By Morris Phillips
SAN FRANCISCO — Monday night’s tense, playoff-like meeting of the Cubs and Giants needed a hero. In the 11th inning, Pablo Sandoval emerged as that guy.
One day after Sandoval came up with five RBIs in the Giants’ 13-8 win over the Cardinals, the Panda delivered the game-winning hit against the Cubs. Never an insignificant feat, Sandoval gained difficulty points by delivering against a five-man infield while facing formidable reliever Pedro Strop.
“You can’t let that affect your at-bat, and I don’t think it affected Pablo at all,” said manager Bruce Bochy of the crowded infield and Sandoval’s cold-blooded approach.
When Sandoval delivered the two teams had been locked into a 1-1 duel for nearly six innings. While the Giants realized more run scoring opportunities, the Cubs and manager Joe Maddon had answers with starter Kyle Hendricks, who pitched into the ninth, and relievers Randy Rosario and Steve Cishek.
In the tenth inning, Cishek extricated the Cubs from a one-out, runner at third situation by striking out inexperienced hitters Chase d’Arnaud and Steven Duggar. That stranded would-be hero Hunter Pence, who tripled to put the Giants in position, prompting Maddon to move versatile outfielder Ben Zobrist to the infield the first time.
One inning later, the Giants were in the advantageous spot with Strop summoned to face the more dangerous Sandoval, after the Cubs elected to walk All-Star Brandon Crawford ahead of him.
“He’s our best hitter right now,” Sandoval said of Crawford. “I just dropped everything from my mind. I got the opportunity and I took advantage of it.”
Starter Andrew Suarez impressed again by allowing one run on three hits in six innings of work. Suarez struggled with his command, walking four, but got big outs when needed.
Five Giants relievers would follow Suarez, each pitching an inning without falling into stressful situations. Of the five, only closer Will Smith allowed a hit, Zobrist’s two-out double in the ninth. Smith recovered by retiring David Bote to end the inning.
The Giants improved to 3-2 on their lengthy, 10-game homestand, and moved within three games of the idle, first-place Arizona.