The Cubs brought out a significant contingent of transplant fans to Oracle Park Monday night, and for much of the evening, the ballpark by the Bay sounded more like the North Side of Chicago.
But in the late innings, the Giants (51-50) offense found its sea legs with some clutch hitting from Pablo Sandoval, Austin Slater and Joe Panik against Chicago reliever Pedro Strop (L, 2-4, 5.47 ERA). And after trailing the entire evening, San Francisco took a 5-4 lead that the reliable Sam Dyson (S, 5-1, 2.57) protected for the win, putting them above .500 for the first time in 2019.
Panik noted that the Cubs generally travel well, so he wasn’t surprised to hear so much support for the visitors from the crowd while Chicago was ahead. But the soundtrack changed with the late-inning rally, and as the Giants chase down the second Wild Card spot riding the hottest streak in baseball, the stadium ambience stirred prescient sense memories. Panik said:
“That eighth inning — that’s October baseball at Oracle Park. When our fans get going, that’s what you think about now, and we got the momentum going and started scoring.”
Sandoval led off the eighth with a loud double off Strop and a batter later Brandon Crawford singled to put the Giants within a run. Kevin Pillar ran out what could have been a double play, but made it safely to first to advance the inning, which Panik said was critical. He said:
“KP getting down the line, hustling and extending the inning—the last two runs don’t happen without him getting down the line. When you’re playing for the playoff race, every 90 feet matters, every game matters and that inning was very important.”
Slater and Panik then snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with back-to-back doubles before the trusty Dyson sealed the deal.
The Giants seem nearly unstoppable of late, and skipper Bruce Bochy said his guys have had so many impressive comebacks they never think they’re out of it:
“What a comeback tonight, we had some hits [early], we just were missing a big hit and then in the eighth inning we had some guys really show some great at bats there. Slater—that was huge—and then Joe Panik, it just got contagious there.”
Before all that rookie Shaun Anderson (ND, 3-2, 4.91) pitched five innings on 76 pitches and allowed only three hits to Cubs batters, but each hit was good for a run. Those three runs — and an add-on run in the seventh against Trevor Gott (W, 7-0, 3.86 ERA) —were nearly too much to come back from, but ultimately his offense picked him up.
Anderson said he was glad he was able to limit the damage:
“You always feel good about a win, especially how it happened today. I feel like we’re never out of it, and just keeping the game as close as it was—that was my goal.”
The first two runs off Anderson came on the long ball, a second-inning splash hit from rookie Robel García (4)—the second in as many games—and then a solo shot from Kyle Schwarber the very next inning to put the Cubs (54-46) up 2-0.
The only other damage against Anderson came on some wildness in the fourth, when Anderson plunked Anthony Rizzo with one out and a batter later walked Jason Heyward. A single to right from Albert Almora was enough to make Anderson pay for the hit-by-pitch, plating Rizzo.
Bochy said his team excels at playing in tight ballgames and coming back in the late innings is second-nature:
“Once you’ve done it, it gives you the confidence that you can do it, you’re always in the game. And they know we can come back against any deficit and against good pitching. That’s a mindset that can be changed with success.”
The Giants offense broke through against rookie right-hander Alec Mills (ND, 0-0, 4.35 ERA) in the fourth when Stephen Vogt hit a line drive into the right field corner good for two bags and a Brandon Crawford single to right moved him to third. But Kevin Pillar failed to keep the line moving, grounding into a double play and though it was enough to get the Giants on the board, it ended the threat and Slater grounded out to end the inning.
Though Mills contained San Francisco early, they would chase from the game after just 4-1/3 inning.
Panik, who went 3-for-4, led off the fifth with a single to right. Brandon Belt came up a batter later and hit a single of his own to set rookie Mike Yastrzemski up to come through in the clutch, something he’s done quite a lot of for the Giants lately. He did it again Monday with an RBI single that moved Belt to third and prompted Cubbies skipper Joe Maddon to hook Mills for southpaw reliever Kyle Ryan.
Despite battling valiantly in an eight pitch at-bat against Ryan, Sandoval grounded into another double play for the Giants and the rally was snuffed.
Maddon commended the Giants play Monday night, but said his club played just as well, his reliever simply didn’t perform:
“They got some hits when they needed it, they scattered their hits well, they worked good at bats and they moved the baseball when they had to and they pitched well. They have a nice pitching staff….We played a really good game of baseball tonight, too, just Stropy had a tough night, that’s all.”
Anderson said the Giants have become closer knit in recent weeks as they find themselves winning, having fun and working their way back into serious contention for the post-season:
“Everyone’s looking out for each other in the locker room and on the field and it feel like we’re all family right now and got each other’s backs. It’s a great feeling to play the game.”
Madison Bumgarner (5-7, 3.65 ERA) will face Yu Darvish (3-4, 4.46 ERA) in game two of three with the Cubs Tuesday for a 6:45 p.m. start at Oracle Park. Bumgarner is coming off a stunning nine-inning, one-run gem pitched against the Mets Thursday in what turned into a 16-inning contest. It was the first of the three extra-inning victories in the series.