Mike Krukow's foolproof formula for how a pitcher wins: pitch a shutout, hit a home run. Madison Bumgarner did the first. Conor Gillaspe did the second--with two men on in the ninth inning. SF Giants won their wild card game, defeating the Mets 3-0.
The Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard was, the Giants said, virtually unhittable. Brandon Belt got into one in the 6th, and only a great running catch by Granderson in center kept the game scoreless.
But the Giants kept after Syndergaard all game, extending their at-bats, until a high pitch count ended his night after seven innings.
The Giants had their best chance in the eighth. They faced Reed in the eighth and loaded the bases. But they didn't score. They then got the Mets closer Familia in the 9th.
Brandon Crawford led off with a double. Pagan couldn't advance him and struck out. Then Joe Panik came to bat, in what the Mets' manager described as the key at-bat of the game. If they got Panik out, they would walk the next batter--Gillaspe--to get to the pitcher's spot, and get Bumgarner out of the game. And it might have worked, because Jarrett Parker was on deck behind Gillaspe.
But fouling off good pitches, Panik worked a walk. Familia had to pitch to Gillaspe, who has been on a streak at the end of the season, when he's been playing more. The infield was set up for a double play. But Gillaspe hit it a little farther--into the Mets' bullpen. It was only the second homer Familia had given up all season.
The scoreless tie was broken, the Giants were ahead 3-0. And Parker was called back to the dugout.
Bumgarner had used high fast balls all game to get Mets swinging, and he got three fly balls in the 9th off high fast balls. It was his second complete game shutout in a wild card game. In Pittsburgh in 2014 he pitched much of the game with a lead. This one was a little different.
Johnny Cueto gets the ball on Friday for the first of a five game series with the Chicago Cubs, owners of the best record in baseball and consensus favorite to win it all. This is when lining up those killer starters can pay off. Especially when they throw complete games.
It does seem a little like 2014, doesn't it? The Giants fade badly towards the end of the season and barely make it into the playoffs as the second wild card team. But there were also signs in the last few games of a resurgence, especially in hitting. And then...
Well, this year the Giants finished the regular season doing something they haven't done since before the All-Star break: win four games in a row. They got the wild card with a 7-1 win over LA on Sunday, behind yet another masterful 3-hit pitching performance, this time by Matt Moore.
And they needed to win all these games, because St. Louis matched them. Sunday they came back to batter the Pirates, but before that game was over, it was all over for their season.
Now it's on to New York to play the Mets in the wild card game on Wednesday. I expect the Mets will be favored. Besides MadBum's big game experience, the Giants have a better defense and a suddenly hot Brandon Belt and Buster Posey. Romo's resurgence as closer--he was the official closer in their 2012 championship season--has steadied the bullpen and injected some confidence in the team that if they get a lead, they'll keep it. That was key in 2014 as well.
If the Giants get into a series, their starting pitching gives them a real chance. But they have to get past the Mets first, and especially show that their second half inability to hit superior pitching is also a thing of the past. And Mets starter Noah Syndergaard (100 mph fastballs, 94 mph sliders) is one of the best.
Update: I guess I was wrong about the Mets being favored in the wild card game, at least by ESPN "experts." About twice as many picked the Giants. However only one--David Schoenfeld--picked them to take the series with the Cubs, and only he picked them to win the World Series, with Brandon Belt as the projected MVP.
I should add for the record that this game was the last broadcast by Vin Scully, who did the Dodgers games for 67 years--roughly half the time MLB has been around. Which means if I had been a Dodgers fan, he would have been their voice for my whole life (assuming I waited until age 3 to start listening.) It was also 80 years to the day that (as he recalls) he first became a baseball fan--and specifically a Giants fan. Now that famous voice is gone, except when Jon Miller does his eerily exact imitation.
Also retiring this year is Lee Jones, the producer of Giants radio broadcasts. I've recently become acquainted with the way retiring people can be completely ignored by their employers. But the Giants have more class than that--they put the ball in Lee Jones' hand for a ceremonial first pitch. Good for him.
Friday night's SF Giants win over the visiting Dodgers was solid, but the 9-3 score could be seen as chiefly due to the Dodgers auditioning a possible starting pitcher for the playoffs, and leaving him in too long in the sixth inning, when the Giants scored 7 quick runs, including a three-run homer by Brandon Belt. Though he had two bad stretches, Madison Bumgarner was dominant, finally winning his 100th career game.
But Saturday's win was classic. It pitted one of the great pitchers now in baseball and the Dodger's ace, against a rookie with one previous start, and he didn't get past the third inning in that.
Clayton Kershaw was sharp, but Ty Blach was better. He pitched a three-hit shutout for eight complete. The Giants' new closer--who was also their old closer before Casilla--Sergio Romo made quick work of the ninth. Angel Pagan's homer off Kershaw (Pagan is the club leader for the tragic after the All Star season) was enough, as the Giants won 3-0. Ty Blach also got two hits. He's only the second pitcher to ever get two hits off Kershaw in a game.
Unfortunately the Pirates haven't contributed, as the Cards beat them easily on Friday, but had to come from behind to win Saturday 3-2. So the Giants have held on to their one game lead for the second wild card spot. If they win on Sunday or the Cards lose, they're in. If they lose and the Cards win, these two teams are tied and play one game in St. Louis on Monday to break it.
The Cards had won their game on Saturday while the Giants-Dodgers were still scoreless. But Sunday, the last day of the regular season, all MLB games will start at the same time, high noon in SF. The Giants will again be working against the stats--Dodger pitcher Maeda hasn't lost at AT&T Park this season.
Announcer Mike Krukow made an excellent point about Saturday's game: a lot of credit should go to catcher Buster Posey for his work with the rookie pitcher, pacing the game, calling the pitches, keeping him focused and confident. Nobody in baseball is better at this, Mike said.
Looking forward, I'm not sure if Blach is eligible for the playoffs, but if he is, the Giants suddenly have five starters with the proven capability of shutting down a quality opponent. It's still hard to see anybody getting past the Cubs this year, but it's one game at a time for the Giants from here to wherever.