The National League Wild Card game lived up to the hype. A game that featured two of the games bright young aces, Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard, was one for the ages. Yet at the end of the day, the San Francisco Giants won this one-and-done playoff game the same way they have won three World Series championships in their five previous seasons.
The San Francisco Giants won because they got the most out of their players when it mattered the most, especially from the most obscure players on the roster, and, they won by riding the left arm of the game’s modern day Sandy Koufax in Bumgarner.
Through the game’s first four innings it was Syndergaard who was on top in this clash of titans. Syndergaard was overpowering hitters with a heater that cracked 99 mph and a slider that hit 93. He was working away on hitters, establishing the outer half of the plate that was his canvas for much of the evening. When needed to, he would work his way back inside, challenging hitters with sliders, and some two-seam fastball action.
In a phrase, it was nothing short of brilliant. Thor struck out 10 batters over seven innings of work. He had a no hitter through five-and-two-thirds innings, and don’t let anyone tell you that they didn’t think Syndergaard could have a shot at joining Doc Halladay and Don Larsen as the only pitchers to throw a no-no in the postseason.
For a while, it looked really possible.
He blew away Denard Span in the first at bat of the game on swinging strike three. He then came back to blow away Brandon Crawford and Angel Pagan in the second inning. In the top of the third inning, Syndergaard made quick work of Joe Panik and Connor Gillaspie by striking out both hitters swinging. Finally in the fourth inning, with a runner aboard, he struck out Hunter Pence on a slider that dropped low and away for the final out of the inning. With each K by Syndergaard, each Giant hitter had the same look in their eyes: bewilderment.
Of the nine hitters in the San Fran lineup, only Brandon Belt and Buster Posey didn’t strikeout against Syndergaard. Ironically, Bumgarner was the only hitter who didn’t strikeout swinging against him.
Speaking of Bumgarner, he was on point too. He needed only 21 pitches to get through the first three innings of the game. While he wasn’t overpowering, he was effective in jamming hitters early in counts.
By the bottom of the fourth inning Bumgarner kicked things into high gear after he had just watched Span get robbed of a stolen base on a blown replay review by the umpires in the top half of the inning. Had Span been ruled safe, the Giants would have had a great chance to score the first run of the day.
It is moments like these where a pitcher has to come up big and settle things down. Bumgarner did just that. With Asdrubal Cabrera at first base on a one-out single, he struck out Yoenis Cespedes swinging and retired Curtis Granderson on a soft liner to center to get out of the jam. The controversy in the top of the fourth? All but forgotten.
From that point on, Bumgarner only got stronger. He got out of a tight jam in the bottom of the fifth inning, then proceeded to hold the Mets to just two base runners for the rest of the evening.
As for Syndergaard, he started to show signs of running out of gas by the sixth inning. He had to get bailed out by Curtis Granderson’s incredible catch in center field to avoid a RBI double by Brandon Belt in the sixth. Later in the seventh, he got out of a tight jam by getting Joe Panik to roll over to the second base for the final out.
The bullpen didn’t have as much luck. Try as Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia must, they couldn’t replicate the power and deceptiveness of Thor.
Give Reed credit, he did get out of a bases loaded jam in the eighth when he struck out Hunter Pence swinging. But it proved to be the final moment where Mets fans believed they had a chance to win.
Bumgarner quickly dashed any Met hopes dreams in the bottom of the eighth.
Gillaspie stomped on those dreams some more in the ninth.
Against a closer in Familia who nailed down 51 games in the regular season, the Giants quickly rallied with a Crawford double and a walk to Panik. All the Giants hopes were now in the hands of Gillaspie, a guy who had only one home run in the month of September, and had played in only 16 games in the final month of the year. Heck he wasn’t even supposed to play, Eduardo Nunez was supposed to start at third, but he had a hamstring injury. Of course, it was Gillaspie who crushed the Familia fastball into the Mets bullpen in right.
With the lead, there was no question that Bruce Bochy would go back to his stud. As soon Bumgarner headed back out to the hill for the ninth it was like the abrupt series finale of the Sopranos several years back, cut to black …null