Ninth-inning implosion torpedoes Giants season

It was an ending no one saw coming, yet, the kind of ending every Giants fan should have expected. The team came full circle; the Giants shook off postseason immortality and succumbed to the rabbit hole that almost swallowed them in September.

The clubhouse mood was unfamiliar, mixed in with a bit of lasting shock and whole lot of pain, said Conor Gillaspie:

“It just happened so fast…I don’t think it even hit me until it was over and I was like, ‘woah, we’re down.'”

Said Javier Lopez:

“We were three outs away from pushing it to set five.”

And Buster Posey:

“It’s just a tough way to end the season.”

Matt Moore had pitched the postseason game of a lifetime, allowing just two hits and striking out 10 through eight innings on 120 pitches.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at AT&T Park.

The guys behind him provided a three-run lead heading into the ninth. Three outs to go, and the Chicago Cubs would have to fend off the Giants’ strong stream of momentum back at Wrigley.

Three outs would have forced a Game 5. Bruce Bochy took out his starting pitcher — on without a limit — and played the match-up game:

“I would like to think you’re going to get three outs there. We couldn’t do it. Because of the job (Moore) did, we had all the guys set up, we just couldn’t get outs.”

Cut to the ninth inning: The Cubs burned through five relievers and scored four runs on three hits and a walk. Willson Contreras joined Kris Bryant — who did it last night — as the fourth Cub to hit a ninth-inning game-tying hit in the franchise’s postseason history. Javier Baez, the Giant Killer, clunked a seeing-eye single up the middle to give the Cubs a stunning lead.

As a slew of Cubs crossed home plate, reality hit AT&T Park. Hard. That was it.

The Cubs beat the Giants 6-5 Tuesday night in Game 4 of the NLDS, unleashing a mess of snapped streaks and broken dreams across the Bay Area.

The Giants’ 10-win streak in elimination games (the longest in postseason history)? Snapped. The 11-straight postseason series wins (a record tied with the 1999-2001 New York Yankees)? Done. A fourth shot at a World Series in seven years? Unsuccessful.

And it all went down in a way that so encapsulated the San Francisco Giants’ 2016 season: On an unexpected high into a devastating low.

The Giants scored five runs against John Lackey and a Cubs bullpen San Francisco seemed to have unscrambled. Lackey, in his 24th postseason appearance, gave up seven hits and three runs through four innings.

A once-paralyzed offense was flowing, taking that mojo from Lackey to the supposedly infallible Justin Grimm and Travis Wood — maybe a few extra looks gave the Giants new perspective. The Giants added on two more runs and took that three-run lead into the ninth inning feeling confident, despite it all.

Gillaspie continued his hot postseason streak; chants of “Conor!” and “MVP” rang through the park as he knocked his fourth hit of the night into center field. He finished the 2016 playoffs with six RBI — never forget the Wild Card screamer — and eight hits.

He was well on his way to stardom, a spot carved onto the Mount Rushmore of Giants’ unlikely postseason heroes. He still will be, but there was no prize this time, he said:

“I’d have traded it all to keep playing. I know that’s crazy.”

Perhaps it wouldn’t have been a smart trade. All that offensive production and shutdown pitching would have secured the win for any other immortal playoff team.

At this point the Giants seemed to have reached the precipice of immortality: the bullpen held a 1.19 postseason ERA, so Bochy placed the season into their hands for three more outs.

But the 30 regular blown saves — plus Sergio Romo‘s the night before — loomed large, ready to make mortals of this team again.

Derek Law, Javier Lopez, Romo, Hunter Strickland and Will Smith couldn’t mask the fact. Ball don’t lie, said Strickland:

“We can’t control where the ball falls. That’s the frustrating part of baseball.”

The Cubs sprayed a slew of hits that seemed to fall in every no-man’s land on the field. In a matter of moments, as Cubbies crossed the plate one-by-one, the same core team that’s defied odds, staved off elimination, soared, even, to three World Series titles in seven years tumbled into unfamiliarity. Brandon Belt, who has two rings of his own, said this sting would last:

“It’s pretty strange. It’s not fun, that’s for sure. … We had a lot of fight in us, but they just had a little more.”

Even in the few minutes after the loss, though, this team was able to put a gut-wrenching loss — the type they’ve weathered many a time before — into perspective. Javier Lopez, who has four rings, said:

“We’re a victim of our own success here. We’re not used to going home.”

Buster Posey, who has three rings, knows this team can’t expect another title every time they knock at the door. He acknowledged the success this team’s had over a mere decade, one postseason loss doesn’t compromise the three years of unprecedented success, he laughed:

“I’d love to win every other year for the rest of my career, but…”

It’s a tough pill to swallow for Giants fans used to reveling in the luxury of what once seemed like guaranteed postseason success stories. Giants fans are a spoiled bunch, but should find a way to see the positives in a postseason loss, said perennial fountain of positivity Hunter Pence:

“The pain of a loss in a playoff series can be a beautiful thing … These things are blessings and part of the beautiful journey.”

So to a shell-shocked San Francisco bracing for an only slightly truncated winter this even year, be like Hunter Pence and let this horrid postseason collapse make you stronger.

Remember the good times. Remember the 57-win first half. Maybe forget about August, September and the six free agents that you may never see in a Giants uniform again, and take solace in the fact that your team, at least, had the chance to dance.

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