Pence: Bullpen, Samardzija battled in defeat

Pence: Bullpen, Samardzija battled in defeat

CHICAGO -- Odd as it may seem, it's possible to contend that the Giants received a decent pitching effort Thursday night in their 5-4 loss to the Chicago Cubs.

Or, as right fielder Hunter Pence said, citing one of his favorite inspirational quotations: "See victory where others see nothing."

That bromide suited this game, from the Giants' perspective.

Obviously, Jeff Samardzija endured an atrocious first inning and Hunter Strickland, the first of four relievers manager Bruce Bochy employed in the seventh inning, began that frame by putting the tying and go-ahead runs on base.

But instead of dissolving after the rigorous first inning, Samardzija toughened. Striking out opposing pitcher Mike Montgomery to end the first put Samardzija on course to retire eight consecutive batters and 10 of the last 12.

And though the bullpen couldn't hold the lead, Trade Deadline acquisition Will Smith turned in one of his best performances as a Giant during the seventh, striking out Anthony Rizzo and inducing a popup from Jason Heyward with runners in scoring position.

However, Cory Gearrin was forced to swallow a dose of bad baseball luck. Replacing Smith, the right-hander broke Addison Russell's bat with a hard, inside sinker, thrown how and where he wanted it. But Russell put enough splintered wood on the ball to muscle it into left field for the two-run single that erased San Francisco's 4-3 lead.

"That was a tough one," Gearrin said. "Those are the situations I want to come into. ... It's frustrating because you want to get the result no matter what."

The Giants' determined performances prompted optimism from the ever-upbeat Pence, whose two-run, first-inning homer was the loudest hit among the meager total of three that San Francisco collected.

Pence's two-run dinger

"It's very important in these tough stretches to see the little victories -- the great fight and great performances from a lot of our bullpen pitchers," Pence said after the Giants fell two games behind the first-place Dodgers in the National League West.

Pence praised Samardzija's "gutsy" effort, which ended after four innings and 87 pitches. Given Samardzija's thorough recovery after the first inning, Bochy was asked whether the right-hander could have worked into the fifth, which might have saved a bullpen arm or two.

"That's a lot of work," Bochy said, referring to the career-high 47 pitches Samardzija threw in the first inning. Bochy added that the presence of the September callups enhanced the bullpen's depth and enabled him to turn to the relievers earlier than usual.

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.