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Matt Clement couldn't be faulted if he has recurring nightmares of San Francisco ace Jason Schmidt.
Every time Clement faces the Giants, it seems as though he has to outduel Schmidt, one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. Clement and Schmidt matched up again Friday night at SBC Park, the third time in the last two seasons they've faced off.
And just as in the previous two outings, Schmidt once again came out on top in a 6-2 Giants win, snapping the Cubs' four-game win streak.
Schmidt came into Friday's outing with a 30-9 record and 2.51 ERA over 50 combined starts in 2003 and '04, leading all major-leaguers in ERA over that span while ranking second in wins. He was originally scheduled to pitch Saturday against Greg Maddux, but was moved up to Friday so rookie Brad Hennessey could pitch on five days' rest Saturday in his major-league debut, following a 119-pitch outing in his last minor-league start.
Schmidt threw a three-hit shutout against the Cubs last year in what was then known as Pac Bell Park, striking out 12 while defeating Clement. He threw a one-hit shutout against them May 18 at Wrigley Field, striking out 13 and once again beating Clement. The only hit off Schmidt that night was an infield single by Michael Barrett with two outs in the fifth inning.
Facing Clement one more time, Schmidt picked up right where he left off. After striking out Corey Patterson to lead off the game, he gave up a double to Nomar Garciaparra before striking out Moises Alou and Sammy Sosa.
Clement ran into trouble in the second inning, partly as a result of some defensive miscues. He induced Barry Bonds to hit a foul pop near the Giants dugout, but catcher Michael Barrett let it drop to give Bonds another chance. Undeterred, Clement again induced Bonds to pop one up toward the Giants dugout. But Aramis Ramirez was playing close to second base on the so-called "Bonds shift," and the ball fell just out of his reach after he ran about 100-feet to catch it.
Giving Bonds a second chance is dangerous. Giving Bonds a third chance is lunacy. Clement wound up walking Bonds, and proceeded to walk J.T. Snow behind him. He then fell behind Michael Tucker 2-0 before serving up a three-run home run to right field on a 2-1 pitch, putting the Cubs in a 3-0 hole.
Considering Schmidt has not allowed more than three runs in 17 of his previous 21 starts this season, and the Cubs had scored three or fewer runs with Clement on the mound in 16 of his 22 starts, the game was seemingly in the bag.
Schmidt got into trouble in the third and fourth innings, but came up with a big pitch on both occasions. He loaded the bases in the third on a Clement single and back-to-back, two-out walks to Garciaparra and Alou, before retiring Sosa on a foul pop to first.
Three of the first four batters reached in the fourth, and Barrett's RBI single pulled the Cubs to within 3-1 and put runners on the corners with one out. But Clement failed to lay down a sacrifice and eventually struck out, and Patterson fanned on a 3-2 pitch to end the threat.
The Giants added another run after Bonds walked on four pitches to start the bottom half and eventually scored on Tucker's single.
Back-to-back doubles by Garciaparra and Alou in the fifth pulled the Cubs within 4-2. But Snow responded with a two-run homer to put the Giants up by four.
The Cubs have eight games left against the Giants, Padres and Dodgers in the next week. By the end of that stretch, they should have a good idea of how they compare with the first-place Dodgers and two of their rivals in the wild-card race.