Cubs blow ninth-inning lead then rally to beat Giants

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Starlin Castro homered in the fifth and played hero in the ninth, delivering a game-winning double as the Cubs avoided what would have been an ugly loss and defeated the Giants 4-3.

The Giants scored all three of their runs off new Cubs closer Kyuji Fujikawa in the ninth, taking Matt Cain off the hook and erasing a strong outing from Carlos Villanueva.

However, Sergio Romo, who was a perfect 6-for-6 in save chances this year, couldn’t hold the lead. He surrendered a rare homer to switch-hitter Dioner Navarro — just the fourth homer he’s ever allowed to a left-handed hitter — and then gave up two more hits, including Castro’s game-ender.

Some thoughts:

– Villanueva is the game’s unluckiest pitcher 12 days in. He left with a 5-1 lead over the Braves in his first start, only to see that blown. Today, his relievers needed to get just five outs, but still couldn’t hold a 2-0 lead. That’s left Villanueva 0-0 despite a 0.64 ERA.

– Castro could have ended the game 20 minutes earlier if he wanted. Hunter Pence hit what appeared to be a rally-killing double play ball Castro’s way in the top of the ninth, but Castro, even though he was as close to third as he was to second, went with an underhand toss to Alberto Gonzalez. The relay ended up being a bit slow, allowing Pence to barely beat it out.

– Castro also chose not to run on his game-ending double to the wall in center, thinking it was a homer. It didn’t matter a whole lot — the runner at first base was the one that mattered — but the game’s outcome would have still been in doubt had David DeJesus not come all of the way around to score.

– The homer hit by Navarro was an incredible oddity. Romo had allowed just three homers in 290 at-bats against left-handers previously, and the switch-hitting Navarro had homered off righties once every 65 at-bats, compared to once every 29 at-bats versus lefties.

– Before he became a closer, Romo was really more of a righty specialist in the San Francisco pen, often sharing innings with Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez. His numbers against lefties were still terrific, but part of that is because he wasn’t typically getting to face the good ones. That’s changing now that the ninth inning is his alone, so it will be interesting to see if he proves more vulnerable to lefties.

J.D. Martinez tells teams he prefers an outfield role

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Free agent outfielder/slugger J.D. Martinez is reportedly seeking an outfield gig, says Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald. According to Silverman’s sources, Martinez’s suitors have been informed that the veteran slugger would give preference to teams that can offer a corner outfield spot, rather than a DH-only role.

That could spell trouble for the Red Sox, who appear to be Martinez’s biggest suitors so far this offseason. Outfielders Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi are firmly established at the corners, and prior reports from club president Dave Dombrowski suggest that center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is not going anywhere anytime soon (thereby eliminating the possibility of reshuffling the outfield). The DH spot is still wide open for Martinez, who doesn’t seem to be totally closed off to the idea, but any full-time or part-time role on the field is likely off the table at this point.

Of course, the Red Sox aren’t the only ones pursuing Martinez’s services this winter. The 30-year-old slugger has been linked to both the Diamondbacks and Giants in weeks past, and while they have the roster flexibility to accommodate his preferences, they’ll need to clear another massive hurdle: the seven-year, $250 million contract he’s said to be seeking. Both clubs will need to get creative to make such a deal work. The Diamondbacks are rumored to be shopping right-hander Zack Greinke in an attempt to free up some room on their payroll for Martinez, while the Giants appear more inclined to scour the trade market for outfield help than shell out cash for another hefty contract in free agency.