Last night’s National League Wild Card Game was rightly billed as an “ace-off,” with Madison Bumgarner starting for the Giants and Noah Syndergaard for the Mets. Two of the stingiest pitchers in baseball facing each other in a winner-take-all elimination game where every out was a sip out of your canteen on a desert island. If all went according to plan, the winner would be decided by who could get to the other team’s bullpen first, but we know that meant the baseball gods would, as usual, LOL and poke us in the eye with one of the aces giving up a 5-spot in the first inning.
Apparently the baseball gods had other designs, though, because the game was a legitimate pitcher’s duel, with both pitchers combining for 16 innings of shutout elimination baseball. Unfortunately for the Mets, two more of those innings belonged to Bumgarner, despite the fact that Syndergaard’s performance (7 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 3 BB and a ridiculous 10 K against the Giants who strike out the least in the NL) didn’t leave anything to be desired other than a couple more innings.
<iframe src='http://m.mlb.com/shared/video/embed/embed.html?content_id=1202964683&topic_id=6479266&width=400&height=224&property=mlb' width='400' height='224' frameborder='0'>Your browser does not support iframes.</iframe>
Bumgarner only just turned 27 but he’s already gone down in history as a postseason legend during the Giants run since 2010 and, in particular, 2014, when he dragged the Giants across the finish line himself. This game further cemented his legacy (just don’t ask Bumgarner about it, like Buster Olney did in the postgame interview), as he set some more records and carried the Giants into the NLDS. First, Bumgarner tied Justin Verlander’s record for pitching 17 innings in elimination games without allowing a run and he now holds the record with 23 scoreless innings. This game marked Bumgarner’s 6th career postseason start without allowing a run, tying Tom Glavine for that record. And all the while, he was still his angry, animated himself, whether you like it or not. Chirping at the ump over the (admittedly difficult to figure out for both teams) strike zone as a hitter. Showing some swagger after catching a comebacker.
But in all the talk of Bumgarner, let us not forget how the Giants actually won the game. After all, Bruce Bochy was concerned enough about the Giants’ ability to ever score that he had Johnny Cueto stretching out at one point. As opposed to the manager for the now-eliminated other orange-and-black team, Bochy was going to do everything in his power to make sure that his team’s season kept going, even if it screwed up his rotation for the next series. It didn’t come to that.
<iframe src='http://m.mlb.com/shared/video/embed/embed.html?content_id=1202948483&topic_id=6479266&width=400&height=224&property=mlb' width='400' height='224' frameborder='0'>Your browser does not support iframes.</iframe>
Obviously, Conor Gillaspie (not, say, Buster Posey) was the man who finally broke the stalemate in the top of the ninth with a three-run homer off of Jeurys Familia, because the Giants are in the playoffs and time is a flat circle. Like Travis Ishikawa and Ryan Vogelsong before him, Gillaspie returned from the void to firmly ensconce himself in his franchise’s lore.
With the stress of the Wild Card Game behind them, the Giants can now focus on the Herculean task of defeating the seemingly invincible and inevitable Cubs. Will they pull it off? Probably not; that’s how odds and projections work. The Giants’ problematic bullpen is probably going to have to pitch some innings at some point and Bumgarner can’t be there for them every game. It’s definitely more likely than not that 2016 will be the year that the #EvenYear stuff is finally put to bed, but it was certainly in full effect last night. And don’t tell Bumgarner about the so-called “odds,” because you’ll probably just make him angry.