As impressive as it was, the Chicago Cubs did nothing more than what was expected — hold serve at home.
Despite losing both games in Chicago, the San Francisco Giants are a pair of home wins from forcing a decisive Game 5, and to steal the now exalted words of 2004 Boston Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar:
“In Game (5), anything can happen — anything can happen.”
After winning 103 games this season, the North Siders earned the right to host the wild card winners in the first two games of the National League Division Series. Using that home-field advantage, they put the Giants behind the eight-ball.
The good news is, many of these same “G-Men” have stared down similar adversity, and overcome comparable obstacles. Not only do these Giants boast a champion’s pedigree unrivaled in today’s game, they have twice won three must-win games consecutively.
Six of 11 Giants remaining from the 2012 postseason roster will get a starting nod in Monday’s Game 3.
Of them, the largest in stature will bear the largest role.
Madison Bumgarner, who will take the ball against 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, lost to both the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals before each was eventually vanquished en route to the Giants’ second title. The ace, though, has climbed the mound in three winner-or-go-home games, accruing 23 scoreless innings.
Chicago’s ace, who was baseball’s best hurler in 2015, did not show the same type of October dominance that has led to “Mad Bum’s” 1.94 postseason ERA. Arrieta was hit with eight earned runs over 19-2/3 innings in his three playoff starts one year ago.
In their six back-against-the-wall, must-win games, the quintuple combined for unenviable .205 batting average (23-for-112). The hits they did get, however, were quite productive, driving in 17 runs and creating 14 more scored on just two home runs.
Pence, the vocal leader of that postseason’s comeback, is certainly willing to carry that same mantle in 2016. As he told told reporters following a 5-2 Game 2 loss:
“I feel pretty good about the spirit of the group. We understand the situation, with our backs against the wall, and everyone believes what we’re capable of.”
Alas, this is a different group. And the comparisons between those 2012 teams and this Cubs team are limited. But, to beat a champion, the Cubbies must first find a way to unsteady the beat of its ice-cold heart and shake its unflappable leadership.
Even expected Game 4 starter, mid-season acquisition Matt Moore, brings an air of cold-blooded confidence, allowing seven of his eight career postseason runs in one of his four playoff appearances with the Tampa Bay Rays. In the other three, he boasts a combined 12 one-run frames — including a seven-inning, two-hit start in Game 1 of the 2011 ALDS against that year’s AL Pennant winning Texas Rangers.
After Saturday’s loss, manager Bruce Bochy told reporters that he has the utmost confidence in his team:
“This club has a history of finding a way to win that game they had to win and moving on. That experience, that’s so vital to draw on. If you don’t have that, you may not have that belief that can you do it. Well, they know that they have done it.”