Masterful Bumgarner sharpens status as postseason legend

Conor Gillaspie’s ninth-inning, three-run bomb off one of the best closers in baseball, Jeurys Familia, forced a collective exhale across the Bay Area. Eight innings worth of hard-nosed, gritty baseball had finally paid off.

The goose eggs hatched, and the San Francisco defeated the New York Mets 3-0 in the Wild Card game, advancing to the NLDS for a fourth time in seven years.

Gillaspie emerged as the unlikely Giants hero that’s become a staple in every do-or-die October game; his name will be forever etched along with Cody Ross, Marco Scutaro and Travis Ishikawa‘s on that exclusive list.

But Gillaspie’s moment never happens without one man, one legend, The Madison Bumgarner.

Bumgarner’s postseason reputation was pristine, almost too perfect not to warrant pre-game concern. He toted baseball’s all-time best 0.60 ERA on the road and a 14-inning scoreless streak in elimination games.

Something had to give, skeptics might’ve wondered. But optimists knew better: Bumgarner proved to be the best postseason pitcher of this era.

Before the home run that made Bay Area legend E-40 make this face, this game was a tense, nauseating toss-up. The crowd at Citi Field and baseball fans on their couches waited for one star to combust.

Two pitchers that no one wanted to face in a do-or-die game were virtually un-hittable; Brandon Belt‘s 18th-inning home run in Washington flashed before a weary Giants fanbase’s eyes as Johnny Cueto began to prepare for a new, late game. 

Noah Syndergaard was literally unhittable until Denard Span knocked a two-out single in the sixth inning.

When Curtis Granderson Willie Mays‘ed Brandon Belt’s deep line drive to centerfield, it looked like Syndegaard would just be untouchable.

Syndegaard struck out 10 batters and only gave up two measly hits: Span’s and a perfectly placed ground ball to the first base side that Angel Pagan beat out. Joe Panik, who averaged 11.09 plate appearances without a strikeout, whiffed twice.

Syndergaard was everything that everyone had feared, consistently dealing a 98-plus mph fastball while keeping hitters off balance with a 92 mph slider that had Giants grasping all through the night.

He was the star of this one, it seemed. Syndergaard threw down the hammer with flashy poise.

But Bumgarner was quietly matching Syndergaard’s zeroes, and used fewer pitches to do it. The Mets struck out six times and leapt on his high fastball that resulted in high outs.

Bumgarner dealt three consecutive seven-pitch innings to start the game and never let a Met approach third base when things started to get rough.

New York only had a handful of opportunities with runners in scoring position and Bumgarner steadily shut every wide-eyed Met down with sage authority.

The 27-year-old, three-time World Series champion pitched nine innings of shutout ball for a third time in his baffling postseason career, knocking his ERA down to a measly 1.94. He’s now dealt 23 consecutive scoreless postseason innings and his road ERA knocked down to 0.50.

And it all game full circle with Gillaspie’s silencer: Bruce Bochy had Jarrett Parker ready to pinch hit for Bumgarner should priorities shift. Those three runs came one batter too soon for the Mets, and Bumgarner willed his way through the game with 113 pitches.

Madison Bumgarner is a road warrior, a real postseason hero who could use 2016 as another step toward Randy Johnson/Christy Mathewson/ Mariano Rivera levels of greatness in October.

The Giants will face Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta and the 103-win Chicago Cubs in the NLDS. With Mr. October and a slew of starters that can put up similar numbers, the Giants have to like their chances.

Bumgarner won’t get the ball at Wrigley Field, but fans will be sure to give him a warm greeting when he starts Game 3 at AT&T Park.

Shayna Rubin is SFBay’s San Francisco Giants beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @ShaynaRubin on Twitter and at for full coverage of Giants baseball.