AT&T PARK — The postseason is its own animal. The past 162 games become moot, momentum and regular season records don’t mean squat and, this season, success at the hands of the unexpected hero becomes expected.
The playoff-deprived Kansas City Royals swept the team with the best record in baseball, and the Baltimore Orioles flew under the radar before hurdling the mighty Tigers into the ALCS.
The San Francisco Giants returned home hoping to be the third “underdog” team to sweep into the championship series, carrying a commanding 2-0 series lead over a heavily-favored Nationals team.
Instead, the Giants stumbled 4-1 Monday afternoon, extending the series at least one more game.
Game Three’s pitching matchup was built for drama. Madison Bumgarner, in theory, would completely shut down a Washington offense that seemed to be wilting under the postseason pressure. Nationals’ ace Doug Fister, a California native, would be the arm to turn the series back around.
Fister (W, 1-0, 0.00 ERA) prevailed, but only by an inch.
Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay
That inch was the distance between Bumgarner’s throw to third and Pablo Sandoval’s glove, when Bumgarner (L, 0-1, 2.57 ERA) attempted to force out Ian Desmond after a risky sacrifice bunt from Wilson Ramos.
The ball, instead, flew into left field, scoring Desmond and Bryce Harper, who had also walked. Asdrubal Cabrera singled Ramos in home for that extra punch in the gut and a 3-0 lead.
Manager Bruce Bochy wasn’t pleased that Bumgarner didn’t get the easy out at first:
“To be honest, I was hoping we would get an out there. He tried to do a little too much there on the bunt. You know, you take the out. He tried to rush it. He threw it away. He threw it away well, too.”
The wild throw helped snap Bumgarner’s postseason scoreless streak at 22 innings, six shy of Giants franchise leader Christy Mathewson’s record. The error also ended the Giants’ postseason win streak at 10 wins.
Before the seventh inning meltdown, Bumgarner was lights out. He gave up six hits and two earned runs, but he was throwing heat and taking names. His fastball hit 95 MPH, and it stayed in the 90s throughout his seven innings. He dealt six strikeouts in the process.
It’s easy to say that one wild throw prevented the sweep. It softens the blow a bit for an organization that saw what seemed like an easy series to grasp slip so quickly out of reach.
The offense didn’t get anything going until the ninth inning. Sandoval hit a leadoff single and Hunter Pence followed with a double. With zero outs, the only run the offense could manage was off a sacrifice fly from Brandon Crawford. That was it.
Fister stifled the lineup in his usual dominant fashion. He gave up just four hits in seven innings and, given how quickly his pitch count was mounting, it seemed like he would waver first. He made the right adjustments:
“I was a little, I guess you could say, strong as far as trying to overthrow it. I was getting away from my plan a little bit and getting the ball up in the zone. Lucky for me I had great defenders that sacrificed themselves to make great plays.”
Defense came primarily from Bryce Harper, who made two big catches. He nabbed one away from Brandon Crawford that prevented a run in the second, and quelled another scoring threat in the seventh off a majestic diving catch in left.
Said Harper, still boasting a thick line of black under his eyes, of his defensive plays made in the rare San Francisco heat:
“Going out there and being able to deal with that sun a little bit, it’s very tough … It’s definitely tough, trying to battle out there. Make some catches and make some plays and not let them score and not let them hit. Being able to do what Doug did today, all the credit to him, and that was awesome.”
Harper also hit a solo shot in the ninth for his career third postseason home run, second most hit by a player under the age of 22 (the others: Mickey Mantle, Miguel Cabrera, Andruw Jones.)
The Giants’ loss today means Game Four Tuesday at 6p.m. at AT&T Park. Ryan Vogelsong and the Giants will face Washington’s Gio Gonzalez.
Vogelsong has been in the postseason grind before, and knows what it takes:
“It definitely helps being through it one time. I think more so, you learn how to ride the emotions, the adrenaline. So it definitely helps but every game is different. Every pitch is different.”
By the way, the last team to come back after losing the first two playoff games at home was the 2012 San Francisco Giants team. We all know what happened then.