Nobody takes to October like Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants.
Continue Reading Below
Bumgarner pitched a four-hitter for his latest postseason gem, outlasting Noah Syndergaard in a classic duel between aces, and injury substitute Conor Gillaspie hit a three-run homer in the ninth inning that sent San Francisco to a 3-0 victory over the New York Mets in the NL wild-card game Wednesday night.
"This game was everything we thought. Two really outstanding pitchers going at it," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "One of the best postseason games I've been a part of."
Gillaspie connected off All-Star closer Jeurys Familia, who led the majors this year with a club-record 51 saves while allowing only one home run.
With their ninth consecutive victory when facing postseason elimination, Bochy and the Giants advanced to play the NL Central champion Cubs in a best-of-five Division Series. Game 1 is Friday night at venerable Wrigley Field in Chicago.
"I like our chances," Bumgarner said.
The good news for the Cubs as they attempt to end a championship drought that dates to 1908 is this: Bumgarner probably won't start until Game 3 -- and would only be available once on full rest.
The big left-hander has been untouchable under pressure.
"It's unbelievable what he's done," Gillaspie said.
The last time Bumgarner was on the mound in the postseason, he saved Game 7 of the 2014 World Series in Kansas City with five scoreless innings on two days' rest to cap one of the greatest playoff performances in baseball history.
Including his four-hit shutout at Pittsburgh in the 2014 wild-card game, he has tossed 23 straight scoreless innings in winner-take-all games -- all on the road.
Sandy Koufax. Bob Gibson. Whitey Ford -- Bumgarner ranks right up there with any of `em when it comes to October clutch.
"He's one of the game's great big-game pitchers," Mets manager Terry Collins said.
Asked how he wants to be remembered, Bumgarner said: "I'm a winner. That's all anybody wants to be."
After having the best record in the majors at the All-Star break, San Francisco was 26-42 in the second half before finishing with a four-game winning streak to hold off St. Louis by one game for the final NL playoff spot.
Now, the Giants have a chance to extend their pattern of even-year titles after winning World Series crowns in 2010, `12 and `14.
In a matchup between the past two NL champions, Syndergaard struck out 10 in seven innings of two-hit ball. Familia entered in the ninth and Brandon Crawford lined a leadoff double. Angel Pagan struck out after failing to get a bunt down, and Joe Panik walked.
Gillaspie, starting at third base for injured All-Star Eduardo Nunez and playing his first postseason game, drove a 96 mph pitch to right field and pumped his arm as he rounded first.
"I don't know what I was thinking. Normally I'm not a fired-up guy. I let some frustration out from the first six innings with that swing," said Gillaspie, who was 7 for 14 with five RBIs in his final five games of the regular season.
Before he connected, the Giants had a pinch-hitter on deck to bat for Bumgarner.
When the ball cleared the fence, it stunned a revved-up, orange towel-waving crowd of 44,747 that sank into its Citi Field seats with a collective groan.
"I missed the location," Familia said simply.
With the Giants finally ahead, Bochy sent Bumgarner back out. He closed with a 1-2-3 ninth against the 3-4-5 hitters and smacked his glove in triumph when rookie T.J. Rivera flied out to end it.
San Francisco players hugged each other behind the mound and headed for the clubhouse to celebrate with bubbly, cheered by a happy contingent of Giants fans behind their dugout.
"Bum just did his thing," Bochy said. "We won the game because of him."
With his sizzling fastball clocking 99 mph and long, blond locks dangling down his neck, Syndergaard held San Francisco hitless until Denard Span's two-out single in the sixth.
Mets center fielder Curtis Granderson kept the game scoreless with a courageous grab of Brandon Belt's deep drive, crashing hard with his left shoulder into the padded fence 408 feet from home plate and tumbling to the warning track.
Syndergaard simply overpowered the Giants at times, but Bumgarner kept the Mets off balance by mixing pinpoint pitches and changing speeds from around 93 mph down to 77 mph.
New York came out swinging after Collins said before the game his hitters had seen enough video of Bumgarner over the past two days to know he would challenge them. But the aggressive approach played right into the hands of Bumgarner and the Giants, who never had to use a shaky bullpen that struggled badly down the stretch.
The big lefty was able to get quick outs early and went the distance on 119 pitches, striking out six and walking two -- one intentional. He needed only seven pitches to get through each of the first three innings, with the help of a double play.
"I really thought, `Hey look, if we can get to him early,"' Collins said. "We probably need to do a little better job of working the count."