Rewind: Giants once again prove they're 'hard to kill'

Rewind: Giants once again prove they're 'hard to kill'

SAN FRANCISCO — After flying for four hours Sunday afternoon, the Giants held an optional workout at AT&T Park. Madison Bumgarner walked out to left field to play a light game of catch with Matt Moore. A couple of reserve infielders took grounders from bench coach Ron Wotus, and relievers stopped by the clubhosue to shake loose after a hectic week of travel.

Several regulars came in for treatment, but the rest headed for the garage tucked under the left field fence, getting into sports cars and oversized trucks and heading for the comforts of home. 

It was the quietest day of the year at AT&T Park, except for in one long corrider. In the batting cage behind the home dugout, Conor Gillaspie lined up by himself and hit baseballs until he felt he no longer needed to. Earlier, Joe Panik had done the same.

There is no way to prepare for the physical and mental carnage of a 13-inning, win-or-go-home game, but you can prepare for the moments that make up the classics. Gillaspie and Panik did, and in the biggest moments Tuesday, they came through. 

Gillaspie stunned Aroldis Chapman in the eighth and Panik walked off Mike Montgomery two hours later, at 11:43 p.m., sending Brandon Crawford flying around third as the Giants roared to a 6-5 win over the Cubs that allowed them to fight another day. They have won 10 straight elimination games, a postseason record. 

“We’re hard to kill,” a grateful Madison Bumgarner said in a joyous but weary clubhouse. 

Bumgarner is the game’s best example of a player who punches hardest when his back is against the wall. He entered the night having never allowed a run in an elimination game, and the Giants came in prepared to ride their horse once again. 

There would be no speech from Hunter Pence, however. Bruce Bochy stood in the middle of the clubhouse for about a minute and simply conveyed, “We’ve been here before.”

“There was not much else to say,” Panik said. 

The script was one the Giants followed to a title in 2014, and through the Wild Card Game last week. But Jake Arrieta threw a wrench into Bumgarner’s plans, hitting a three-run shot in the second inning that nearly ended the left-hander’s night and seemed to be the blow that would end the Giants’ season. Bumgarner had thrown two fastballs past Arrieta. A third landed in the second row of the left field bleachers. 

In an instant, AT&T Park understood what PNC Park felt like when Crawford hit a grand slam, and how Citi Field when Gillaspie hit a three-run homer. It was silent, the loudest sound being the grunting of the man on the mound as he tried to prevent a blowout. Bumgarner found a way through five, and in the dugout, players looked up at the scoreboard and saw a game still within reach. 

Bumgarner would not carry them to Game 4. But maybe he didn’t have to.

“It’s about time we did it for him,” Panik said. “He’s done so much for us. It’s about time we picked him up.”

The Giants got a run back in the third and another in the fifth. Arrieta recorded 18 outs, and from there the countdown started. The Giants appeared to have two more innings to tie the game. Chapman, who closed out the first two in dominant fashion, loomed. 

That wasn’t how the Cubs viewed it, though. They did not pay a bounty at the trade deadline to limit Chapman to the ninth, and when Brandon Belt singled to lead off the eighth and Buster Posey walked, Chapman came on for a six-out save. 

When he struck Hunter Pence out, the path seemed clear. Chapman had faced 20 left-handed hitters as a Cub and struck out 12 of them. Only two had recorded hits. If Gillaspie knew what he was in for, it did not seem to bother him. Chapman reached back for a 101 mph fastball and Gillaspie smacked it toward the 421-feet sign in right-center. As the ball left his bat, Gillaspie lost track of it. 

“I knew I hit it good,” he said. “At that point, you just put your head down and run.”

When he stopped, he was on third. The Giants had a 5-3 lead. Five days after stunning one All-Star closer, he had downed another. He had done it on the fastest pitch he had seen in the big leagues, no less. 

“Just fire your hands at it, I guess,” Gillaspie said. 

He shrugged and looked up for the next question. It cannot be that simple to hit triple digits, he was told. 

“I don’t know what else to say,” he answered quietly. “You practice right, and you hope it comes out right in the game. A lot of times it doesn’t.”

The Giants continued to live right, at least momentarily. Crawford followed Gillaspie’s triple with a single that padded the lead. Panik drew a walk, ending Chapman’s night as Joe Maddon started saving bullets for Game 4. It nearly didn’t come. 

Sergio Romo solidified the ninth inning after the blown save tracker reached 30, but the man who threw the final pitch of the 2012 season was not able to throw the final one Monday. Romo hung a slider to Kris Bryant, and when a moonshot landed on top of the Chevron cartoon car on the left field wall and skipped onward, the teams were headed for extra innings. 

On they went, stranding runners and trading zeros until the 13th. Rookie Ty Blach, the fifth Giants reliever, coaxed a double play to get out of the top of the inning. Montgomery, the sixth Cubs reliever, was greeted by a Crawford double as he started his fifth inning of grueling work. His 57th pitch of the night was a 92 mph fastball, and Panik pulled it to deep right. He jogged down the line, both eyes on the ball as he urged time to move along. 

“Everything was in slow motion,” he said.

When the ball ricocheted safely off an archway, Panik lifted one arm. Crawford raced home and the rest of the Giants rushed for Panik, who put his arms up to protect himself from celebratory punches and slaps. There were no bumps or bruises, but an hour later, he walked slowly through an emptying clubhouse, the adrenaline having worn off and reality setting in. 

Players shuffled out of the clubhouse knowing that the big win will be lost to the bigger picture if it is not repeated. Panik had responded to Saturday's loss by saying that you can’t win three elimination games before you win one. He repeated that mantra Tuesday, with a twist. The Giants have taken 10 straight with the season on the line. They still need to get to 12.

“Fortunately, we’ve had a lot of success in these games,” Posey said. “But at the same time, it’s one win. We’ve still got our work cut out for us. You quickly enjoy this game, and then you get ready to go tomorrow.”

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

PEORIA — Jeff Samardzija spent a couple minutes after Thursday’s start talking to reporters about how deep he thinks the Giants lineup can be. It’ll be a hell of a lot deeper if Hunter Pence keeps hitting like this. 

After a slow start to the spring, Pence is charging. He had three hits against the Padres: a triple that bounced off the top of the wall in right-center, a hard single up the middle, and a double to center. The more encouraging plays for the Giants happened in left field. Pence chased down a drive to the line in the third inning, leaving the bases loaded. He opened the fourth by going the other direction and gloving a fly ball to left-center. 

"A good game for Hunter, both ways," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's getting more comfortable out there. You can see it with the jumps he's getting right now. It takes a little while when you change positions, but I think he's going to be fine out there."

The Giants appear set to have Austin Jackson and Pence atop the lineup against left-handed starters, and that duo could see plenty of time early. Seven of the first nine games are against the Dodgers, who have four lefty starters. 

--- Evan Longoria had a double off the right-center wall on Wednesday after missing a week with a sore ankle. He had a single the same way in his second at-bat Thursday. More than the at-bats, Longoria has impressed with his soft hands and steady arm at third. The ankle looks fine, too. 

“My ankle feels pretty good,” Longoria said. “I don’t think it’s going to be an issue going forward.”

--- It’s been a quiet spring for Andrew McCutchen, but we saw the wheels tonight. McCutchen easily stole second after a two-run single in the fifth. When Evan Longoria bounced one to the left side, shortstop Freddy Galvis tried to go to third for the lead out, but McCutchen beat that throw, too. He got up and put his hands on his hips, as if to say, "Why'd you even try that?"

--- Samardzija allowed three homers in a six-batter span in the third. He allowed three homers in an inning in his previous start, too, but he said he’s not concerned. Samardzija deemed it a sequencing issue. He’s working in a new changeup and threw it in situations he normally wouldn’t; Eric Hosmer took advantage of a floating one, crushing it to deep, deep right for the third homer. 

--- With a runner on, Brandon Belt put down a perfect bunt to foil the shift. Belt does that every spring, particularly against NL West teams, but rarely during the regular season. Maybe this will be the year?

Belt later crushed a homer to deep right. That had to feel good for a number of reasons. Belt is fighting a cold and he learned earlier in the day that his college coach, Augie Garrido, had passed away.

Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential


Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For most pitchers, spring training is a time to experiment and add a pitch or two. Josh Osich is using this month to go the other direction. 

Osich spent the offseason watching film of his 2015 season, when he looked like he might one day be the closer in San Francisco, and decided that he needed to get back to his roots. That means the curveball, which he tried so hard to mix in last year, is now far back in the cupboard. The four-seam and two-seam fastballs are once again the focus, with an emphasis on changing eye levels more than he did a year ago. The changeup and cutter will round out his arsenal for the most part. 

Osich’s raw stuff is still as good as just about any lefty reliever in the league, and he hopes to take advantage of that while putting a rough 2017 season in his rearview mirror. He had a 6.23 ERA last season and 1.73 WHIP.

“It’s just one of those learning years,” Osich said. “I tried to live at the bottom of the zone and I was, but I was actually below the zone. So then I would fall behind and need to throw a strike and that’s when guys would hit me.”

Osich, 29, had a 2.20 ERA and 1.12 WHIP during that 2015 season that he keeps going back to. He walked eight batters in 28 2/3 innings, a far cry from the 27 he walked in 43 1/3 last year. While watching the 2015 version of himself, Osich saw that his hands were higher, and that’s something he’s working to replicate. He’s also trying to slow his pace to the plate. So far, the results are nothing but encouraging. Osich allowed one hit and struck out one in a 2 1/3 inning appearance on Wednesday night. Manager Bruce Bochy let him extend himself to keep the good vibes going. 

In six appearances this spring, Osich has allowed just four hits over seven scoreless innings. He has seven strikeouts and one walk. 

“O, it just seems like he’s got confidence,” Bochy said. “He’s kept it simple, he’s not tinkering with different pitches. He’s throwing more strikes, and more than anything he’s just trying to pound the strike zone now with quality strikes. That’s all he has to do. You look at him and he’s hitting 95 with a couple of good off-speed pitches. That works here.”