© Quinn Harris | 2019 Aug 21
When in pursuit of a wild card spot, every game feels more important than the last. The wins feel like strides toward reaching the playoffs, and the losses feel like major setbacks. It’s not a life-or-death game every night, but sometimes it feels that way.
The deeper these races go the crazier the games seem to get…and Wednesday night was a wild one. When the smoke cleared, the Giants had fallen to the Cubs for the second consecutive night, losing 12-11 in another slugfest.
Coupled with Wednesday night’s 5-3 loss, Chicago has an even firmer grasp on the second wild card spot the Giants so covet. The Cubs are now two games up on the next-closest team and 5.5 games up on the Giants.
San Francisco has a roster full of players familiar with these wild card races. They still have pieces of their core that won the 2016 Wild Card Game, and several players who won it in 2014. They’ve got veterans who chased those spots on other teams too, and two of them happen to be some of the team’s hottest hitters: Kevin Pillar and Evan Longoria.
It was Longoria who got the Giants on the board first Wednesday night with a 415-foot two-run shot off Cubs starter Yu Darvish in the first inning.
Chicago, who had won three-consecutive games prior to Wednesday’s matchup, answered right back when Nicolas Castellanos took Dereck Rodriguez deep for a 362-foot two-run shot to left in the bottom half of the inning. It was Castellanos’ third homer in as many games.
This was just the start of what would be a truly crazy night.
Both Rodriguez and Darvish were coming off some of their best starts of the season. Rodriguez threw seven scoreless innings his last time out and Darvish did the same, but neither made it through the fifth on Wednesday. The game turned into a heavyweight boxing match, with nobody pulling away until the very end.
The Cubs demolished Rodriguez to the tune of six runs in four innings and the Giants tagged Yu Darvish with seven runs in his 5.1. The long ball played a leading role. Rodriguez gave up two homers, one to Castellanos and another two Kyle Schwarber. Darvish gave up four of them. Longoria hit his in the first inning, Mike Yastremzki hit a two-run shot in the fifth to cut the lead down to two runs, and then Stephen Vogt and Kevin Pillar stepped up to tie the game.
Stephen Vogt and Pillar launched back-to-back homers. Vogt’s was a 416-foot two-run shot and Pillar’s was a 385-foot solo shot.
Austin Slater then stepped up and drove in two more runs with a two-run double down the right field line in that same inning to give the Giants a 9-7 lead in the top of the sixth, their first lead since the first inning.
That lead didn’t last long, and neither did any lead for the rest of the night. Whenever a team scored, the other responded almost immediately.
The Cubs immediately answered back by tying the game in the bottom half of the inning. Anthony Rizzo hit an RBI ground-rule double and Javier Baez tied the game with a single on a soft grounder to Longoria.
The Cubs weren’t done then though, as Schwarber had an RBI fielder’s choice in the next at-bat and the Cubs grabbed a 10-9 lead.
That lead lasted until the next half-inning, where the Giants tied the game on an RBI single to center from Vogt and then un-tied the game on a sac-fly from Brandon Belt two batters later. The Giants had an 11-10 lead.
The game had gotten too crazy, and the Giants desperately needed someone to throw a shutdown inning and preserve their momentum. The man for the job was Jandel Gustave. He struck out Victor Caratini and Addison Russell both on three pitches, and was one-strike away from an immaculate bottom of the seventh inning before Jason Heyward grounded out to second base. It marked the first time the Giants maintained a lead through the bottom half of an inning.
Ultimately the Cubs retook the lead on a monster two-run jack from Kris Bryant in the bottom of the eighth. They had a 12-11 lead, and that lead could have ballooned even larger had Mike Yastremski not thrown out Schwarber at the plate as he tried to score on a single from Tony Kemp.
If the Giants were going to win the game they were going to need to go through Craig Kimbrel, which is nearly an impossible task. He sat down the side in order, striking out both Vogt and Pillar before getting Brandon Belt to fly out to end the game.
The Giants are 5.5 games behind the Cubs for the second Wild Card spot in the National League and are back below .500.