Thursday, October 6, 2016

For One Night Only, pt. 2: Madison Bumgarner, Conor Gillaspie, and the Inevitability of Fate

If there is one constant in baseball during the life of this website, its that Madison Bumgarner becomes a different species in the postseason. While of course his stoicism and frightening resolve are on display from April through September, October flips some kind of switch in the man they call Young Hickory. The Mets, fresh off of a National League Championship season, were only able to muster enough wins to host the NL Wild Card Game against San Francisco. The thing about Bumgarner is, you'll never outright beat the man. You can hope to outlast him. To do that, New York offered up their own super-human, Noah Syndergaard. What came next was a gem for both sides, but as things go with the Giants- the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Noah Syndergaard was dealing. Inning after inning, his fastball hovered just below 100 miles per hour. His slider, deceptively quick, fooled every man the Giants could muster. Something special was building. New York trotted Syndergaard out in front of a home crowd of nearly 45,000 in attempt to end the "even year bullshit" curse that San Francisco seems to have over all of baseball. Inning after inning, the Giants went without a hit.

In 2014, the Giants were able to bludgeon the Pirates early, giving Bumgarner a four run cushion in the fourth. This year would be different. For the San Francisco core, two years meant nearing that inevitable decline. Signing players like Conor Gillaspie, who had been on the roster for small parts of the 2010 and 2012 title seasons but spent the last few seasons in Chicago and Anaheim, meant trying to refocus on an identity of overlooked or underutilized talent.

One aspect of San Francisco's roster that can't hide in the stat sheets is their battery, particularly in high-leverage games like these. Bumgarner, of course, was pitching to future hall-of-famer Gerald "Buster" Posey. Not yet thirty years of age, Posey has won just about everything there is to win in the game of baseball. When he links up with Bumgarner, it's like two bodies sharing a brain. They each become, somehow, better at their craft. So as it tends to go, San Francisco's ace was dealing as well.

Zeroes. Lots of em. In the tops of innings and the bottoms. It was a true duel of the fates as no one on either lineup could get anything started.

Syndergaard had finally given up a hit in the seventh inning. After the seventh inning, he was pulled by manager Terry Collins for Addison Reed. There was little struggle in the eighth, and the Mets clung to some semblance of hope, though now without their flamethrowing ace.

In the top of the ninth inning, still knotted at zero, Brandon Crawford doubled off of New York closer Jeurys Familia. The magic had begun to brew in the visiting dugout. Two batters later, Joe Panik took a ninety-five miles per hour sinker that trailed out of the zone. On the seventh pitch of the at bat, ball four was the call, and it sent him to first base. This brought up Conor Gillaspie.

Familia had been all over the place, and Gillaspie waited for a mistake. He took strike one, a sinker with a smoke trail over the center of the plate. The next pitch was in the dirt to even the count. The third, was what he was looking for. A crisp line drive to right-center stayed up long enough to clear the wall. All of Syndergaard's work, blanking the Giants for seven innings, was negated by a swing. I've said it before and it will always be true- baseball is cruel.

Up three to nothing, Bumgarner had all he needed to close out the Mets. While Curtis Granderson made it an extended battle, all three New York hitters went down the same way, popping out to the outfield.

There was a sense that Madison Bumgarner could have gone fifteen innings if necessary. Conor Gillaspie made sure he didn't have to. The Giants were again victorious in the Wild Card Game, and again their ace had completed the game without giving up a run.

The 103-win Chicago Cubs are what lies next for the Even-Year Giants.

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