Conor Gillaspie hit a three-run ninth-inning home run in support of a Madison Bumgarner shutout. Giants 3, Mets 0.
Discussion and Analysis
Conor Gillaspie batted only 205 times during the regular season. He started last night because Eduardo Nunez, the Giants’ big trade-deadline acquisition, injured his hamstring down the stretch. Gillaspie playing hero in the Wild Card game is like Ty Kelly or Eric Campbell saving the Mets’ season. Talk about even-year Giants Devil Magic all you want. These days, every major-leaguer is strong enough to hit a home run against a straight, high fastball. That Gillaspie’s moment took place in the Wild Card game against the Mets’ closer didn’t make it any more or less likely to occur. Realism is small consolation as we retire for the long winter.
Whether Gillaspie hit a dinger or another Giant drove in the game-winning run, the Met loss seemed inevitable because Madison Bumgarner was both rock-solid and everlasting, like a human-shaped Gobstopper. Bumgarner retired the first six Mets on 10 pitches, setting the stage for a long night for the Mets offense. Rene Rivera lined a leadoff single to center in the third inning but was on base for just one batter owing to James Loney’s predictable first-pitch GIDP. Loney was gifted the playoff start because the Mets had no healthy options at first base – and Terry Collins just won’t let go. Loney could have been the Mets’ Gillaspie. He’ll instead soon find himself on waivers.
The Mets’ second hit of the night was an Asdrubal Cabrera smash past third base with one out in the fourth inning that hit the tarp and bounced directly to left fielder Angel Pagan. Yoenis Cespedes with a runner on base was all the Mets could hope for, but Bumgarner got Cespedes to swing and miss at a 58-foot slider. While Curtis Granderson was unable to prolong the inning, he at least forced a full count. It seemed like a moral victory because the offense forced him to throw 28 pitches in the inning. When Cespedes opts out of his contract after the World Series, let’s not let his inability to hit Bumgarner be our lasting memory of the player.
Noah Syndergaard did everything the Mets needed from him on the mound. He was perfect through three innings on 37 pitches. He struck out five of the first nine and allowed no hits through 5.2 innings. Syndergaard’s only flaws were that he couldn’t also carry the offense and pitch forever.
The Giants’ first baserunner was a Denard Span fourth-inning walk. Span (of course, against Thor) stole second base but the umpire called him out even though he beat Rene Rivera’s throw to second. Span also sliced the Giants’ first hit in the sixth inning, a clean single back through the middle. In his second time on base, Span took off on the first pitch of Brandon Belt’s at-bat and easily stole second. Belt worked the count to 2-2 before crushing a ball to straightaway center field. Granderson turned and sprinted back toward the fence. He ran past the warning track. He ran into the fence. And he caught the ball, preserving the 0-0 tie. Granderson, asked to play out of position for much of the year, did an admirable job filling in for the injured Juan Lagares in center. Hopefully the Mets non-tender Jay Bruce and allow Granderson to return to right field in 2017.
With his 101st pitch and two out in the seventh, Syndergaard walked Brandon Crawford. That triggered bullpen action for the first time, with Terry Collins raising Jerry Blevins. Former Met Angel Pagan hit a 12-hopper between first and second. Loney (in there for his glove!), holding Crawford on at first, flowed toward the ball like cold molasses. He never came close to fielding it. T.J. Rivera picked the ball up only a few feet from the bag. Syndergaard covered first but Rivera’s looping throw was late. Joe Panik chopped the second pitch of his at-bat up the middle, where Thor deflected it — luckily to Asdrubal Cabrera at short, who was able to throw out Panik at first to end Syndergaard’s night.
Terry Collins went straight to his best reliever in the eighth inning. (It’s not Terry’s fault or to his credit that Addison Reed was better than Jeurys Familia this season.) Gillaspie BABIP’ed a ground-ball single to right field, then Bumgarner sacrificed. (Bumgarner had not sacrificed or intentionally walked a batter all season. He did both last night. Baseball.) Span popped to second for the second out. Reed went full on Brandon Belt, striking him out twice per K-Zone but no times per home plate umpire Mike Winters. Instead, Belt walked to bring up Buster Posey. The first pitch to Posey was right down the middle, but it bounced off Rivera’s glove and the runners advanced to second and third. Winters called the passed ball a ball, so Terry Collins elected to intentionally walk Buster Posey to face Hunter Pence. In a triumph of reliever over umpire, Reed struck out Pence swinging to end the bases-loaded threat.
Against Familia in the ninth, Crawford led off with an opposite-field double that eluded Cespedes’s acute angle to the ball. Pagan got ahead 2-0 when Winters reiterated that the strike zone was inapplicable to Met pitchers. The bunt was still on at 2-0, and again at 3-1, to the Mets’ benefit. Pagan fouled off both pitches, then swung and missed at the full-count offering. Familia also went 2-0 on Joe Panik, and though he came back to even the count, Familia eventually walked him. The walk seemed unoffensive until Gillaspie turned around a 1-1 fastball for the hit that ended the Mets’ season.
Following Tuesday night’s Buck Showalter meltdown, in which the Orioles’ manager steadfastly refused to use Zach Britton in the highest-leverage situations, it was fair to wonder how Terry Collins would screw up the Mets’ chance to advance in the playoffs. To Terry’s credit, he did no harm. His offense couldn’t score off the opposing pitcher and his capital-C Closer couldn’t hold a tie game entering a clean inning. Sure, Collins buried Michael Conforto and may have contributed to some of his pitchers’ injuries. In hindsight, though, Mets fans may be forced to credit Collins for dragging a patchwork roster to the ninth inning of a single-game playoff against the best postseason pitcher of our time. It will be fun to see what next year’s team can do when healthy.
"Syndergaard and Bumgarner were good," Lindbergh typed onto the blank Word doc, and then, satisfied, submitted his story
— Ben Lindbergh (@BenLindbergh) October 6, 2016
GKR-isms (Non-SNY Edition)
“Noah Syndergaard is the only pitcher in MLB history with more than 350 strikeouts and 80 or fewer walks in his first 54 starts.” — Dan Shulman, reading the worst fun fact of all time.
“During the regular season, Madison Bumgarner issued zero intentional walks.” — Buster Olney, after the Giants intentionally (inexplicably) walked Loney with two outs in the fifth inning.
[Intentionally left blank; my goodness, the ESPN booth offers little more than plain vanilla commentary.]
It was a fine run for a 2016 Mets team that suffered through injury after injury. Don’t let a tough loss distract from an improbably fun season.
Photo Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports