"The key to the game was the first inning," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "We get a guy in scoring position and strike out three times. We couldn't put the ball in play to take the lead and then we come out and walk Blanco, a leadoff walk, and they end up scoring two. That was the whole key to the game, and the momentum got lost."
The Cubs were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position until the ninth. Bumgarner, who has never thrown a complete game, entered the inning working on a shutout, but Starlin Castro and Joe Mather both singled to open the frame and chase the lefty. Alfonso Soriano then launched his eighth homer off Santiago Casilla to make it 4-3.
After Reed Johnson grounded out, pinch-hitter Bryan LaHair doubled to left and was replaced by pinch-runner Ian Stewart, who stayed put on Darwin Barney's infield single, chasing Casilla for left-hander Javier Lopez.
Lopez ended the drama by getting Steve Clevenger to ground out to first and pinch-hitter David DeJesus to fly out to center, giving the Cubs their first loss in four games.
Three wins in a row may not seem like a lot, but they followed a 12-game losing streak. Last season, the Cubs didn't win three straight until July 22-24, Game Nos. 100-102.
"We scored three runs in the ninth, but we came up short," Soriano said. "We'll come back tomorrow more hungry to win."
Maholm (4-4) took the loss, giving up four runs on eight hits and two walks over 5 1/3 innings. The lefty has not won in his past four starts.
After Blanco's leadoff walk in the first, Ryan Theriot hit an RBI double, one of three hits by the ex-Cubs infielder. One batter later, Buster Posey made it 2-0 with a sacrifice fly. Theriot singled to lead off the third, and he scored on Melky Cabrera's triple. Posey followed with an RBI single to make it 4-0.
"I thought [Theriot] yanked it foul, and it stayed fair," Maholm said. "Melky hit the changeup through the hole. The biggest thing was I walked the leadoff batter, which you don't want to do. We talked about it in our pitchers meeting and I walk the first hitter in the game.
"It was a battle," Maholm said. "I didn't bury some pitches, and they did a good job going the other way with two strikes and making me go up with the ball a little bit."
There were some head-scratching incidents. Both second baseman Barney and first baseman Jeff Baker ran after Joaquin Arias' popup in foul territory in the second, but the ball dropped between them.
"Barney said -- I don't remember his exact words -- but he was saying, 'You, you, you,' and he shouldn't say anything and Baker thought he heard something, so he pulled away," Sveum said. "That didn't hurt that much."
Arias eventually struck out. In the Cubs third, Castro singled with one out, and broke to steal second but stopped running as he approached the bag and didn't slide. He was easily thrown out.
"When I ran, I heard something, and I thought it was a foul ball," Castro said. "It's not a good time to run there. It was 2-0. I've got the green light, but it was not a good decision."
This season has been a test of Sveum's patience, but he's not rattled.
"Guys are playing hard and preparing hard, and you go out every night and it's a different night to win a baseball game," Sveum said. "My patience hasn't thinned because we're losing. Guys are doing what they can and playing as hard as they can."