Rewind: October Bumgarner Buys Giants Time, Ticket to NLDS

NEW YORK -- Madison Bumgarner reached out and calmly snagged a line drive hit right at his chest. He screamed and pumped his fist as he made his way back to the dugout, another Met stranded in scoring position.

As 44,000 raucous fans sat down, Bumgarner looked up past the dugout entrance, to Section 121, Row 30, of Citi Field. He saw his wife, Ali, and he flipped the ball in her direction. It went one row too far, hitting another member of the friends-and-family section on the lip and dropping to the floor.

On another brilliant postseason night, that was the only misfire for Bumgarner.

Between the lines, Bumgarner was once again unbeatable. Noah Syndergaard, the 24-year-old with flames shooting out of his right arm, was game for seven innings. But Bumgarner went nine, closing the Mets out 3-0 after Conor Gillaspie's blast in the top of the ninth.

“Conor,” Bumgarner said in the visiting dugout of a suddenly silent ballpark. “I appreciate the hell out of that.”

[PAVLOVIC: Instant Replay: Bumgarner, Gillaspie lead Giants past Mets, to NLDS]

As he always does in October, Bumgarner took care of the rest. 

He matched his 2014 Wild Card shutout by throwing 119 pitches, scattering four hits and striking out six. In 53 2/3 postseason innings on the road, he has allowed just three runs. Wednesday was the 27-year-old’s sixth postseason start without allowing a run, tying Tom Glavine’s MLB record. It was his third winner-take-all appearance, and he has allowed zero runs over 23 innings with his back against the wall.

“It’s hard to put into words what he did for us tonight and what he’s done for us,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “We needed him.”

The Giants may have trouble explaining how exactly Bumgarner does this on command, but they did not have any trouble envisioning it. Throughout the second half, a slog that nearly cost the Giants a spot in this game, players would look forward to the possibility of putting one game on Bumgarner’s broad shoulders. It was hard to ask for another shutout. It was not hard to imagine it, though.

“If he doesn’t do this, it’s a disappointment,” first baseman Brandon Belt said, smiling. 

That’s how high the bar has gone, but Syndergaard was able to reach just as high. For five innings, he spun a no-hitter on a steady stream of 99 mph fastballs and 92 mph sliders. 

“Syndergaard was literally unhittable the whole game,” said leadoff hitter Denard Span, who got the first knock with a sixth-inning single. “We were hoping he would be able to come out of the game sooner than Bum. Our game plan became to run the pitch count up. We went to Plan B.”

It took a while for it to pay off. Bumgarner and Syndergaard matched zeros through seven, but there were dramatic moments. From the third through the eighth, Bumgarner put a runner on base in five of six innings. He bowed his neck every time. 

Syndergaard’s biggest scare came a batter after Span’s single and subsequent stolen base. Belt blasted a fastball to deep center, but Curtis Granderson made a tremendous catch as he splattered against the wall. Per Statcast, balls hit with a similar exit velocity and launch angle result in homers 91 percent of the time. Belt couldn’t even settle for an RBI double. 

“I didn’t think he had any chance of catching it,” Belt said. “That’s as hard as I can hit a ball right there.”

In the dugout, teammates started moving around to try and change the mojo. The relievers who were not in the bullpen went from the dugout to the video room. A scoreless inning later, the march headed for the batting cage. Nothing seemed to work, with Syndergaard continually setting the Giants down with a fastball that had more run than in previous matchups. He struck out 10, with two separate streaks of four straight. 

“He threw great,” shortstop Brandon Crawford said. “Matched up against someone else, he might get the win.”

Plan B finally came into effect in the seventh. Crawford drew a walk and Angel Pagan beat out an infield single. As Joe Panik dug in, the Mets bullpen churned. Panik grounded out, but Syndergaard’s night was over after 108 high-octane pitches. Gillaspie, who was up in the eighth, breathed a sigh of relief.

“I had such a difficult time against Syndergaard,” he said. “As soon as he came out of the game, I was relieved. Those were some of the tougher at-bats I’ve had at this level.”

Gillaspie struck out twice in the first six innings, but he singled in his first at-bat post-Syndergaard. The Giants wouldn't score in the eighth, leaving the bases loaded, but Bumgarner seemed unfazed by the mounting pressure. He went out and put up another scoreless frame, and unlike on the other side, pitch count wasn’t a problem. Bumgarner had thrown just 21 pitches in the first three innings, seven in each frame. That paid dividends later. Posey said Bumgarner read the Mets’ early swings and the battery adjusted the approach. 

“He threw the fastball at the top of the zone probably as good as he has all year,” Posey said. “That led to quick outs and popups (early) and he was able to throw his other pitches later in the game.”

Before Game 7 of the World Series two years ago, Bumgarner joked that he would be good for 200 pitches out of the bullpen. Bochy wouldn’t put a limit on him Wednesday afternoon, but the bullpen got moving in the eighth. In the top of the ninth, the game situation nearly knocked Bumgarner out. 

Crawford hit a double off Mets closer Jeurys Familiar that was followed by a strikeout. As Panik walked to the plate, he saw Jarrett Parker getting ready to pinch-hit. Panik knew that if he made the second out, the Mets could intentionally walk Gillaspie and force Bochy to use a pinch-hitter for his pitcher, thus making it a bullpen game. 

“I told Bum, ‘Listen, if we score you’re still in there. But I’ve got to take a shot at it,’” Bochy said. “Sometimes you’re forced to make a move and his pitch count was getting up there a little bit to where I had to hit. But when Conor came through, that’s a no-brainer.”

Panik drew a walk, allowing Gillaspie to swing away. Familia threw him three mid 90s sinkers and the third one shot out to right in a hurry. The only cheers came from three spots: A bullpen that knew it wouldn’t be used, a dugout that knew Bumgarner’s jacket would come off for the ninth, and a friends-and-family section where the final out of the eighth had been handed over to his wife. 

Bumgarner got three more outs, the final one coming on pitch No. 119. He lowered his postseason ERA to 1.94, the third-lowest in history. It is 0.79 over his past nine appearances, and the Giants have come out on top in eight of them. 

“I wish I had an answer for you,” Bumgarner said when asked how he keeps doing this. “I don’t.”

The Giants don’t need answers. Some things are simply meant to be enjoyed, not explained. 

“He keeps making history,” Pence said. “He keeps making history, and it’s remarkable.”

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