For the observer, to be traded away from a team on the cusp of success after miring for years in their rebuild seems the stuff of Langston Hughes. But we are usually not privy to these private thoughts of baseball players, and it's possible that Jeff Samardzija doesn't care.
Or, at least, he didn't. Saturday night's result might be a scab he's left to pick at for a while. It’s unlikely that Samardzija envisioned his night ending so quickly, but the environment of the postseason forces managers to go to their bullpens sooner than they would on a lazy afternoon in the heat of the regular season.
As a whole, Game 2 was somehow mundane while it was eventful. Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks had to leave the game in the fourth inning with a bruised forearm–the product of an Angel Pagan liner squared up right to him–and his initial replacement, Travis Wood, hit the first home run by a relief pitcher in the postseason since 1924 just before he faced Madison Bumgarner, Giants pinch-hitter. It’s no secret that baseball amplifies the weird in October.
But before all of this, Chicago paired a leadoff double from Dexter Fowler and a single punched to right field by Ben Zobrist to score in the first inning, and Fowler’s at-bat proved prescient of Samardzija’s night. After getting an 0-2 count, Fowler drew it full and then rifled his double on the ninth pitch. From there, the tone was set, and the San Francisco starter’s night was probably over several batters before he was ready to accept that it was.
In his two innings, Samardzija gave up a lot of hard contact, but the second inning that was his undoing was also the product of a miffed play–hard as it would have been to complete notwithstanding–from Hunter Pence in right field and the aggressive baserunning from Javier Baez as well, who scored from second on a bloop single from Kyle Hendricks. This kind of baserunning is true to the spirit of how Baez has always played, but is probably also necessitated by the nature of a playoff game.
With the exception of Wood’s blast, Chicago otherwise pieced together runs in the kind of way that drives starting pitchers mad and eventually from the game. They used the collective hitting of Fowler, Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward, Baez, and Willson Contreras to supplement Hendricks’ two-RBI night and effectively secure the game in the second inning.
Hendricks’ third inning was certainly wobbly, as Bruce Bochy chose to pull his starter and pinch-hit Gregor Blanco in his stead on the heels of a lead offdouble from Joe Panik. This proved wise, as Blanco doubled as well to score Panik. Blanco moved to third base on a ground out from Denard Span and then scored on Brandon Belt’s sacrifice fly. Here, it’s 4-2 and the Giants appear to have their best chance.
Even as Bochy went to Bumgarner as a pinch-hitter in the fifth to save his offense that remained on the bench in anticipation of a bullpen that would get only heavier use on Saturday night, things looked to be lining up in San Francisco’s favor. Bumgarner reached second on errors squared from Kris Bryant at third, who botched the grounder on a tough hop and then sailed the throw to first. Rare mistakes from Bryant at third, but worse still, a scoring opportunity that the Giants did not capitalize on.
Travis Wood’s fourth-inning home run came almost abruptly enough that it could be forgiven if you missed it altogether, and in hindsight, it amounts to nice trivia, and all told, three of Chicago’s five runs came on the bats of two of their pitchers. The Cubs' bullpen and their counterparts from San Francisco traded off quieting their opposing offenses, and the second game of the NLDS sailed on to a quiet end after making so much noise through the first four innings or so. The Cubs won, 5-2, and fly to San Francisco with a comfortable 2-0 series lead.
The Cubs did not play flawlessly, but they played cleanly and have now backed the Giants into a corner. Not that San Francisco can’t punch its way out–something they did in 2012 against the Cincinnati Reds–but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the even-year magic is coming to an end in a few days. Chicago can credit this win largely to a three-run second inning, but the work of Travis Wood is the subtle difference in this game and possibly in this series.
His inning-and-a-third of scoreless relief after Hendricks had to leave the game in the fourth is one thing, but the silencing of the Giants may–may–have come fittingly while Bruch Bochy was being interviewed on live television. Bochy sitting down before his interview was done after Wood’s first-pitch home run to left center might stand symbolic in a few days. For the game, Wood’s home run is icing, but for the series, maybe it’s more.
For the Giants, a dropped fly ball to right field by Hunter Pence or a few more well-placed pitches from Samardzija can make all the difference, but postseason baseball can often be about minutiae, even when that means reviewing a sliding double from Baez to determine if he came off of the bag after sliding safely into the bag. From here, they go to Monday night with their best pitcher on the mound and a last gasp at holding off a quick exit. Last Wednesday night’s heroics from Conor Gillaspie might seem far away by now, but tides can shift quickly.
The Giants and Cubs travel to the bay for Game 3, and for now, everything appears to be coming up in blue and white.
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now