Two Years Later, NLDS Game 4 Looks Like a Franchise-altering Moment for Giants

SAN FRANCISCO -- When the Rangers visited AT&T Park in August, Matt Moore went for a jog around the ballpark and noticed plaques commemorating the organization's no-hitters. He thought back to August 26, 2016, the night he came one out short of making history at Dodger Stadium. 

"I was like, man, I could have come here with my kid one day and showed him (a plaque)," Moore said in August. "That would have been pretty cool."

Six weeks after the no-hit attempt, Moore nearly pulled off a feat that would have earned him even greater status as a Giant. In Game 4 of the NLDS, Moore dominated the Cubs for eight innings before handing a 5-2 lead over to the bullpen. You know what happened next. Five Giants relievers combined to give up four runs in the top of the ninth, ending the season and setting the Cubs on a path towards their own kind of history. 

The Cubs would go on to win their first World Series in 108 years. The Giants haven't played a meaningful game in the two years since October 11, 2016, dropping 187 regular season games. Some in the organization still point to that as the night everything changed, and we're still seeing ramifications. 

The Giants had Johnny Cueto lined up for Game 5 in Chicago, and Joe Maddon later said that would have been the Cubs' greatest test that postseason. Moore felt he was putting the Giants in position to reach the NLCS. He briefly thought about the trip back to Chicago as he was mowing down the Cubs. 

"I felt really good about Johnny," he said during that visit in August.

A lot of things would be different had the Giants completed that series win. This slide technically started at the All-Star break in 2016, but an NLCS exit or World Series loss would have been viewed much more positively than the bullpen collapse in Game 4, which just served as a continuation of a bizarre second half. The Giants have changed their GM, virtually the entire coaching staff, their farm director and others since that night. There would have been more continuity with a deeper run in 2016.

On the field, the ninth-inning collapse had an effect on the look of the roster. The Giants were looking for closing help regardless after the way Santiago Casilla performed in that second half, but Game 4 made an expensive closer a necessity. Some team officials felt uneasy about giving a reliever $62 million, but in the end, they all came back to the same thought: "With the way our season ended, we HAVE to do it."

The Mark Melancon deal, of course, has not worked out. He has just 14 saves in two injury-marred seasons and no longer is the closer. The financial weight of that deal has had other implications. The Giants were in tax trouble even before signing Melancon, but paying so much for a non-closing reliever has helped lead to cuts elsewhere. Last offseason, the Giants focused on trades instead of the free agent market, with a desire to dip under the tax line.  When it comes to Bobby Evans, the Melancon deal was a factor in the decision to find a new general manager. 

It's impossible to know how Game 5 would have turned out. The Giants know better than anybody that sometimes it's just your year and all the breaks go your way. Perhaps it was just Chicago's year. But the Giants were set up well. They would have headed back to Wrigley Field with the knowledge that Cueto and Madison Bumgarner, two of the best pitchers in baseball that season, may have been the only two to take the mound that night. Bumgarner was set up to close out a Game 5. 

Game 4 turned out to be Hunter Pence's last postseason game for the Giants, and it's possible the same will be true for Bumgarner and others. Unless the Giants find a quick fix to their current issues, that game may serve as the final Giants postseason game for many of the core members of the 2012 and 2014 title teams.

For Moore, soon to be a free agent, there was a loss of legacy. He should have gone down as a random postseason hero, joining the Travis Ishikawas and Conor Gillaspies. Instead, he took a no-decision because of a bullpen meltdown.

In one way, that ninth inning is even harder to understand two years later. When you watch the way Will Smith threw the ball in 2018, you wonder why he didn't get a chance to close out the Cubs from the start of the ninth. Smith was the fourth reliever inserted by manager Bruce Bochy, who later called that loss "a pretty big blow to the chin."

"It took a while to get over it," he said two months after Game 4. 

Two years later, it's possible the Giants still haven't reached that point.

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