I'll remember this game for a long time, and you should, too.
When was the last time you can remember a Cubs team, down to its final strike on the road, with the other team's fans on their feet cheering for the final out, coming back from a deficit to win? Teams in general don't do this often; as Len and JD pointed out on WGN-TV, the Cubs had previously won just one game all year while trailing entering the ninth, and the Giants had lost just one such game. (Even good teams have this ratio: the Cardinals, with the best record in the NL, are 0-29 when trailing entering the ninth, and the Rays, best in the AL, are 2-33.)
The Cubs now have two wins when they trail starting the ninth inning after Anthony Rizzo's ground ball went between Brandon Belt's legs for a Bill Buckner-ish error (I thought the ball was hit hard enough for Rizzo to be credited with a double, but we'll take it in either case); two runs scored and the Cubs held on for a 3-2 win over the Giants. The win evened the Cubs' record on this road trip at 4-4 and gave them more 2013 road wins (24, with 29 losses) than they had all last year (23-58). The rally began when Julio Borbon singled and Dioner Navarro walked off Giants closer Sergio Romo. It was Romo's fourth blown save of the year, but first since June 15.
So the first game in the post-Alfonso Soriano era ends with a dramatic win, though Kevin Gregg, in posting his 20th save in 23 attempts, got hit fairly hard again. He gave up a leadoff single in the last of the ninth and two long fly-ball outs, one to the wall in center field that was run down by David DeJesus, before getting Jeff Francoeur on a medium-deep fly to left to end it.
Speaking of Francoeur, he was nearly the hero for the Giants, driving in both their runs with a seventh-inning bloop single in the seventh inning. Told you the Cubs should have signed him! (Yes, that's a joke. Mostly. Not serious. Mostly.)
This was after two pitchers who have had tough seasons, Edwin Jackson and Matt Cain, had matched zeroes for the first five innings. The Cubs broke through against Cain in the sixth on a double by former Giant Nate Schierholtz (who got warm applause from the Giants fans) and a Starlin Castro single. For a time, it looked like one run might win the game, until Francoeur's hit.
Props to the Cubs bullpen -- James Russell and Matt Guerrier -- for keeping the game close until the winning ninth-inning rally. Guerrier, in particular, looked really good, getting the Giants on a 1-2-3 eighth, including a sweet-looking strikeout of Buster Posey to end the inning. Jackson, meanwhile, got his ERA below 5 (to 4.89) for the first time all year.
As you know, the Cubs have not been good in one-run games this year; the win makes them just 13-21 away from Wrigley Field. But the Cubs have now won two one-run games on this road trip, and games like this can help build a winning atmosphere around even a not-so-great team. The Cubs might not be done trading, with four days to go before the non-waiver deadline, but it appears they won't be nearly as bad after August 1, 2013, as they were after August 1, 2012.
Props also to Castro, who went 2-for-5 and broke his BA over the .250 mark for the first time since June 8. Using the benchmark of his enforced off day in Milwaukee just about a month ago, since then Castro is hitting .313/.358/.473 with seven doubles, a triple and three home runs in 120 plate appearances. He's walked six times in that span (he had just 12 walks in 326 PA before that) with 20 strikeouts. Sometimes, all it takes for a player is to have one day off to clear his head, and it looks like that day did this for Castro. (Too bad pretty much everyone had to beg Dale Sveum to do it for several weeks before he actually did it.)
Meanwhile, Junior Lake finally went hitless, though he wound up scoring the winning run after reaching base by beating out a double-play relay throw. You didn't think he was going to get a hit in every single game he played, did you?
The Cubs must have forgotten their gray road jerseys at home. They've worn the blue alts for every game this trip. They're still just 12-18 wearing the blue alts, 10-11 in road grays. (And man, are those orange Giants jerseys, which they wear for all their Friday home games, awful.)
Finally, the hit Francoeur had to drive in the runs reminded me of another player I wanted the Cubs to sign and the little "wager" I made here about him. Ryan Raburn hit a three-run walkoff homer for the Indians Friday night and now has an OPS of .924 in 161 at-bats. Meanwhile, though you might not have thought it possible, Scott Hairston has been even worse for the Nationals than he was for the Cubs. For Washington, Hairston is 2-for-16 (both singles) with seven strikeouts, and has an overall OPS of .616 in 115 at-bats. (He left the Cubs, ominously, with a .666 OPS.) I'm thinking I'll win this one.
The Cubs go for a series win tonight against the Giants, with Chris Rusin facing Madison Bumgarner (and thank heavens, an hour earlier, at 8:05 CT -- no more late-night games for a month, till the Cubs go to San Diego and Los Angeles). They can also clinch at least a .500 road trip with a Saturday night win against a clearly struggling Giants squad. Who'd have guessed?