Brandon Belt

Nationals avoid sweep with strong outing by Fister, poor throw by Bumgarner

Madison Bumgarner Dave Righetti

The energy peaked before the game, during introductions and especially when WWE wrestler Daniel Bryan led the AT&T Park crowd in his trademark “YES! YES! YES!” chant. Then both teams went in opposite directions as Game 3 — which the Nationals won 4-1 to keep their season alive — progressed.

The Giants weren’t doing enough offensively to assume they would’ve won if this play didn’t occur, but Madison Bumgarner’s throw wide of third was clearly Monday’s pivotal moment. Ian Desmond hit a single to lead off the seventh and Bumgarner threw a five-pitch walk to Bryce Harper. Four pitches later, Bumgarner fielded Wilson Ramos’ two-strike bunt, spun and threw to third base. Even a perfect throw wouldn’t have gotten Desmond, and Pablo Sandoval had no chance at a miraculous diving stab to minimize the damage. The ball bounced off the side wall and trickled slowly through the bullpen and over the mound, in between Javier Lopez and Mark Gardner. The Nationals took a 2-0 lead, and Asdrubal Cabrera drove in the third run of the inning with a base hit soon after.

“I can’t throw the ball away like that,” said Bumgarner. “I just threw it away. I felt good about it. I’m comfortable throwing to bases. It just got away from me.”

The execution was Bumgarner’s fault, but there was plenty of blame to spread around.

“I made a mistake telling him to throw it to third,” said Posey.

“I was hoping we’d get an out there. He was trying to do too much there on that bunt. Tried to rush it, he threw it away. He threw it away well, too,” said Bruce Bochy. “The worst thing was not just going to third, but Bum said it. He threw it away. He makes a good throw, he still may have a play at first base … I think Buster was helping him out. Like I said, I’m sure they want it back. Can’t take it back, and hey, you move on.”

Madison Bumgarner hit 95 mph in the first inning and struck out four of the first nine men he faced. Doug Fister struggled early, almost like a rich man’s version of Edinson Volquez’s start against the Giants on Wednesday, throwing 43 pitches in the first two innings. The Giants left the bases loaded in the second when Bumgarner — who was looking to hit the ball somewhere between Emeryville and Richmond — struck out. The Giants came close to breaking through two batters earlier, when Brandon Crawford’s drive to left was caught by Bryce Harper.

Harper had a phenomenal game. He sprinted back and snared balls to deep left, and made a diving catch that looked like a trap at first glance. Nope, Harper showed why he gets so much attention, and he gave the Nats an insurance run in the ninth with a long home run off Jean Machi.

Fister’s performance (seven shutout innings) was even more important to a Nationals team that has limited the Giants offense to just six runs over 36 innings. Unlike Bumgarner, who looked great early and showed human tendencies in the seventh, Fister went from shaky to, well, Fister. He’s really, really good.

Bumgarner continued putting up zeroes in the middle innings, but this wasn’t the Pittsburgh start — you got the feeling that he was on borrowed time. He got Jayson Werth to ground out to second with two men on to end the third inning. Gregor Blanco made fine defensive plays on blasts sent deep into the gap in right-center, as well as a nice lunging catch while coming in.

But it was his wild throw, a rare postseason mistake for this club, that injected a harsh dose of uncertainty back into this series. That’s something that had vanished from this Giants season for about 40 hours — or however long it took between Brandon Belt’s homer in the 18th and today’s seventh inning. Now it’s up to Ryan Vogelsong to pitch the Giants to victory against Gio Gonzalez, the first left-handed starter the Giants will face this postseason.

Extra BASGs

— Today’s loss snapped a 10-game postseason winning streak for the Giants, but Hunter Pence (who stirred things up a little in the ninth with a double) didn’t look worried on his way home.

— As much as the Giants would’ve loved to sweep the team with the best record in the National League, the Giants didn’t sound like a team that thought this loss would trigger a massive tailspin.

“I mean, it sucks. We were in a good spot coming into this game up 2-0,” said Bumgarner. “I think we’re more than OK, especially with Vogey going tomorrow.”

— “Fister pitched great, Bumgarner pitched great. The defenses played good. We had the one aggressive move where we threw the ball away on the bunt play. Hindsight’s 20-20, but it really was a well-played ballgame,” Pence said before hopping on his scooter.

— A fan sitting in one of the sections behind home plate started up a “What’s the matter with …” chant with Harper at the plate. After the fourth or fifth “HE’S A BUM,” Harper sent one deep into the arcade in right-center. It was that kind of afternoon at AT&T Park.

— Overall it was a loud, spirited crowd. They cheered loudly when Bumgarner got two strikes on hitters, the place was packed throughout, and they tried to rally the team in the late innings when Steve Perry sang along with “Don’t Stop Believing” from his luxury suite. But some fan was tooting an air horn during some of Fister’s deliveries early on. It stopped after the third or fourth inning, so I’m guessing the air horn and/or the fan was confiscated. Either way, kind of bush league.

— Joe Panik went 5-for-10 in his first two postseason games, and 0-for-10 in his last two. I asked him if the Nationals made any adjustments against him, as he grounded out all four times he came to the plate in Game 4 and got jammed a couple of times. Panik rattled off each at-bat pretty quickly in response.

“(Fister) mixed it up. Let’s see, my first at-bat he came in with the cutter, got me with a 3-2 cutter. That was a good pitch. The second at-bat he got me with a pitch away. Third at-bat, changeup. The last at-bat was a good pitch 3-2. They’re mixing it up. There’s not one certain pattern. There was a couple times they got me in, a couple times they got me away. We’ve just got to stay within your strength, not go after their pitches,” he said.

— There will be two questions answered with tomorrow’s lineup.

  • Will Gregor Blanco, 0-for-4 today and 1-for-18 in four postseason games, still hit leadoff?
  • Will Travis Ishikawa stay in left, or will Bochy go with Juan Perez or even Gary Brown?

I asked Bochy about Blanco — he wouldn’t give any specifics, only saying, “I’d still have no problem with Gregor leading off. He’s handled lefties pretty good.”

— Tony Bennett paused a little too long … you could tell it was going to go badly. Then, instead of “White with foam,” he sang a line that could’ve been one of the following:

  • “Ripe with foam”
  • “Bright with gold”
  • “Bright with cold.”

I’m going with “Bright with Cove,” as in McCovey. C’mon, you can’t complain about Tony. For one thing, most “God Bless America” moments at AT&T come from the recording of that woman singing the song. And he’s more worried about San Francisco than every other place, anyway.

— “We want to win tomorrow. I’m sure nobody here wants to fly back to Washington,” said Crawford.

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