The Cubs seem to have a knack for making things interesting, but interesting doesn’t necessarily translate to wins.
A day after staging some late heroics to grab a walk-off victory against the Giants, the Cubs made some late noise yet again Saturday. But Dioner Navarro’s second pinch-hit home run in as many days wasn’t enough to complete a second straight comeback win, and the Cubs fell, 3-2, to the Giants at Wrigley Field.
San Francisco starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner was sensational for most of his outing, shutting out the Cubs through 6 2/3 innings. But, with the Giants leading 3-0, a two-out base hit by Alberto Gonzalez in the bottom of the seventh gave Navarro a chance. The Cubs backup catcher replicated his efforts from the day before, when he hit a game-tying, pinch-hit homer off Giants closer Sergio Romo in the bottom of the ninth. Saturday, he homered again, this blast bringing the Cubs within a run.
“Hitting a ball is not easy. I just try to keep myself mentally ready, for the most part,” Navarro said. “And what I’m doing, I’d been watching him pitch the whole game, whether in the dugout, whether in the clubhouse. I just went out there to look for a fastball, and I got it. I was fortunate enough not to miss it.”
Before Friday, Navarro had never hit a pinch-hit homer. Two games later, he has two, one from each side of the plate.
“I know I’ve got a chance to pinch hit every day, especially having an extra catcher on the bench,” Navarro said. “I just keep myself mentally ready, taking swings in the clubhouse. You just go out there and swing.”
Credit manager Dale Sveum for sticking Navarro in there in big situations.
“A guy walks up there, he’s ready to hit and swing the bat and not have any kind of thought process, meaning, ‘I’m not worried about what the guy’s doing, I’m going to get my swings in.’ It’s called pinch hitting and not pinch walking or pinch taking,” Sveum said. “That’s nice to see. That’s why we went with the three catchers, to have the ability to do those kinds of things with those two guys.”
But despite narrowing the Giants’ lead and chasing Bumgarner from the game, the Cubs couldn’t come up with a comeback-completing rally. But they certainly made it interesting.
Starlin Castro led off the bottom of the eighth inning with a single up the middle, and Anthony Rizzo followed with a walk. After a pitching change, Alfonso Soriano was called out on a bang-bang play at first base, but both runners advanced. The Giants intentionally walked the pinch-hitting Nate Schierholtz to load the bases with one out, but Welington Castillo bounced into an inning-ending double play to snuff out the threat.
The Cubs then went down 1-2-3 in the ninth, as the Giants grabbed a 2-1 series advantage.
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The eighth inning marked the Cubs’ second golden opportunity of the day that wasn’t cashed in. Way back in the bottom of the second, Soriano led off with a single and Scott Hairston was hit by a Bumgarner pitch. The two then pulled off a double steal to put two runners in scoring position with nobody out, but the Cubs couldn’t get a run across.
“We had a chance to take the lead a couple times before they scored, which obviously changes the game around all the time when you don’t score first,” Sveum said. “We didn’t put the ball in play a couple times when guys were in scoring position, and that’s the difference in the game besides the mistakes we made on defense.”
Oh, right. The defense.
The Cubs weren’t charged with any errors Saturday, but there were mistakes made in the field in a crucial seventh inning. The Giants led 2-0 following Jeff Samardzija’s six-inning performance, and some questionable decision making by Cubs fielders led to the Giants’ third run of the day.
Brandon Crawford singled off reliever Michael Bowden to lead things off, then Bumgarner and Gregor Blanco laid down consecutive sacrifice bunts. Both times, the Cubs opted to attempt to throw out the lead runner, succeeding only on the second attempt. With two on and one out, a Marco Scutaro base hit to right ended up scoring Bumgarner after Hairston’s throw sailed past the cutoff man and into the middle of the infield.
“We threw a ball over our cutoff man’s head when a guy was going to be out easy,” Sveum said. “That had nothing to do with taking anything for granted. We threw a ball completely over two cutoff men’s heads and not even in the zip code.”
“There’s a couple plays that I’m sure we could’ve done better, but there’s so much action throughout the game that we make a couple mistakes and all the good things that we did are easily forgotten,” Hairston said. “But we’re playing in close games. Yesterday was a close game, today was a close game.”
For Samardzija, he picked up his second loss of the season, despite going six innings and allowing only the two runs. He struck out five in the losing effort.
“You go out there, and you assess every start as it is. You look at the game, you look at some pitches you made, and I thought I made some good pitches,” Samardzija said. “They did a great job putting the ball in play. They got some hits, got some runners on base, which kept me out of rhythm. I didn’t think I had my best stuff today. ... A team like that, you’ve got to keep the game close and keep your team in it. I just gave up a couple runs there. We need to keep it one-run less, I guess.”
To make the day worse for the Cubs, who placed closer Kyuji Fujikawa on the disabled list before Saturday’s game, Steve Clevenger suffered what the team is presuming to be a left oblique injury while striking out swinging to end the game.
Vinnie Duber is a contributor to CSNChicago.com