CHICAGO -- Prior to Sunday's 3-2, 13-inning loss at Wrigley Field, Giants manager Bruce Bochy acknowledged that he didn't expect an offensive breakout here against the Cubs pitching staff.
"You've got to scratch and claw with the type of pitching we see here," Bochy said.
Or squeeze and throw sand. And hope Santiago Casilla doesn't fall off the high wire again.
Casilla tumbled in the ninth, and despite a bullpen whose perseverance in extra innings included Joe Nathan's first appearance as a Giant since 2003, their barren offense could not take advantage of the extra lives.
There were no more reprieves after the 13th. Left-hander Matt Reynolds, the Giants' 10th pitcher, gave up Jason Heyward's RBI single to center to send the Cubs spilling onto the field and their beer-soaked crowd into group song.
The Giants fell three games back in the N.L. West, and for another shovelful of hot unease, the Dodgers are planning to have Clayton Kershaw back in their rotation on Friday. The Giants continue to lead the wild-card standings, but their advantage has softened. One more bad series could see them knocked below the Cardinals and Mets.
Bochy's struggling offense might as well have spent the weekend trying to hit Kershaw after a three-martini lunch. They batted .106 in four games at the Friendly Confines, yet somehow were three outs away from achieving a split -- and a season series victory -- against baseball's winningest team. An error and two groundouts produced one run. A suicide squeeze produced another.
But once again, Casilla could not nail down a one-run save. Addison Russell, who stung the ball all afternoon, led off the ninth with a double into the left field corner. A wild pitch moved him to third. Heyward's single tied it.
Casilla's seventh blown save is the most among N.L. relievers and the most by a Giant since a clean-shaven Brian Wilson in 2009.
Asked if he would stand behind Casilla as his closer, Bochy spoke in support of the veteran right-hander. But "yes" was nowhere to be found in his reply.
"He's been throwing the ball well," Bochy said. "This was a tough one, no getting around it. But it's tough to get down on somebody. He's been doing a good job. Sure, he's had his hiccups. But the other closers are right there with saves that have gotten away."
The Giants suddenly have an alternative to replace him, and he is a 41-year-old six-time All-Star who ranks eighth all-time with 377 career saves. Nathan retired the side in the 12th including a strikeout of presumptive N.L. MVP Kris Bryant while flashing a 92-mph fastball.
"A little more adrenaline, for sure," said Nathan, acknowledging he was pumped both to pitch in a Giants uniform again and to face the team that released him a month ago. "The pitches felt good. I just really tried to calm myself down and take what I did (at Double-A) Richmond and bring it here."
Bochy was right about one thing: The closer role might be an issue, but it's not the club's only failure. If Casilla had converted his three blown saves out of 12 since the All-Star break, the Giants would be 19-30 instead of 16-27 -- in either case, hardly a team taking command of a playoff spot.
The Giants tallied just four hits. They mustered just 14 over the four-game series. It was the first time they were held to four hits or fewer in four consecutive games since June 13-16, 1963.
Buster Posey, who has one home run since the break, went 1 for 16 in the series, and his only hit was an infield single in the 11th inning.
Yet their pitching was poised to use all parts of the buffalo to split the series. Johnny Cueto gave up one run on five hits in seven innings, and was in line for one of his grittier victories before Casilla blew it.
"I had pinpoint control. I was putting the pitches where I wanted to," Cueto said through interpreter Erwin Higueros. "We played against a good team. We lost three out of four. Unfortunately, our closer was not able to save the game."
The Giants scored their first run without benefit of a hit. Hunter Pence reached on a two-base error to start the second inning when Heyward, a Gold Glove right fielder, clanked a line drive. A pair of productive outs moved Pence along, with Nez's ground ball to short bringing him home.
The Cubs tied it in the fourth. Anthony Rizzo led off with a single, Ben Zobrist drew a walk and Heyward looped a two-out single to center -- the first of his three RBI hits on the day.
The Giants used one hit, and some expertly crafted small ball, to take the lead in the fifth. Nez lashed a double to right-center and lost his helmet as he raced around first base. Then he stole third base, and the Cubs brought their infielders tight. With a 3-1 count to Ehire Adrianza, there was little else Cubs manager Joe Maddon could do. With no threat of a pitchout, Nez dashed away from third base as Adrianza put down a successful suicide squeeze.
Nez got such a good jump that he scored standing up.
"I have to use my speed to create something," said Nez, who also stole a base after walking in the 12th. "Maybe they'll throw the ball away."
When you hit .106 in a four-game series, you take hope wherever you can find it.