Giants beat Wood in finale
The Giants kept alive their hopes for a playoff spot by winning two of three games from the Cubs.
Big Finish: Rookie left-hander Noah Lowry was brilliant on Sunday, allowing three runs -- two earned -- in 7 1/3 innings, to lead the Giants to a 6-3 victory over the Cubs. It was San Francisco's second win in the three-game series. Kerry Wood suffered the loss as he gave up four runs -- all earned -- in six innings to drop to 6-5 on the season.
Big Milestone: Greg Maddux racked up his 300th career win Saturday, pitching five innings as the Cubs won, 8-4. Maddux did not pitch well, allowing seven hits, three walks and four runs in five innings, but he got help from five Chicago relievers and a late insurance homer from Moises Alou.
In time, Maddux's greatness might be obscured, because he was not a power pitcher like Roger Clemens or Randy Johnson or Pedro Martinez, and he did not thrive on the postseason stage in the same way Mariano Rivera has. But he was consistently exceptional and, year in and year out, he was the best pitcher of his generation. Clemens, Martinez and Johnson all had more peaks, and they had more valleys, too -- while Maddux resided in the highest place of his craft. Maddux has finished in the Top 4 in the NL in ERA in 10 seasons, in the top 5 in the Cy Young Award balloting 10 times, and in the top 10 in victories in 16 seasons.
Big First Impression: Nomar Garciaparra went 3-for-5, concluding his first week with the Cubs with a .328 batting average. And -- note to Red Sox management -- he feels well enough to play every day.
Big Whiffs: The Cubs lost to San Francisco ace Jason Schmidt in the first game of this three-game series Friday, 6-2, blowing repeated scoring chances with strikeouts. Schmidt has been working with a dead arm in recent weeks, and the Giants initially planned to start him Saturday to give him an extra day of rest. He lobbied to pitch, however, and had much less than his best stuff, resorting to breaking balls when he normally would've thrown his blow-away fastball. The end result was the same, however -- the Cubs had 15 at-bats with runners in scoring position and produced eight strikeouts and three hits.
Big Toll: Schmidt finished with 11 strikeouts in seven innings, and relievers added three other strikeouts. Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee and center fielder Corey Patterson each racked up four punchouts, and Sammy Sosa had a couple, as well; the first four slots in the Chicago lineup accounted for eight strikeouts.
Big Must-Win: Schmidt is 14-4 and it is crucial the Giants take advantage of each of the ace's remaining starts. The Cubs and Giants are far behind in their respective division races, with Chicago trailing St. Louis by 11½ games and San Francisco 6½ games behind Los Angeles, but both teams are chasing wild-card dreams; the Cubs lead the NL wild-card race, while San Francisco is three games behind in the loss column.
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," will be released Aug. 17, and can be pre-ordered through HarperCollins.com.
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