By walking off on Cubs, Giants jam finger in eye of Doom

By walking off on Cubs, Giants jam finger in eye of Doom

SAN FRANCISCO -- If this National League Division Series turns out the way nobody thinks it will even now, it will be remembered as the time the San Francisco Giants came back from beyond the zombie state . . . because merely saying they cheated death doesn’t do it its due.

Now say that five times fast while gargling a coffee mug full of gin.

Joe Panik ended one of the greatest games in the history of this ballpark or either of the three that preceded it (yes, including the Polo Grounds) with a 13th inning double beyond the athletic means of right fielder Albert Almora, Jr., scoring Brandon Crawford with the winning run to beat the Chicago Destiny’s Chosen and preserve the NL Division Series at least one more day. The final score after five hours and four minutes of drinking-on-the-house fun was 6-5, in case such mundane details matter in the face of this festival of what-the-hell-just-happened.

On a night when Madison Bumgarner was sub-Bumgarnerian . . . on a night when Aroldis Chapman couldn’t get lefthanders out with his triple-digit fastball . . . on a night when Conor Gillaspie added to his legend with a triple that stole victory from the mandibles of doom . . . on a night when Kris Bryant took advantage of the fact that the Chevron car in left field didn’t have a sun roof and cheated death his own self. . .  on a night when Almora replaced a Gold Glove right fielder (Justin Heyward) and made the defensive play of the postseason, robbing Buster Posey of a game-winning extra-base hit in the bottom of the ninth . . . on a night when the replay officials (and their replacement on the cleanup crew) had a tough night deciphering difficult plays . . . oh, hell, on a night when Angel Pagan’s pregame back spasms had an impact far beyond his vertebrae, the Giants did the one thing they could be relied upon to do in a game that mocked convention.

They spit in the eye of the off-season.

Over five hours and four minutes, and in a game that defied logic, expertise, percentages and plain old common sense, the Giants forced a fourth game Tuesday and one more reminder that they have been the least digestible meal in baseball for the entirety of this decade.

[INSTANT REPLAY: Giants stay alive in NLDS with walk-off Game 3 win]

They did it without Bumgarner, who had far less than his standard stuff, slogging through a 35-pitch second inning that was lowlighted by pitcher Jake Arrieta’s three-run homer, and bear-wrestling his way through five innings which, as it turned out, the Giants dearly needed.

They did it without Pagan, whose absence forced manager Bruce Bochy to move Gillaspie to fifth in the order, from which place he found the wherewithal to drive a 100.9-mph four-seamer from Chapman into the deepest part of the landmass in the bottom of the eighth, scoring Brandon Belt and Posey and scoring four pitches later on a Crawford single to give the Giants a 5-3 lead. Gillaspie has now beaten the most physically expeditious pitcher in the game and the major league save leader (New York’s Jeurys Familia) by playing the part of the unlikely hero with a soft spot for hard fastballs.

They did it without Sergio Romo’s best stuff or the luck that usually turns playoff games. After Romo walked leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler to start the ninth, Bryant golfed a fly ball off the roof of the orange googly-eyed car down the left field line and into the stands, San Francisco’s globe-leading 31st blown save of the long season. The 5-3 lead had been obliterated, and under normal conditions would have turned into a loss seconds later, except that Romo had the fortitude not to give in to history, plowed through the ninth and 10th, then watched as Will Smith and Ty Blach preserved the tie through the 13th.

Indeed, the Cubs put only two men in scoring position after the third inning, neither scoring, and they were slowly starved not only by the weary Bumgarner but by Derek Law and Hunter Strickland as well.

This gave the Giants enough time not only to break Chapman, who lost the series-clinching save to a parade of lefthanded hitters, which is rare enough, but to outlast Mike Montgomery, the last of the seven Chicago pitchers, with Crawford and Panik and a wearying but still invigorating win that they (a) had no business claiming, (b) had no business stealing, (c) had no business blowing, and (cd) had no business getting in the end.

“I really don’t doubt,” Panik said afterward. “I believe in this bunch, and I think that’s why we’re able to come back. Yeah, they have a heck of a pitching staff, and you look at all their starters and their bullpen guys and their ERAs and we know that they’re good, but I just think that when it came down to it . . . well, there’s no giving up with this bunch. Doesn’t mean we’re going to win every game, but we’re not going down without a fight.”

No, they do not die easy. In fact, this being the 10th consecutive elimination game in which they were not actually eliminated, it can fairly be said that they do not die at all. But they are hours away from having to prove that yet again, and then having to prove it again after that – because while that isn’t how they want it, it is how they do it. And if there is a law of big numbers that must be obeyed, this run must eventually end.

But when that is . . . well, let’s just say they jammed a finger in the eye of Doom Monday night, and are excellently equipped by history and habit to do so again Tuesday. That’s just who they have decided to be in this lifetime.

Jeff Samardzija to miss start of season after MRI reveals strained pectoral muscle


Jeff Samardzija to miss start of season after MRI reveals strained pectoral muscle

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants nearly left Scottsdale unscathed. Instead they'll leave with an injured No. 3 starter, but the news on Jeff Samardzija late Thursday night was good news. 

Manager Bruce Bochy told reporters that Samardzija has a strained pectoral muscle that will sideline him for the start of the season. But given that Samardzija, who has had a rough spring, went for an MRI on his shoulder a week before the season opener, team officials have to be breathing a sigh of relief. 

"He'll go a week without throwing the ball and then crank it back up," Bochy told reporters, including Kerry Crowley of the San Jose Mercury News. "It should't take long to get him back on the mound so it's good news."

Samardzija was supposed to take the ball next Saturday at Dodger Stadium. Instead, the Giants will rely on two young pitchers and a non-roster invitee at the back end of their rotation. The injury ends a three-way race for the final two spots between Chris Stratton, Ty Blach and Derek Holland. The Giants could use all three in the rotation until Samardzija is healthy, or they could skip their No. 5 starter and move one of the pitchers into the bullpen. 

Because the Giants have two off days before their seventh game, Madison Bumgarner can line up to pitch three of the first nine games. The Giants have been considering that all spring, although they have yet to publicly announce a decision one way or the other. Bumgarner said early in camp that he would be up to the challenge, and given how sharp he was all spring, that might be the best way to tread water until Samardzija is cleared to return to the rotation.

No. 79? No. 53? Before they were stars, Giants wore random numbers


No. 79? No. 53? Before they were stars, Giants wore random numbers

SCOTTSDALE — A couple of veterans walked past a clubhouse TV earlier in camp and saw that the Giants and Padres were tied heading into the bottom of the 10th of an exhibition game. The Padres infielders were just standing around, and there was not yet a new pitcher on the mound. 

“It’s that time when No. 99 comes in to pitch,” one of the players joked as he headed home for the day.

A few seconds later, a big left-hander took the mound. He was, in fact, wearing No. 99, and in his inning on the mound he would face a No. 74 (Aramis Garcia) and No. 78 (Steven Duggar). This is the norm for spring training, when dozens of players — including teenagers and journeymen still hanging around the low minors — get into every game. That leads to action between numbers you would never see in a normal game. The Giants had 60 players in camp, plus 10 coaches and staff members with numbers. Throw in their 10 retired numbers and the unofficially retired ones (25, 55, etc.) and, well, there aren’t a whole lot of choices left. 

If Duggar makes the Opening Day roster, he’ll get an upgrade from his lineman’s number. Ditto for Garcia, who could be Buster Posey’s backup as soon as next season. Still, a taste of big league action doesn’t guarantee a normal number in camp, when young players regularly find themselves back at the end of the line. 

Ryder Jones wore 83 in camp last year and 63 in the big leagues. When he showed up this year, with 150 big league at-bats under his belt, he was told that he would have to wait until the end of the spring to upgrade. Players with more service time (think No. 2 Chase d’Arnaud or No. 19 Josh Rutledge) get priority, at least until all the cuts are made. Jones said he has a few numbers in mind for his next stint in the big leagues, but he won’t be picky. 

“Anything under 40 works,” he said, smiling. 

The steady climb toward single digits happens to just about everybody. Long before Brandon Crawford’s became @bcraw35, he wore 79 in his first camp. He moved up to 53 after that and Mike Murphy flipped that to 35 when Crawford became the big league shortstop. Hunter Pence doesn’t remember his first spring training number with the Astros, but he knows it was in the low eighties. Joe Panik wore 66 the first time he spent a spring at Scottsdale Stadium. “I was an offensive lineman,” he joked. Tyler Beede, now on the cusp of his big league debut, got promoted from 63 to 32 when he arrived last spring, only to swap to 38 this year because of some in-season shifting. When Pablo Sandoval arrived last summer, Steven Okert switched from 48 to 32.

Then there are those who have only known one jersey. Posey was a can’t-miss prospect when he arrived and doesn’t remember wearing anything other than 28. Brandon Belt was a top-25 prospect when he came to camp for the first time, and he’s been 9 since that day. Madison Bumgarner wore 40 in his first big league camp because he had already made his big league debut, but somewhere in the team archives, there are probably a few photos of a 19-year-old Bumgarner wearing something else. 

“The previous spring I came up to pitch a few times,” Bumgarner said. “I’m pretty sure I had a different number every time I came over and I’m pretty sure it was always in the eighties.”

There were seven Giants in the eighties this spring. Duggar was one of two top prospects — Chris Shaw inherited Crawford’s old 79 — to come close, and he didn’t mind one bit. He’s not thinking too far ahead, even though he could be a big leaguer in eight days. 

“I’ll take anything if I’m in the big leagues,” he said. “I’ll take No. 112 if that’s what they give me.”