Throughout the entire season … throughout all of the “even year” talk, throughout the good (the first half) and throughout the bad (the second half), the question beneath the surface was obvious to all. Is it really enough for the Giants to just get into the playoffs? Could their confidence, execution and magic really carry over a year after missing the playoffs in an odd year once again?
Maybe it’s just a Giants thing.
Madison Bumgarner, who according to Duane Kuiper fell asleep (yes, FELL ASLEEP) on the bus ride to Citi Field this evening, and later asked Kuiper if he was nervous while they stood next to each other in the restroom (man, what a story from Kuip), added yet another note to his Hall-of-Fame resume. And while this game was maddening, the Giants kept chipping away, closer and closer. Much closer than the Mets got, that’s for sure. Then, kablammo.
It wasn’t Brandon Belt, the streaky first baseman who led the team in home runs and finished the season hot.
It wasn’t Buster Posey, who was intentionally walked in the eighth inning.
It wasn’t Hunter Pence, who swung through a mid-thigh, middle-of-the-plate fastball by Addison Reed that may have been the worst pitch thrown in a game that saw agonizingly few pitching slip-ups from both sides.
It was Conor Gillaspie, who followed in the footsteps of Travis Ishikawa, Cody Ross, Michael Morse, Marco Scutaro … well, pick your unlikely hero of recent vintage. Gillaspie’s inner fire was never really evident to those outside the team as the year went on, but after the injury to Eduardo Nunez we saw a true maniac over the last week of the season. He was overmatched in this game by Noah Syndergaard, as were his teammates (Syndergaard’s stuff is illegal in 14 states). But Gillaspie slammed a 96 mph Jeurys Familia sinker that (1) didn’t really sink and (2) sat in the middle of the zone, and thanks to Brandon Crawford’s double to lead off the ninth along with Joe Panik’s walk, Gillaspie’s home run gave the Giants a 3-0 lead.
Gillaspie didn’t just silence the stadium and solidify his status as a “Good Giant” for life, he also put the bat back into Bumgarner’s hands. And there was no way Bruce Bochy would take the ball out of Bumgarner’s.
Bumgarner’s postseason brilliance cannot be overstated.
Madison Bumgarner’s last 9 postseason appearances (8 starts): 68.2 innings, 0.79 ERA, 3 shutouts, 6-1 record, 1 save
— Bay Area Sports Guy (@BASportsGuy) October 6, 2016
But there had to be folks out there wondering if the Giants’ bullpen would come into play before the night was over. He came into the ninth inning with a pitch count of 108. Ah hell, what are we even talking about? The only way Bochy could remove Bumgarner from this game was if he took him out for a pinch-hitter. Taking him out for a pitcher, before he even allowed a Met to reach third base? Bochy knows better.
How did Bumgarner do it? Mostly, he absolutely owned the upper third of the strike zone. Or, when he faced Yoenis Cespedes, the six inches above the strike zone. Then he started flashing a curve ball that seemed to get better as the game went on (it fooled home plate umpire Mike Winters a few times, but Winters’ ball/strike eye fell off quite a bit as the game progressed).
Bumgarner got six outs through the air and a few line-outs on top of that, which seems counterintuitive against a team that scored so many runs with homers this year. But the ball wasn’t carrying at Citi Field — just ask Brandon Belt, who CRUSHED one against Syndergaard to center but was robbed by a tremendous catch by Curtis Granderson — and Bumgarner never seemed to be in much danger throughout.
And isn’t that the hallmark of these Bumgarner postseason starts? He almost lulls the other team to sleep, and then, next thing ya know, it’s the seventh inning and the other team hasn’t done a damned thing. Syndergaard had the strikeout stuff, as he fanned 10 over seven brilliant innings compared to six strikeouts for Bumgarner. But particularly in this era of specialized bullpens — and before this game there was plenty of talk about whether Jeff Samardzija might end up being a special relief weapon in Bochy’s quiver — the ability of Bumgarner to come out in the ninth and cruise through a 1-2-3 inning as Mets fans sprinted toward the exits, is unmatched by any other pitcher in Major League Baseball.
— Denard Span was safe at second (the first time).
— This was truly a fantastic game. Not a healthy game for us to consume, but great nonetheless. The Mets didn’t screw up in the field, and Rene Rivera deserves a lot of credit for blocking scuds thrown by Reed and Familia. The Giants played a near-perfect game in the field as well, and they knocked on the door more often. After several teeth-gnashing innings, Gillaspie busted through.
— The Chicago Cubs are not happy with this result. They didn’t want to face the Giants before this evening, not just due to the Giants’ experience but because the Mets’ rotation is in tatters. But the Giants sent a message tonight.
— Crawford isn’t the hero of the game, but they wouldn’t have won tonight without his hitting or defense. (How about the double-play he turned when Joe Panik’s feed came in a little slow?)
— The Giants are 35-14 in the postseason since 2010. 9-0 in elimination games.
— It’s Johnny Cueto on Friday night against Jon Lester. If you want to support the Giants’ Game 1 starter, grabbing one or two of our new “bubble” shirts couldn’t hurt…