Had Matt Cain been deemed healthy enough to take his usual turn in the rotation, Monday’s pitching matchup between the Giants and the Chicago Cubs might have been ideal viewing for those seeking a dose of baseball schadenfreude.
Cain still carries a reputation for hard luck from his early career, when he was often the victim of poor run support. And perhaps no pitcher this season has shared the misfortune of Chicago right-hander Jeff Samardzija, who entered Monday with the lowest ERA in the majors at 1.46 – and an 0-4 record to show for it, with six no-decisions.
With Cain still nursing a strained right hamstring, though, the Giants turned to their spot starter, Yusmeiro Petit, whom the Cubs touched for four runs in five innings before piling on against the Giants’ bullpen in an 8-4 win.
Samardzija, meanwhile, allowed four runs in a start for only the second time this season, yet earned his first win since August 2013, snapping a streak of 16 winless starts for the hard-throwing ace.
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Samardzija struck out 10 and allowed three runs on hits by Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who continued his resurgence at the plate with an RBI single in the first inning and a two-run homer in the fourth.
Sandoval has five homers in the last eight games and has driven in runs in six consecutive games (11 RBIs total). He also has hits in 15 of his last 16 games, raising his batting average to .239 from .167 at the close of business May 6.
The Giants led 3-1 after Sandoval’s homer but lost that lead in the fifth, with Samardzija driving in the tying run with a two-out double over Hunter Pence in right field. Samardzija scored on Emilio Bonfacio’s triple off Petit to put the Cubs ahead 4-3.
“The hit by their pitcher, that kind of broke our back,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “I’m not sure if the pitches caught up with (Petit), but he started elevating the ball.”
Petit said he knew Samardzija could handle the bat, especially after the latter’s first at-bat Monday, when Samardzija stayed back on a slider and flew out to left field. But Petit fell behind 2-0 in the second at-bat and had to come across with a fastball that Samardzija drove the other way.
David Huff relieved Petit and allowed two runs each in the sixth and seventh. The seventh was a sloppy inning for the Giants that included Huff throwing a ball down the right-field line on a pickoff play, Brandon Crawford’s fielding error and a missed grounder by Brandon Hicks at second base that originally was ruled an error but changed to a hit.
“It’s just an off-day for the staff,” Bochy said. “Huff had a tough day getting the ball where he wanted – he was up, too, and he paid for it.”
The Giants had their four-game winning streak stopped and lost for the fifth time when scoring first. They had been 24-4 in those games, and they took a 1-0 lead in the first inning Monday when Angel Pagan reached on Samardzija’s fielding error and scored on Sandoval’s single.
Sandoval’s full-count hit followed a close 2-2 pitch that was called a ball, and Samardzija seemed to bark at plate umpire Mark Wegnerwhile leaving the mound after the inning. The shaggy-haired right-hander then struck out the side in the second, retiring Crawford on an 86-mph split-finger fastball after starting him with a 96-mph fastball and getting Hicks to swing through an 86-mph slider.
“He’s got gasoline in his arm,” Giants catcher Hector Sanchez said. “He’s got a hard fastball; off-speed was working really good today. A lot of credit to him.”
Sanchez caught the whole game despite having two hard foul tips ricochet off his body, including one that caught his face mask in the fifth. Sanchez said he felt dizzy after the face-mask hit but was feeling better after the game and got checked by team doctors, who told him “everything’s fine.”
For the Giants, perhaps the tone of the day had been set early. Sunday night, Pence wrote on Twitter that somebody had stolen his scooter, which the right fielder rides to and from AT&T Park for home games and counted among his most valued possessions.
Pence seemed upbeat discussing the incident Monday morning, telling reporters he would offer a reward of a signed bobblehead – the one given out at a game earlier this season, which shows Pence riding said scooter – for the scooter’s return.
Still, Bochy said before the game that when he saw his right fielder in the clubhouse, the perpetually optimistic Pence “had a sad face on. … I’ve never seen that with Hunter.”