SAN FRANCISCO — Kyle Hendricks deserved better.
We’ve all been wondering where Good Kyle went, and he arrived in San Francisco Monday evening after about a month’s absence.
Hendricks became the first Cubs starter to pitch in the ninth inning in 2018. He was magnificent, at one point retiring 10 consecutive Giants and being removed with one out in the ninth only because he had issued his first walk of the evening.
Unfortunately, the Cubs offense also was absent Monday night and the bullpen just couldn’t get the job done, and the Giants won the first of this three-game series, 2-1.
The Cubs scored first — and the Cubs still haven’t won a game where they scored first since June 20 — in the third inning. Ian Happ led off with a double, went to third on a single by Albert Almora Jr. and scored on a fielder’s choice ground ball [VIDEO] hit by Addison Russell.
Now normally I would not link to video of a ground-out RBI, but that’s about all that qualified as “Cubs offense” in this one.
Just as it did for the Reds’ Billy Hamilton on Sunday at Wrigley Field when he raced around the bases to score a run, Cubs defense deserted them in the fifth inning and gave the Giants the tying run. Pablo Sandoval led off that inning by reaching on an error by Anthony Rizzo. He was forced by Alen Hanson.
Hendricks paid a bit too much attention to Hanson, and his pickoff attempt got past Rizzo and headed toward right field. And then... well, watch. [VIDEO]
That ball wound up in probably the worst possible spot, in a notch in the wall created by part of the visitors’ bullpen. And then when Javier Baez finally tracked the ball down he seemed a bit nonchalant about getting it back into the infield, and Hanson never slowed down. The relay made the play close at the plate, but Hanson was safe and the game was tied.
For Rizzo, normally known as a fine fielder, it was the first time in his career that he’d committed two errors in one game, never mind doing it in the same inning.
Give Hendricks credit, after a single by Hunter Pence followed, that’s when Kyle retired 10 in a row, six of those by strikeout. Kyle really did look like the best version of himself, getting the K’s by changeup and inducing weak contact. This is very promising for the rest of the season.
The Cubs, meanwhile, simply didn’t have enough baserunners. Russell led off the sixth with a double, but wound up stranded at third. After Willson Contreras walked with two out in the sixth, the Cubs had just two more baserunners the rest of the evening: Ben Zobrist, who doubled with two out in the ninth, and Jason Heyward, who walked with one out in the 10th. You’re simply not going to win games that way.
Meanwhile, Hendricks was keeping the Giants off the bases, too, but after that one-out walk in the ninth, Joe Maddon lifted him to the applause of a very large Cubs fan contingent at AT&T Park — a contingent large enough that at one point you could hear a “Let’s go Cubbies” chant arise.
Pence tripled with one out in the 10th, but Steve Cishek finished off that inning without incident by striking out Chase d’Arnaud and Steven Duggar, two guys who weren’t even on the Giants roster last week.
In the 11th, two singles off Cishek with one out brought Pedro Strop into the game. The Cubs deployed the five-man infield we had seen the Reds use Sunday at Wrigley, but it didn’t matter when Sandoval lined a single to left to end it.
On the two errors Rizzo made that gave the Giants their first run:
Rizzo on two-error inning that cost key run: "I have to catch them. End of story. There’s no excuse. One of those freak things that happen. Just turn the page real quick from it."— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) July 10, 2018
Rizzo’s always been a standup guy, and you knew he’d take responsibility for those, and he’s right: It happens, move on, there’s another game tonight.
“That’s the Kyle that we know and love,” Maddon said. “That’s one of the best games I’ve seen him throw. Physically his stuff was that good.”— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) July 10, 2018
Joe’s right, too. The ballpark pitch speed meter had Kyle touching 90 a couple of times, and that’s really good news, because the better his fastball, the more effective his changeup will be. If Kyle keeps pitching like that, he’ll have a monster second half.
I mentioned the large contingent of Cubs fans at AT&T Park; it’s my first visit to this ballpark since the 2016 NLDS, and of course these games don’t have the impact those did. As always in my visits to this jewel of a ballpark in San Francisco, the food was good and the gameday staff was friendly and helpful, and one of them even gave me a talk about Giants starter Andrew Suarez, about whom he said correctly: works fast, throws strikes. The Cubs actually had a good approach to Suarez; the four walks they drew Monday night were the most Suarez had issued in any of his 15 major-league starts to date. The Cubs just couldn’t take advantage of them (1-for-8 with RISP).
As Rizzo said: It happens, turn the page. There’s another game tonight. It’s unfortunate the Cubs couldn’t take this one, because the Marlins defeated the Brewers Monday night and that could have put the Cubs just half a game out of first place. As it is, the Cubs remain 1½ games behind Milwaukee, still tied with them in the loss column (37). It was the Cubs’ fourth consecutive one-run game. They’ve split those four and overall are 10-15 in one-run affairs in 2018, and their record in extra-inning games this year dropped to 5-5.
The second of this three-game series will be at 9:15 p.m. CT Tuesday, with Jose Quintana on the mound for the Cubs and Johnny Cueto for the Giants. TV coverage Tuesday will be via ABC7 Chicago.