due to Pedro Feliz's fielding error. Feliz started the year looking like the front runner for the Gold Glove at third base, but lately his defense is as good as his offense. To be in a slump both with the glove and the bat is a sign that Feliz may be tired, and needs some time off. He has played in nearly every game this season and his error total has risen to 18.

Giants fans can look into the Cubs dugout and see a familiar man. Dusty Baker is well known for a number of reasons, but if anyone can best Giants manager Felipe Alou at strategic pitching matchups, it's the Cubs leader, just in the number of pitching changes made. Baker used four pitchers after starter Sean Marshall allowed four runs. Alou's hand was forced when his club took a 4-1 lead to the bottom of the ninth and Benitez couldn't hold the line.

Lee greeted the Giants beleaguered closer with a home run. Jacque Jones singled and stole second without a throw. Friday's hero Ryan Theriot pinch hit and worked a walk from Benitez with a marathon at-bat. It wasn't a home run, like his moment in the series opener, but it was enough to get the manager Alou out of the dugout to relieve Benitez of his duties.

The Mike Stanton acquisition was not popular when it was announced. Since then, he has earned his keep in the bullpen. He was chosen this time to save the game, quite literally. Beyond the statistic that appears in the box scores, Stanton needed to regain control so close to the end of the game. Another late-innings loss would demoralize even this downtrodden team, and the Giants' powers that be appear to have lost patience with their overpriced closer.

Stanton did as he was asked, and then some. He neutralized the walk to Theriot with a pickoff play. His move was so good he caught Theriot a few steps off the bag, and the hard part was over. Pressure from the do-or-die situation turned into swagger from the highlight-worthy play that sent both Giants radio and TV broadcast crews into exclamation fits. Stanton struck out Cedeno to the end the game, almost effortlessly as he got the shortstop to swing on a poorly placed ball for strike three.

This team has something to fight for yet, and it shows that they are not about to give up. They play the regulars after calling up seven from the minors, and they won't waste any time when Benitez displays his ineptitude. As long as they are in it, it appears they are going for it. A big step towards fulfilling that commitment would be a win, and with Jason Schmidt going tomorrow in the series finale, they can take that step.

Notes: Giants' hitters saw two familiar faces out of the Cubs bullpen. Scott Eyre departed to sign a free-agent contract with the Cubs and has thrown well, as opposed to David Aardsma, who struggled following the trade that sent him and Jerome Williams to Chicago for reliever LaTroy Hawkins in 2005... More friends came by for a visit. Former closer Rod Beck was in the house, sharing time in the Giants TV broadcast booth. He talked about his new role: movie star. He led off the afternoon by throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, and he led the singing of Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the seventh inning stretch... Lee suffered a broken wrist earlier in the year and his season has been a fight to get his power back. The home run was his first since June 28th.

SFDugout's Player of the Game: Cain's young body and mind have to be tired in his first full major league season. This is the longest baseball year he's ever had, as minor league seasons end in early September at the latest. The team will rely on him down the stretch, and he has to respond by pitching like he has, and did Saturday. His eleventh win of the season, which leads the club, is proof he's ready for the challenge.



Chris has been a Giants fan since her days in utero. She loves baseball and writes about whatever she can get her hands on…even the Athletics. She's a Bay Area gal through and through. This is her 24th season of fandom. Love/hate mail can be sent to seasond_salt@yahoo.com, where the love mail gets top priority and the hate mail gets used for kindling.

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