CHICAGO -- It sounded and felt like playoff baseball at Wrigley Field on Thursday night, which can only help the young Cubs who are trying to open some space between themselves and the Giants in the Wild Card race.
Rookie Kyle Schwarber smacked a three-run homer to lead the Cubs to a 5-4 victory over the Giants, as Chicago moved a half-game ahead of San Francisco in the Wild Card race.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon pulled Hammel early, saying he didn't feel the right-hander's command was as sharp. Plus, this is a big series.
"You get off to such a quick lead -- to relinquish that and lose that game would've been a very difficult loss," Maddon said. "I just thought we did not want to let it slip away tonight."
Giants starter Chris Heston took the loss, serving up Schwarber's homer, which was the first off the right-hander since May 23, ending a streak of 78 1/3 innings without one, the longest active streak for any starting pitcher. Chicago now has won seven of its last eight games.
"His arm slot was off a little bit early," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "That's unusual for him."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Kid stuff: The Cubs loaded the bases with two outs in the first and took a 2-0 lead on Jorge Soler's two-run single. Schwarber made more noise in the second with his first home run at Wrigley Field, launching a 1-0 pitch from Heston into the right-field bleachers. It was the rookie's second home run in as many games and sixth this season.
"The big thing with him is he's not chasing out of the zone right now," Maddon said of Schwarber. "That's why he's doing all that damage. He's getting in good counts and when they throw a pitch that he likes, he's not missing." More >
Losing steam: The Giants opened their scoring with Belt's two-run homer in the fourth inning and kept applying pressure as Ehire Adrianza and Hector Sanchez walked to open the fifth. But the Giants couldn't score, spoiling a chance to make matters more competitive.
That inning came down to the final out as Cubs right-hander Justin Grimm and Giants left fielder Nori Aoki engaged in a 10-pitch confrontation that ended with the Chicago reliever coaxing a harmless grounder to second base. More >
Short leash: Maddon was quick to pull Hammel in the fifth after the right-hander walked the first two batters that inning. Hammel has yet to finish the sixth in his last five starts. The Chicago bullpen picked up the slack, including Grimm, who replaced Hammel in the fifth and retired the side.
"I understand the magnitude of the situation and I don't want to make a big deal of it," said Hammel, who talked to Maddon after the game. "As a competitor, I want to be out there and clean up my own mess." More >
Heston humbled: It was immediately obvious that Heston (11-6) wasn't himself. He loaded the bases with one out in the first inning by sandwiching walks to Schwarber and Kris Bryant around hitting Anthony Rizzo. By the time Heston righted himself, the Giants trailed, 5-0. He salvaged his evening by throwing two perfect innings but was gone after four.
"I just got back to throwing strikes -- attacking the zone, obviously," Heston said. "I was just kind of tired of nibbling and I just figured, hey, let's see how far they can hit it, honestly."
"Every game's important. The main goal is to be relevant after the All-Star break and we're right there. We're very happy taking the first one in a pretty important series. This is a tough ballgame, tough team. They've won three of the last five World Series. We have to make sure we win as many times as we can. They battled back from a big deficit today and we were able to pull it out. Kudos to us. We're going to continue to grind." -- Hammel.
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
With his walk in the sixth, Dexter Fowler has reached base in a career-high 20 consecutive games, the first time a Cubs player has done that since Alfonso Soriano's 20-game stretch May 25-June 15, 2012.
WHAT'S NEXT Giants:Ryan Vogelsong, who'd rather start than relieve but keeps his mouth shut about it, will receive a chance to prove himself in Friday's 1:05 p.m. PT encounter when he takes the ball for the injured Mike Leake. Expect catcher Buster Posey, who received a rest Thursday, to be back in the lineup working with Vogelsong.
Cubs:Jon Lester did start Monday in Pittsburgh but only lasted 1 2/3 innings before rain interrupted the game, which was eventually postponed. In his last official start, the lefty struck out 14 over eight innings. He's faced the Giants twice and beaten them both times. First pitch Friday will be 3:05 p.m. CT.