Cubs Russell up rally to top Giants in opener

Cubs Russell up rally to top Giants in opener

CHICAGO -- Before Thursday's game, Cubs manager Joe Maddon was asked whether he has been more impressed by Addison Russell's offense or his defense this season. Russell answered for his manager with two outs in the seventh inning, smacking a two-run single to lift the Cubs to a 5-4 victory over the Giants and spoil Jeff Samardzija's return to Wrigley Field.

"He's growing up as a Major League baseball player," Maddon said of Russell after he delivered his 11th game-winning RBI of the season and 10th at home. "His confidence could not be higher."

With the Cubs trailing, 4-3, in the seventh, Dexter Fowler reached on an infield single and Kris Bryant walked to chase Hunter Strickland. Will Smith struck out Anthony Rizzo, but Fowler stole third during Ben Zobrist's at-bat. Zobrist then walked to load the bases, and Smith got Jason Heyward to pop out to second baseman Joe Panik in shallow right. Cory Gearrin took over, and Russell greeted him with his single to left, raising his RBI total to 88.

"I embrace those situations," Russell said. "In that situation, I didn't try to do too much. I just wanted to see a pitch and go about my approach the same way."

Samardzija was making his first start as a visiting pitcher at Wrigley, which was once his home turf.

"It was an exciting atmosphere and it reminded me a lot of my earlier years here, when we were filling it up," said Samardzija, a Cub from 2008-14. "It's still different being on the other side, but it was fun."

The Giants' right-hander survived a shaky first inning, throwing 47 pitches and giving up three runs, including one on Bryant's RBI single, which extended the Cub's hitting streak to 14 games. In the next three innings, Samardzija threw 40 pitches combined. Manager Bruce Bochy then called upon his bullpen, and did so often, using four pitchers in the seventh inning alone.

Bryant's RBI single

Cubs relievers Rob Zastryzny, Joe Smith and Carl Edwards Jr. combined to throw five perfect innings to hold the Giants at bay, the second time the bullpen has done that this year. In the previous eight seasons, the Cubs' 'pen had not totaled five hitless innings.

Edwards Jr. locks down save

"We just couldn't tack on," Bochy said. "That's the difference. Their 'pen did quite a job on us."

This was the first of four games between two teams that could meet again in October. The Cubs began the day with a 15-game lead in the Central Division, their largest on Sept. 1 in 109 years, while the Giants are on top of the NL Wild Card standings despite going 11-16 in August. San Francisco trails first-place Los Angeles by two games in the NL West.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Keep the line moving: The Cubs made Samardzija work from the start, beginning with a 13-pitch at-bat by leadoff man Fowler that resulted in a walk. Fowler moved up on a wild pitch and then scored on Bryant's soft single to right. The Cubs now have scored in the first in six consecutive home games. They weren't finished either. Heyward tied the game with an RBI single and one out later, Chris Coghlan lined an RBI double down the right-field line for a 3-2 lead. The Cubs have outscored opponents, 93-56, in the first.

Fowler's at-bat was key.

"When your leadoff hitter does that, it sets the tone," Maddon said.

Coghlan's RBI double

Basic offense: The Giants rediscovered the joys of putting the leadoff batter on base. Each time that happened, they scored. Unfortunately for them, they accomplished this only during the first three innings. Denard Span doubled to open the game and set up Hunter Pence's two-run homer off Cubs starter Mike Montgomery. Joe Panik was grazed by a pitch to start the second inning and came around to score without benefit of a hit. Demonstrating the respect he commands, Buster Posey drew a third-inning walk before tallying the run that gave the Giants a temporary 4-3 edge.

Posey scores on an error

Pence rejected the notion that the Giants' aim was to excel down the stretch.

"If you only come to play in September and October, you're missing out on a lot of the season," he said. "You have to keep getting up there and having at-bats with intention."

Start me up: In his third start for the Cubs, Montgomery gave up four runs -- three earned -- over four innings. The lefty has been subbing for John Lackey, who is expected back in the rotation on Sunday. But Montgomery could start again. The Cubs are considering using a six-man rotation in the final month of the regular season to conserve the starters.

Nice recovery: This may sound strange, but Samardzija actually pitched capably after his dreadful first inning. Beginning with his strikeout of Montgomery to end the first, Samardzija retired eight consecutive batters and 10 of the final 12 he faced. Bochy removed him after he yielded three runs and five hits in four innings, marking only the third time this season that he couldn't last at least five innings.

Samardzija, who also drove in a run with a sacrifice fly, said that he's "always upset" when he can't pitch deep into a game and give the bullpen a break.

"It's unfortunate we had to burn through seven guys on your day," he said, including himself in that total.

Samardzija's sac fly

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Russell now has the most RBIs by a Cubs player in their age-22-or-younger season since Vic Saier drove in 92 runs in 1913 at the age of 22. Russell has 32 RBIs in his last 32 games, and has gone 8-for-18 (.444) with 23 RBIs with the bases loaded this season.

WHAT'S NEXT
Giants: Rookie right-hander Albert Suarez will begin another audition for a starting role Friday when he confronts the Cubs in an 11:20 a.m. PT encounter. Suarez made seven starts in 17 previous appearances for San Francisco, posting a 1-1 record and a 4.38 ERA.

Cubs: Jon Lester will make his 27th start on Friday in the second game of this four-game series. He finished August 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA in five starts. The lefty leads the team in quality starts with 21 in his 26 outings. First pitch is scheduled for 1:20 p.m. CT at Wrigley Field.

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Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.

Chris Haft has covered the Giants since 2005, and for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.