The Giants forged a reputation as a postseason Houdini act in 2012 when they took the field six times facing playoff elimination and won every game. In all, they have won nine straight elimination games, the longest streak in postseason history.
Any hope of another even-year title run hinges on invoking that resilience again, after the Giants fell 5-2 to the Cubs on Saturday in Game 2 of the National League Division Series. Unable to salvage a split at Wrigley Field, the Giants go home down 2-0 in this best-of-five series.
They faced the same deficit in the 2012 NLDS and rattled off three straight wins against the Reds in Cincinnati. This time, they must do so against a Cubs team that led the majors with 103 wins in the regular season and did not lose three straight in the second half.
“It’s hard to compare if it’s harder or not,” catcher Buster Posey said. “I think the odds, obviously then, were not in our favor. They’re probably not in our favor now. I just think that we have to try to, as much as we can, focus on this game Monday.
The Giants will send Madison Bumgarner to the mound in Game 3 at AT&T Park hoping to keep their season alive. Their last three win-or-go-home games came in the wild-card round in 2014 and this season, and Game 7 of the 2014 World Series. Bumgarner pitched shutouts in the first two games and five scoreless relief innings in the latter.
“That gives us a little bit of confidence, obviously,” second baseman Joe Panik said. “It’s just about taking it one day at a time. It’s cliché, but you can’t worry about winning three games if you don’t take care of the first one.”
Even if Bumgarner is in his normal postseason form, the Giants’ offense will need to contribute after totaling two runs in two losses at Wrigley Field. Including four games in Chicago in September, the Giants have 12 runs over their last six games against the Cubs, who will start last year’s Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta in Game 3.
Jeff Samardzija was not nearly sharp enough to make two runs hold up Saturday night, and the Giants could not capitalize on the early exit of Chicago starter Kyle Hendricks. The Cubs bullpen compiled 5 1/3 scoreless innings.
“The fact that we have been in this position before, we’re going home, hopefully we can get things rolling here,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “But we do need to get this offense going a little bit.
“I do think we had some good at-bats early. Guys were doing a pretty good job there. But Jeff was just off a little bit tonight.”
Bochy gave Samardzija the ball in Game 2, saying the right-hander had “earned this” with his sec- ond-half numbers and downplaying a Sept. 1 Chi- cago start in which Sam-ardzija allowed three runs in a 47-pitch first inning. Again Saturday, Samardzija never settled in.
Dexter Fowler, his first hitter, doubled in a nine-pitch at-bat. Samardzija retired the next two batters and then appeared to jam Ben Zobrist with a high fastball, but Zobrist’s flare to right dropped for an RBI single.
Jason Heyward began the second inning with another leadoff double, and Samardzija this time could not limit the damage. Javier Baez walked and Willson Contreras singled softly to load the bases. Hendricks, the pitcher, then floated a single to center field that fell in front of Denard Span and scored two runs as Baez got an excellent read at second base.
“I think it’s fair to say that he was a little bit off tonight,” Bochy said. “Mixing a couple soft-serve hits, too, that hurt.”
Kris Bryant lined a hard shot to right field that popped out of Hunter Pence’s glove for a single and a 4-0 lead. Samardzija, the former Cub who expressed his excitement pitching a playoff game at Wrigley Field, finished the second inning at 47 pitches and did not throw another, allowing six hits and recording six outs.
“I didn’t think I was gripping it too hard or moving too fast,” Samardzija said. “I like to get settle in there in those middle innings, late in the game with a lot of pitches and feeling good, just never got in that rhythm where we were able to find that groove.”
Needing offense, Bochy pinch hit for Samardzija after Panik’s leadoff double in the third. It worked as Gregor Blanco doubled to score Panik and later scored on Brandon Belt’s sacrifice fly.
The Giants still faced an uphill climb against Hendricks, the majors’ ERA leader, but in the fourth, an Angel Pagan line drive struck Hendricks on the right arm, ricocheting for a single. After several practice pitches, Hendricks left the game with what the Cubs called a right forearm contusion, and it seemed the Giants had caught a break.
Travis Wood quickly dispelled that notion. Entering from the bullpen, Wood struck out Conor Gillaspie to end the top of the fourth. Then, batting in the bottom of the inning, Wood hammered George Kontos’ first pitch into the left-field seats, giving the Cubs a 5-2 lead, sending an announced crowd of 42,392 into a frenzy and becoming the second relief pitcher in major-league history to homer in a postseason game, joining Rosy Ryan of the 1924 New York Giants.
The Giants advanced just one runner past first base after that, and when Aroldis Chapman struck out Kelby Tomlinson to end the game, the Cubs moved within one win of what no team has done to the Giants under Bochy: Knock them out of the postseason.
“We understand the situation; we understand our backs are against the wall,” Pence said. “At this point now, if you lose, you go home; if you win, you keep playing. And we definitely want to play. We have a lot of guys here that love playing together. So we’re going to gather up everything we’ve got and come with it.”