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Cubs' Schierholtz homers to end scoreless duel

The SportsXchange

SAN FRANCISCO -- Chris Rusin did not get a win to show for seven shutout innings against the San Francisco Giants on Saturday night. But he got the next-best thing.

He had a front-row seat for one of the Chicago Cubs' most exciting finishes of the season.

Nate Schierholtz blasted a ninth-inning home run for the only scoring of the game and the Cubs' bullpen pitched out of bases-loaded jams in each of the final two innings to help Chicago escape with a 1-0 victory over the snakebitten Giants.

Schierholtz blasted a Sergio Romo fastball into the first row of the right field pavilion at AT&T Park to end the scoring drought. But the real fun -- at least for the Cubs -- occurred in scoreless San Francisco at-bats in the innings sandwiching the ex-Giant's decisive blast.

"That was Houdini out there," Rusin said of his bullpen's high-wire act. "That was fun."

Romo (3-6), the losing pitcher on Friday night after a two-out error by Brandon Belt in the ninth inning, served up the winner to Schierholtz in relief of Madison Bumgarner, who shut out the Cubs for eight innings.

The All-Star was matched pitch for pitch by fellow left-hander Rusin, who was making just his third start of the season. Rusin, who had never finished the sixth inning in any of his nine previous career starts, took a perfect game into the fifth and eventually turned the ball over to reliever Pedro Strop (1-3) after seven shutout innings.

That's when the game got interesting.

After the Giants blew a golden opportunity to score in the eighth, Schierholtz stunned the fans of his former team by towering his 14th home run barely over the 20-foot-high brick wall just to the left of the 365-foot mark. It was his third home run in eight games on the Cubs' current road trip.

"This is not a great park to hit in," said Schierholtz, who should know. He hit only six home runs in the park during his 503-game career with the Giants from 2007 to 2012.

His homecoming already was enjoyable before the home run.

"(The ovation) felt great," he said of the support from fans both Friday and Saturday nights. "I always loved playing here. I love the fans. I couldn't have asked for a better reception. That's something I really take to heart."

Asked if he expected the same type of cheerful greeting in Sunday's series finale, Schierholtz put himself in the fans' shoes.

"Maybe they think I got a bit of revenge," he said.

As they had an inning earlier, the Giants loaded the bases in the ninth, this time against Cubs closer Kevin Gregg. But pinch-hitter Tony Abreu grounded into a double play to end it for his second save in two nights and 21st in 24 opportunities this season.

"When things go good, you usually have those kinds of breaks," said Cubs manager Dale Sveum, who watched Abreu's hard-hit ball go right to first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who initiated a home-to-first double play. "When not, you miss those by an inch."

Coupled with Friday's dramatic win, the Cubs clinched the three-game series in San Francisco. They have now won or split six of their last seven road series and, at 5-3, assured themselves of a winning record on a nine-game trip that ends Sunday.

The loss was the Giants' sixth in their last seven games and 18th in 25 games against National League Central competition this season.

One night after the Cubs' Edwin Jackson and Giants' Matt Cain took dueling shutouts into the sixth inning, Rusin and Bumgarner were even better. They carried a 0-0 game into the eighth, with Rusin leaving first, replaced to start the bottom of the inning by Strop.

Rusin, who was coming off a win at Arizona in which he pitched five innings, struck out three in his seven shutout innings. He allowed three hits and two walks.

Thanks to two mental mistakes by Strop consecutive bunts, the Giants nearly broke through against the reliever in the eighth.

But after loading the bases on a walk to pinch-hitter Gregor Blanco and bunts by Andres Torres and Marco Scutaro on which the Cubs failed to get anyone out, Strop ran his string of consecutive scoreless innings for Chicago to 9 2/3 by getting outs at the plate on ground balls by Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval and then striking out Hunter Pence.

"That was one of the most exciting innings we've had all year," Sveum assured.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy didn't see it that way.

"Guys are pressing a little bit. There's added pressure when you haven't had a guy come through," the veteran manager said after watching his team go 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. "They all want to do it when the rest of the guys aren't doing it.

"It's going to take somebody to come through to shake everyone up. But right now we're in a tough rut."

Blanco was pinch-hitting for Bumgarner, ending the left-hander's night after eight scoreless innings that extended his streak to 14. Bumgarner, like Rusin, did not factor in the decision.

The Giants ace gave up four hits and two walks in his eight innings. He struck out seven in his eighth consecutive start allowing two or fewer earned runs.

NOTES: Rusin's only other two starts for the Cubs this season had come as a last-minute replacement for a traded pitcher -- RHP Scott Feldman, dealt July 2 to Baltimore, and RHP Matt Garza, traded Monday to Texas. Both times, Rusin started the day with the Cubs' Triple-A affiliate in Iowa and had to travel to Oakland and Arizona. ... The Cubs' starting lineup included Giants castoffs Schierholtz, 3B Cody Ransom and LF Cole Gillespie. ... Romo suffered back-to-back blown saves for the first time in his career. ... The Giants committed two errors in the game, raising their season total to 76, tops in the majors. ... Giants RHP Ryan Vogelsong gave up a two-run homer -- the only hit he allowed -- in a 45-pitch, 2 2/3-inning stint for Class A San Jose on Friday night. The former All-Star's next injury-rehab start will come for Double-A Richmond (Va.) after he joins the Giants for their White House visit on Monday.
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