Giants get no relief in 5-4 loss to Cubs

CHICAGO -- Bruce Bochy has 11 choices in his bullpen now that rosters have expanded. He'll have an even dozen when the Giants activate newly designated reliever Matt Cain.

Bochy is not the type to let pantry items linger past their expiration date.

But when you are trying to hold a one-run lead against the Chicago Cubs, sometimes it doesn't matter how you try to bake the cake. It'll end up getting sat upon. Cory Gearrin, the fourth reliever in the seventh inning, gave up a two-run, broken-bat hit to Addison Russell and the Giants opened a challenging four-game series at Wrigley Field with a 5-4 loss Thursday night.

The Giants' deficit in the NL West is two games behind the idle Los Angeles Dodgers; the Giants continue to lead in the NL Wild Card picture, in which they are 1 games ahead of the Cardinals and 3 games in front of the New York Mets.

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They were poised to improve their standing against the league's best team, even after the Cubs harassed Jeff Samardzija into a career-high 47-pitch first inning that virtually assured the visiting bullpen would be littered with spike marks.

Hunter Pence hit a two-run home run in the first inning and the Giants led 4-3 after taking advantage of some wild pitching and erratic defense.

They carried the baton until the seventh, when five Giants relievers pitched well but could not stanch a two-run rally.

Hunter Strickland absorbed a comebacker from Dexter Fowler and his scooping throw arrived a moment too late. Then Strickland pitched carefully to NL MVP front-runner Kris Bryant while issuing a walk. Bochy tabbed left-hander Will Smith, who recorded a strikeout and a pop-up on lefty hitters Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward, sandwiched around a walk to Ben Zobrist.

Gearrin was next, and Russell was strong enough to pull an inside pitch into shallow left field to score two runs.

Although both starters only lasted through four innings, the Cubs' Joe Maddon needed to use just three relievers. New acquisition Joe Smith stymied the Giants in the seventh and eighth, and with Aroldis Chapman unavailable because of heavy use, Carl Edwards Jr. recorded a 1-2-3 ninth to record the save.

The Giants were 47-28 when they hit a home run, but it made no difference this time.

The Giants (72-61) appeared ready to squander another first-inning opportunity after Denard Span hit a leadoff double and Buster Posey couldn't score him from third base with one out. But Hunter Pence followed Posey's soft grounder by taking a rip at a belt-high fastball from Mike Montgomery and sending it into the left field bleachers.

It was Pence's ninth home run of the season and just his second in 101 at-bats since returning from hamstring tendon surgery.

Samardzija inherited a 2-0 lead, which affords little margin for error against this lineup in this ballpark. By the time Cubs No. 5 batter Jason Heyward stepped to the plate, the question wasn't whether Samardzija would hold the lead but whether he would survive the inning.

The Cubs were relentless, starting with Fowler as he worked a 13-pitch walk to start Samardzija's evening. The right-hander had a long way to go down a difficult road, and Fowler put a rock in his shoe.

Fowler advanced on a wild pitch and scored on Kris Bryant's well placed single. It took 23 pitches before Samardzija recorded an out, when first baseman Brandon Belt made a diving stop of Anthony Rizzo's grounder and threw for a force play at second base.

It took 37 pitches before Samardzija recorded a second out, which came after Jason Heyward hit a soft single that tied the score. Then Chris Coghlan, whom the Cubs called up perhaps motivated in part by his beefy career numbers against Samardzija, hocked a double over first base to put them ahead 3-2.

Samardzija intentionally walked No. 8 batter David Ross and struck out pitcher Mike Montgomery on his 47th pitch - one more than his career high for an inning.

The most remarkable part was that Samardzija did not appear to miss Buster Posey's glove too many times. The Cubs merely did an uncanny job of laying off competitive balls and fouling off the rest.

Samardzija got results that matched his stuff in the next three innings, when he retired nine of 10 batters. But the early damage to his pitch count - he stood at 87 through four -- prevented him from taking the mound to try to qualify for a win.

The Giants led 4-3 after three innings because of some sloppy pitching and defense. They scored a run in the second inning on a hit batter, a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly from Samardzija. They scored again in the third when Posey walked, moved up on Pence's single and scored on second baseman Ben Zobrist's throwing error.

For more on the Giants, see the Giants Extra blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/Giants. Follow Andrew Baggarly on Twitter at twitter.com/extrabaggs.