CHICAGO — The Giants were right to think their rotation could go neck-and-neck with Chicago’s in the National League Division Series. They still have not figured out, however, how to be the team that gets the big hit at Wrigley Field.
Johnny Cueto and Jon Lester were brilliant in Game 1 of the NLDS, but Cueto made a mistake in the eighth and his shot at a victory drifted away, out past the shaking bleachers. Javier Baez hit a poorly located fastball in the eighth, providing the only offense in a 1-0 game with a solo shot.
Cueto gave up just three hits, two fewer than Lester, who matched his eight innings. Aroldis Chapman was the only other pitcher to take the mound, and he worked past a two-out double by Buster Posey to give the Cubs the series lead.
The city of Chicago waited all season for this night, but Cueto took the air out of Wrigley Field early, retiring the first 10 hitters he faced. He got some help from two players — Gorkys Hernandez and Kelby Tomlinson — in the lineup to provide right-handed bats against Lester. Hernandez robbed David Ross of extra bases in the third. Kris Bryant snapped the perfect game with a hard double to left in the fourth inning, but Tomlinson made a diving stop to prevent an RBI single from Ben Zobrist.
On the other side, the Giants put the leadoff runner on in each of the first three innings against Lester. Hernandez led off the first with a bunt single and sped off two pitches later, trying to take advantage of Lester, who doesn’t hold runners well. David Ross made a perfect throw to second for the out. Two innings later, the Giants lost another baserunner on a bizarre play.
Conor Gillaspie led off the third with a single and first baseman Anthony Rizzo walked toward the dugout to get a new glove. Rizzo then stood alongside Lester as second baseman Javier Baez shifted over to hold Gillaspie on at first. The Giants surely thought Rizzo was preparing to field a bunt. Instead, the Cubs called a pitchout and Ross nabbed Gillaspie with a backdoor throw to Baez. The Giants put runners on second and third with two down in the fourth, but Brandon Crawford grounded out.
Lester and Cueto, who finished second and fifth, respectively, in the National League in ERA, charged into the night. Lester was perfect in the middle innings, getting through seven on just 79 pitches. Cueto struck out the side in the sixth and finished the seventh at 99 pitches. He got an assist from bench coach Ron Wotus — who positions the infielders — and Tomlinson, who made a diving stop in shallow right to prevent a leadoff single.
Cueto looked poised to match Lester’s eight innings, but Cueto grooved a fastball to Baez with one out in the eighth and paid for it. Baez crushed a moonshot that dropped right into the basket that separates the field from the bleachers. Angel Pagan made it to the ivy and jumped, but the ball was inches out of reach. As Baez flipped his bat, Cueto dropped his head back in despair, knowing the Giants did not have a ninth-inning comeback victory all season long.
In five games at Wrigley Field over the past five weeks, the Giants have just 20 hits.