CHICAGO — Consider that they could be on the first tee somewhere, and Wrigley Field isn’t such a bad place for the Giants to be this weekend.
Had they avoided the wild-card game, though, the Giants would be in a far better one. In that case, staff ace Madison Bumgarner would have been available to start Games 1 and 5 against the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS.
Of course, Bumgarner probably would have volunteered to pitch every game if given the chance.
“Yeah, that’s what some of us have told him,” one teammate said before the series opener on Friday night.
After the Cubs drew first blood in the best-of-five series, 1-0, the Giants were in need of Bumgarner or a reasonable facsimile already.
Giants starter Johnny Cueto did his part in the opener, but one fat pitch proved to be one too many.
Javier Baez decided a tense duel between Cueto and Jon Lester with a one-out home run in the eighth inning. The high drive fought its way through a stiff wind and landed in the basket in front of the left-field bleachers.
“He’s been pitching me inside,” Baez said. “I was just waiting for him to make a mistake, and he did.”
The blow touched off a giddy celebration among the sellout crowd, who included rocker Eddie Vedder, comedian Bill Murray and one hopeful Cubbie fan with a sign that promised “It’s Gonna Happen.”
The reference was to the Cubs’ first World Series championship since 1908, presumably.
After Cueto struck out the next batter, he kicked at the dirt in disgust.
“We were aware that one run was going to decide the game,” Cueto said through an interpreter.
That was the only run that Lester and closer Aroldis Chapman would need on this night. They limited the visitors to six hits and did not walk a batter.
“A great ballgame,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy called it. “One pitch … I expect these games to be like this.”
Still, if not for a hotly contested call in the ninth inning, the Giants thought they would have pushed a run across.
First base umpire Alan Porter ruled that lead-off batter Gorkys Hernandez did not hold up his swing in time. Then Hernandez struck out on a full count. One groundout later, Buster Posey clubbed a Chapman pitch off the base of the left-field wall that might have scored the runner.
“That checked-swing call goes their way, too,” Bochy did a slow burn afterward. “It didn’t look like he went [through with his swing.] That’s a tough break for us.”
What cannot be disputed is that, while the Cubs and Giants continue to play close games at Wrigley Field, the same team wins almost every time. All five games between them were decided by one run this season. And Bumgarner started the only game that his team won.
The loss was the eighth for the Giants in their last nine games at the historic ballpark, a span in which they scored only 23 runs.
Ex-Cub Jeff Samardzija will get the ball in Game 2 on Saturday with the season on the line for all intents in purpose.
Since the current playoff format was adopted in the 1995 season, teams that trailed 2-0 in a best-of-series came back to win only five times. The 2012 Giants were one of them.
Because Bumgarner won’t start until Game 3 on Monday, Matt Moore is the only other option.
“[Samardzija] has pitched well. He has earned this,” said Bochy, who added, “I just felt it was Jeff’s turn. He hasn’t been out there in a while, and I don’t want him to sit four or five days before he pitches [again].”
Samardzija made one appearance at Wrigley Field in the regular season. It wasn’t a pretty one. He got caught up in the emotion of the moment and departed after only four innings in an eventual 5-4 loss.
“Yeah, obviously, everything’s a little different when you pitched in one place for so long and then you have to go do it on the other side,” Samardzija said. “But [I’m] really not worried about it too much.”
Samardzija’s earned run average is a half run better at AT&T Park than on the road this season. But the difference in Moore’s home-road splits are even greater.