CHICAGO — Johnny Cueto was doing his best Madison Bumgarner impersonation, right up until Javier Baez spoiled it with one big swing.
Cueto gave up a home run to Baez in the eighth inning, and that was all Jon Lester and the Chicago Cubs needed to beat the San Francisco Giants 1-0 Friday night in Game 1 of their NL Division Series.
“Johnny threw a beautiful game and the guy got enough of it to leave the ballpark,” San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said. “But what a job he did. It’s just a beautiful game he pitched.”
Making his first postseason start in a Giants uniform, Cueto was almost as dominant as Bumgarner was in shutting out the New York Mets in the wild-card game Wednesday night. But with Lester stifling the Giants over eight spotless innings, Baez’s one-out homer was the difference.
Baez sent Angel Pagan scrambling back to the left-field wall with a towering drive into a stiff wind. The ball landed in the basket atop the Wrigley Field ivy, whipping the crowd of 42,148 into a frenzy.
Buster Posey hit a two-out double off Aroldis Chapman with two outs in the ninth before Hunter Pence bounced to second, giving the Cubs the lead in the best-of-five series after they rolled to a major league-leading 103 wins during the regular season.
The Giants, seeking their fourth World Series championship since 2010, will send former Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija to the mound against major league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks on Saturday.
San Francisco could not have asked for much more from Cueto, who joined the team as a free agent last offseason after signing a $130 million, six-year contract. The right-hander gave up only three hits and struck out 10, his career high in the postseason, without issuing a walk.
But with Lester matching him zero for zero, this wound up being the sixth straight one-run game between San Francisco and Chicago.
“We both were pitching a great ballgame,” Cueto said through a translator.
It was the second consecutive postseason complete game for Cueto, who tossed a two-hitter for Kansas City to beat the New York Mets in Game 2 of last year’s World Series. This one came on the heels of the latest masterpiece by Bumgarner, the October ace who pitched San Francisco to the 2014 championship and has thrown 23 straight scoreless innings in the postseason.
Cueto was pitching so well that Bochy opted to let him bat with two outs and none on in the eighth rather than send up a pinch hitter.
“He felt great. He was throwing the ball very well,” Bochy said. “And what was impressive after a home run, he settled down and made great pitches. Just one pitch got away from him.”
Had the Giants been threatening, Cueto would have been lifted for a pinch hitter, and Hunter Strickland would have come in to pitch the eighth.
Cueto was dominant from the start, retiring his first 10 batters before Kris Bryant doubled. Cueto kept the Cubs off balance all night, mixing pitches as well as deliveries.
The Giants helped Cueto with some terrific defensive plays, such as when Gorkys Hernandez made a sliding catch on David Ross’ drive to the center-field warning track in the third. Second baseman Kelby Tomlinson robbed Ben Zobrist with a diving stop on his grounder to end the fourth.
But there were also some issues on the bases, whether it was Hernandez getting thrown out trying to steal second on a bad jump even though Lester is not known for holding runners. Conor Gillaspie got picked off first base by Ross in the third.
Posey also was unable to score from first on Pagan’s double to shallow left because he hesitated at second. The ball got under Ben Zobrist’s glove, putting runners on second and third before Brandon Crawford grounded out to end the threat.
“It’s a tough one, just because . if it’s short-hopped and he picks it,” Posey said, “I’m not going to be going to third on that play.”
BACK IN PLAY
The Giants put Eduardo Nunez on their roster for the NLDS after the third baseman had been sidelined since Sept. 25 with a strained right hamstring. Gillaspie, who hit a three-run homer in the ninth inning of San Francisco’s 3-0 win at New York in the wild-card game, got the start at third.
Nunez, an AL All-Star this season with Minnesota, pinch-hit in the ninth and grounded out.
Giants: Samardzija gets the ball in Game 2 for his first postseason start in the same place he began his major league career. The right-hander was drafted by the Cubs in 2006 and spent his first 6 1/2 seasons with the team before he was traded to Oakland in the 2014 deal that brought shortstop Addison Russell to the Cubs.
Cubs: Coming off a breakout season, Hendricks makes his third career playoff start. The right-hander went 16-8 with a major league-best 2.13 ERA this year. He was nearly unhittable at home, going 9-2 with a 1.32 ERA in 15 games.