“There must be some kind of way outta here
Said the joker to the thief
There’s just too much confusion
I can’t get no relief”
Just like the bratty bully that became a full fledged juvenile delinquent, the San Francisco Giants bullpen broke into our collective house last night and ruined everything. Matt Moore had been masterful in game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Chicago Cubs. Another win-or-go-home game for the 2010,2012,2014 World Champions. The franchise had won 10 straight games like this. Games they had to win, including one the night before, and were on the verge, thanks mostly to Moore, of winning an 11th consecutive one. Up 5-2, top of the ninth, three outs from a trip back to Chicago for a Johnny Cueto v Jon Lester, game five. Moore had thrown 120 pitches and given up only two hits through 8. His night was done. He did his job. Arguments that manager Bruce Bochy should have let him have the ball to start the ninth are ludicrous. That said, admit it Giants fans, despite a three run lead you were nervous. And rightly so.
What must have been an emotionally drained rookie, Derek Law, started the ninth facing likely 2016 NL MVP Kris Bryant. Ground ball, just to the left of shortstop Brandon Crawford. Base hit. Lefty Anthony Rizzo was next in the batting order so out of the dugout came Bruce Bochy to summon his lefty, Javier Lopez. Five pitches later Rizzo was on first thanks to a base on balls and Bryant advanced to second base. Professional hitter Ben Zobrist was next in line and he suddenly represented the tying run with nobody out. Bochy emerges again, this time to get Lopez and replace him with “closer” Sergio Romo. Do I really need to go on Giants fans. Didn’t we all know how this was going to end? Double. Bryant scores, Rizzo to third, Zobrist on second, still nobody out. Except Romo who was now replaced by Will Smith. Cubs skipper Joe Maddon countered with Willson Contreras who had 3 hits in 5 at bats during this series. Make that 4 for 6. Game tied. Bochy left Smith in to face Jason Heyward who bounced back to the pitcher. Smith’s throw went to Brandon Crawford at second for one, Crawford’s throw went into the camera well for his second error of the game. No double play. Heyward, who represented the go ahead run, now stood on second base. Bochy had seen enough of Smith so he called for Hunter Strickland who promptly gave up a base hit to Giant killer Javier Baez that drove in Heyward. Five pitchers, four runs, Moore’s fabulous effort wasted, Giants off season starts.
As a die hard fan I was gutted, but not surprised. In fact as I lay in bed stewing about, steaming over, and lamenting the loss I realized it was actually the fitting end to a Jekyll and Hyde Giants season. San Francisco had the BEST record in baseball at the All-Star break. That’s right, better than the Cubs, better than the Rangers, better than Boston, BETTER than everybody. Then the roof caved in, the bullpen stopped getting guys out, and the bats went silent. The Giants record after the break was one of MLB’s worst. You could make a salient argument that their bullpen WAS the worst. Because it was. Blown save after blown save, late inning leads turned to heartbreaking losses. But despite that the Giants were still in the playoff picture, fighting for a wild card berth. A berth they earned thanks to a three game sweep of arch rival Los Angeles to end the regular season.
During the closing stretch the bullpen had settled down some, actually gotten a few guys out, improbably saved some games instead of blowing them. But we all knew it was too good to be true, didn’t we Giants fans. A wild card win over NY came next thanks to a completely expected complete game shutout from Madison Bumgarner and a magically surprising 3-run, ninth inning, home run off the bat of Conor Gillaspie. On to Chicago where Cueto lost game one in a classic pitchers duel thanks to one bad pitch location. The Giants were overmatched at Wrigley in game 2 so they limped home down two games to none and on the brink of elimination. But these boys had been there before and under Bochy were 9-0 in games where they faced elimination. MadBum would start game 3 at home so bring it on. In the words of an old friend, “We ain’t skeered.” After giving up a dinger to Cubs counterpart Jake Arrieta, Bumgarner righted the ship, kept the Giants in it and his teammates rewarded him with an emotional comeback.
There was Bum, in the late night euphoria after a dramatic 13 inning win that extended the “backs against the wall” winning streak to an MLB record 10 games. After a win that papered over another blown save, Bumgarner told a reporter, “We’re hard to kill.” Little did he know less than 24 hours later his team’s championship chase would be extinguished by self-inflicted wounds. But we all knew, didn’t we Giants fans. It wasn’t if the bullpen would let us all down, it was when. It might have been game 5 in the NLDS, it could have been in any game in the NLCS or the World Series but it was bound to happen. Better that it did last night. At least the Cubbies get to keep their 108 year old dreams alive.
As I said this series loss came as no surprise. In fact, it would have shocked the 2016 baseball world if the Giants had eliminated Chicago. But there was really very little chance of that. The ineffective bullpen was just the most obvious flaw. They played the last two division series games with what amounted to an automatic out in the 8 spot of the batting order playing left field, a flailing Hunter Pence batting cleanup and an amazing lack of “pop” throughout the lineup. Those were obvious. What wasn’t obvious or expected was the two throwing errors committed by, what I think is, the game’s best shortstop. Both errant throws led to Cub runs.
But there is much to be excited about heading into 2017. San Francisco has what appears to be an outstanding, relatively young, starting rotation; an All-Star, future Hall of Fame, catcher and one of the game’s best double play combos. But, in my opinion, if they want to win division titles as well as League and World Series Championships in the near future they must make more than just cosmetic changes. Send Angel Pagan with his salute, suspect outfield play and shaky back, packing. Have Sergio Romo, Gregor Blanco, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez and yes even Brandon Belt follow him out the door. They need to build a reliable pen with a big league closer and put somebody in the lineup that can drive in more than 100 runs and hit more than 20 homers. Last but not least excuse Billy Hayes from his first base coaching duties, put Roberto Kelly back there, and get a real third base coach. They’re built to win, have proven that they can. We know that, don’t we Giants fans. They were also flawed this go around and we knew that too.