The last time the Giants completed a three-game sweep over the St. Louis Cardinals in the Gateway City, current bullpen coach Mark Gardner was the winning pitcher and current scout Brian Johnson went deep.
And the crowd at old Busch Stadium was disappointed that Mark McGwire didn’t hit a home run on that summer day in 1998.
The Giants had a chance Sunday to sweep again, but they brought neither their brooms nor their bats in time. Matt Cain gave up four runs in the second inning of an 8-3 loss at new Busch.
Greed can be good, especially when you are fighting to get back to .500, and the Giants would have liked nothing better than to sweep a quality opponent to set themselves up for a banner road trip.
But considering that they came here with a major league low six road wins all season and just one series victory away from AT&T Park, they will move along to Wrigley Field feeling secure about taking two of three.
“We’re feeling pretty good about this series, trust me,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
Their next opponent is the only one of 12 playoff foes in the Bochy era that fitted them for goat horns. The Chicago Cubs are skimming along just above .500 and in third place in the National League Central, and given the wails and moans coming from the North Side, their full bandwagon apparently has not become accustomed to mediocrity over the previous century.
“It just goes to show every year is different and how hard it is,” said Bochy, who figures to receive plenty of delightful questions from Chicago reporters about the challenge of defending as World Series champions – something no N.L. team has done since the 1970s Big Red Machine.
“It doesn’t surprise me when teams get off to a slow start. We’ve got a lot of baseball till we’re even at the All-Star break. But they’re a good club. They’ll be there making some noise.”
The Giants have more work to do if they hope to be one of those teams. Randal Grichuk turned on an inside fastball for a bases-clearing double in the second inning, Matt Carpenter hit a two-run homer in the fifth and a Giants offense that won Saturday night despite collecting two hits in the first 12 innings was unable to get much going against Adam Wainwright.
“That put a bump in us,” Cain said of the four-run second inning. “A big inning like that is tough to come back from.”
The Giants already pulled out one ninth-inning comeback to win Friday’s opener here, but the hill was steeper this time.
Christian Arroyo hit an RBI double in the third inning, but the Giants didn’t get on the board again until the eighth, when Brandon Crawford and Eduardo Nuñez hit back-to-back home runs. The Giants have now hit 15 consecutive solo home runs – six away from matching the major league record they set in 2011.
It was pretty simple: when the Giants got a quality start in this series, they won. When they didn’t, they didn’t.
Cain was not able to exorcise his road woes as left-hander Matt Moore did in the series opener here on Friday. Cain has a 7.92 ERA in four road starts compared to a 1.19 ERA in four starts at AT&T Park.
“That’s been one of our issues, not getting quality starts (on the road),” Bochy said. “We’re not the type of team that can get down and come back a lot. We’ve shown it recently, but for us it starts with pitching and defense.”
Cain had to compete with a tight strike zone in a ballpark that does not hold many fond memories for him. He entered with a 7.62 ERA in five starts at Busch Stadium, his highest for any ballpark in which he has made more than one appearance.
The Cardinals loaded the bases on two singles and a walk before Grichuk kept his hands inside a fastball that was designed to jam him, hocking a line drive that tickled the chalk down the left field line.
Grichuk added another RBI double in the eighth against left-hander Steven Okert.
The Giants should be sending injured left-hander Madison Bumgarner to the mound against right-hander John Lackey in the series opener at Wrigley Field, but instead will trust that left-hander Ty Blach can build on a victory in his last start – and perhaps draw upon his experience from his two scoreless relief appearances against the Cubs in the N.L. Division Series in October.