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.