Giants' playoff hopes grow dim with loss to Cubs
The San Francisco Giants have played themselves right out of the playoff race.
"It's getting down to a miracle," manager Bruce Bochy said. "I think we've made it real, real difficult."
Aramis Ramirez homered, Jake Fox hit a two-run single and the Chicago Cubs beat the Giants 6-2 on Saturday for their sixth win in seven games and third straight in this four-game series.
Chicago's victory again kept the Cardinals from clinching the NL Central - at least for a little while. St. Louis won 6-3 at Colorado on Saturday night to capture the division crown. The Cubs are 5 1/2 games behind the Rockies for the wild card with eight to play.
The Cubs are 16-9 in September and have won six of seven road games for the first time since Sept. 10-24 last year.
"I don't know what our record is but we've been playing good ball," manager Lou Piniella said. "It's been good to watch. And we've been doing it with a team that's been banged up and using a lot of young kids pitching-wise and people we've called up on the field."
Tom Gorzelanny (7-2) won consecutive starts for the first time all season and his third straight decision, following Carlos Zambrano's two-hit gem a night earlier with five solid innings of his own. The left-hander returned to the rotation Sept. 21 after a 3 1/2-week stint in the bullpen.
Gorzelanny allowed one run and five hits, struck out five and walked three. Acquired by the Cubs on July 30 from Pittsburgh, he hadn't won consecutive starts since Aug. 22 and 28, 2007, with the Pirates.
Geovany Soto drove in two runs and Kosuke Fukudome added a pinch-hit RBI single for the Cubs, who left the bases loaded in the second inning but quickly got to Barry Zito (10-13) in the third.
Ramirez, sidelined for nearly two months from May to July with a dislocated left shoulder, hit a solo drive in the fourth for his 15th homer, giving him 26 RBIs in his last 27 games. He was scratched Friday because the shoulder was sore.
Chicago's players just wish they'd have been playing like this earlier.
"I wish it could have happened sooner," Fox said. "But at the same time it's good that it's happening now because it's something to build off in the offseason. I think we're having fun now. You see guys out there laughing and really enjoying themselves."
Juan Uribe homered for the Giants but they absorbed their seventh loss in 10 games and are spiraling downward to seriously diminish their chances in the wild-card race. They had a chance to gain ground on Colorado on Thursday but lost 3-2, then Zambrano beat reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum on Friday.
"It's definitely been tough on this homestand so far and it's kind of surprising because we have been so tough here," Zito said. "We've had ups and downs throughout the year and we can say this is one of our downs, but we can't afford to have a down in September, not for a good team, which we think we are."
Bochy has turned his attention to a strong finish, as difficult as it is to acknowledge the Giants are all but out of it and stand to miss the playoffs for the sixth straight year.
"We're sputtering, no getting around it," he said. "We know it. We had some pretty good opportunities early, we just couldn't get the big hit."
Zito was tagged for four runs and six hits in four innings with five walks and three strikeouts. His 1-2-3 inning in the first was the only clean inning all day for San Francisco.
It didn't help his cause that the Giants' offense again struggled to back Zito with enough runs, going 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position. The left-hander has had one or fewer runs of support in 15 of his 32 starts this season.
In the third, Zito fielded Soto's soft RBI grounder with his pitching hand on what might have been a double-play ball and fired to first for the out. Athletic trainer Dave Groeschner and Bochy came to the mound to check on Zito, who threw two practice pitches to show he was OK and stayed in the game.
Giants pitchers had four strikeouts to establish a new single-season franchise record, surpassing their 1,240 from last season.
NOTES: Cubs 1B Derrek Lee missed his second straight game with neck spasms. ... San Francisco CF Aaron Rowand was held out after tweaking his back Friday. ... Ramirez has hit safely in 14 of his last 16 games. ... Bochy will talk to 303-game winner Randy Johnson, now a reliever following a two-month shoulder injury, about how he might be used in the final homestand - because the Big Unit might call it a career after this season and Bochy wants a potential final outing to be properly handled and recognized. ... With their 81st win, the Cubs have secured a .500 or better record for a third straight year, doing so for the first time since 1967-72.