The bullpen issues that have plagued the Cubs through the first two weeks of the season don’t show signs of going anywhere anytime soon.
It was another big blown save by a reliever that cost the Cubs on Sunday, as Shawn Camp gave up a game-tying homer with the visiting Giants down to their last strike to send the game into extra innings. Once there, Camp surrendered three more tallies, and the Cubs dropped the fourth game of their weekend series with the Giants, 10-7, in 10 innings at Wrigley Field.
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The Cubs had just staged a comeback in the bottom of the eighth, scoring twice to tie the game and then take a 7-6 lead. Camp was called on to save the game and recorded two quick outs before giving up a game-tying solo home run to Hunter Pence on a 2-2 pitch.
“I’ve faced him probably 10 times,” Camp said, “and I’ve made that pitch a- thousand times in my career. It’s just a hanging breaking ball, and he hits hanging breaking balls. In that situation it can’t happen. It’s unacceptable, and it cost us the game.”
After the Cubs couldn’t muster a run in the bottom of the ninth, the game spun into extras, where Camp remained on the hill for the Cubs. He allowed back-to-back one-out singles to Hector Sanchez and Brandon Crawford, placing runners at the corners. With Buster Posey at the plate, Camp balked, allowing the go-ahead run to score from third. Posey then singled to make it a two-run lead, and the Giants added another insurance run on a two-out double by Marco Scutaro to extend the San Francisco advantage to 10-7.
“My spike got a little caught, and I just froze up,” Camp said of the costly balk. “Usually when something like that happens it’s just a freak incident. That’s the first time it’s ever happened in my career.”
The 10th was the final swing in a back-and-forth contest that featured just about everything.
“To have the lead like that and give it up because of walks, then battle back and take the lead, have two outs and two strikes to put the game away and then lose the game, that was as tough as any of them so far,” said Cubs manager Dale Sveum.
Sveum’s Cliff’s Notes version of the game glazed over quite a bit of action.
The Cubs jumped out to an early 4-1 lead powered by Starlin Castro and Nate Schierholtz, who each clubbed two-run homers in the first inning off Giants starter Tim Lincecum. But Cubs starting pitcher Edwin Jackson started to run out of gas in the sixth, and it showed.
The Giants scored four times in the frame thanks to a combined five wild pitches by Jackson and reliever Michael Bowden. The quintet of errant throws set a new regular-season Major League record for the most wild pitches thrown by a team in one inning. The disastrous sixth also featured four walks and run-scoring hits from Gregor Blanco and Nick Noonan.
Jackson, who is still searching for his first win in a Cubs uniform, placed much of the blame for the loss on his sixth-inning performance.
“It’s inexcusable to let your team down like that when you self-implode and end it like that and not make an adjustment to regain control of your pitches,” Jackson said. “I let a flaw pretty much detonate an inning and ruin the game. It’s definitely imperative that I make whatever adjustments need to be made as soon as possible to regain control of the game.”
But, as they’ve made a habit of recent games, the Cubs weren’t done after surrendering the lead to the Giants in the sixth. The teams traded runs in the seventh, with the Cubs making it a 6-5 game on Alberto Gonzalez’s solo home run onto Waveland Avenue, and the Cubs then staged a rally of their own in the eighth, scoring on a bases-loaded walk and a Gonzalez sacrifice fly to take a 7-6 lead.
“That inning as a whole gives the team confidence, just to get the leadoff guy on and get those runs across,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “That ninth inning, we’ve got our most reliable reliever out there. Just not his day.”
It wasn’t Camp’s day, and it was the latest in a shockingly long line of Cubs bullpen implosions so far this season. Carlos Marmol lost his job as closer last weekend in Atlanta, and Kyuji Fujikawa blew a save Friday before heading to the disabled list Saturday. With James Russell unavailable Sunday, Sveum turned to Camp, and the move didn’t pan out for the Cubs. Camp and Bowden were both tagged with blown saves Sunday, bringing the team’s 2013 total to four.
“We battled. Everybody’s battling to the end. But we’re just having trouble shutting a game down,” Sveum said. “Our bullpen just can’t seem to finish off any games.”
“We’ve had a few of [games like Sunday’s] this year. You can go back and look at probably four games that could’ve gone our way,” Bowden said. “But it’s going to turn around. We’ve got good players playing hard, and we all know it. It’s going to turn around.”
Right now, Sveum is going to decide who his closer will be on any given day based on matchups. That could soon include Marmol, who had a 1-2-3 eighth inning in Sunday’s loss.
“I’d be lying to you if I said he wasn’t working his way back,” Sveum said of Marmol. “He’s throwing strikes, and he’s throwing his slider more, more consistent. Yeah, he’s working his way back. That was part of the deal.
“Ultimately you’d like to settle on a single guy [as closer]. I think that helps everybody out, them knowing their roles and all that. Right now, we’re still searching for that role.”