Rewind: Bullpen's 32nd and final implosion ends Giants' 2016 season

Rewind: Bullpen's 32nd and final implosion ends Giants' 2016 season

SAN FRANCISCO — Buster Posey trudged down a hallway and headed for a trio of teammates sitting in a somber clubhouse, stunned looks on their faces. This season would end the way every even year has, with Posey, the franchise catcher, reaching out for a hug.

There was no joy this time, however, no fist pumps or sprays of champagne. Posey, the man who has capped three title runs with hugs of three different pitchers, grabbed Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik. He said goodbye. 

For the first time for this even-year dynasty, October ended with a loss. The end came quickly, but not surprisingly. The Giants spent 162 games trying to find a better path through the ninth inning. They never did. They took a three-run lead into the ninth inning of Game 4 of the National League Division Series, a trip back to Chicago just three outs away, and they couldn’t hold it. 

The 32nd blown save of the season was the final dagger. A 6-5 loss to the Cubs snapped a 10-game winning streak in elimination games, and a three-title run in years divisible by two.

The magnitude of the moment had not hit the clubhouse when the doors opened. Players showed dazed faces and misty eyes. Heads shook side to side as reality set in. Matt Moore, with a brilliant effort, dragged the Giants 24 outs closer to history. The final three once again proved the undoing. 

“This is the type of thing that makes you love baseball,” Moore said. “Because you really have to love it to come back after something like this."

The Giants did not always show that love during a second-half slide that led to this early-round meeting with the Cubs. For weeks on end, they looked burdened by their inability to put teams away or build a lead big enough where it wouldn't matter. The joy that sprayed through the visiting clubhouse at AT&T Park never took hold, in large part because the Giants never found a way to grab momentum. Every big win was met with a flat performance by the lineup. Every potential winning streak was ended by a ninth inning collapse. 

“The season was very trying,” said Sergio Romo, who entered October as the closer. “Baseball is amazing because you never know what’s going to happen next. Tonight was a great example of that, last night was a good example of it also. Being a part of the bullpen, you just want to try to do your job, no matter the situation. The job never changes. You’ve got to get outs. We were just unable to do that tonight." 

After dropping the first two games of this series, the Giants had just one path forward. They had to win three straight over the best team in baseball, a streak they had matched just twice since the All-Star break. While Romo blew a save the first night back home, the Giants walked the Cubs off in the 13th. 

Moore’s first postseason appearance for the Giants was a must-win, and he was up to the task. He gave up two hits in eight innings, striking out 10. The Giants knocked John Lackey out early and continued to push, putting together a pair of two-run rallies that had Johnny Cueto, the Game 5 starter, roaring and waving from the top step of the dugout. 

As the teams headed for the ninth, the Giants leading 5-2, Theo Epstein was found by cameras. The man who built the 103-win Cubs slipped lower in his seat, a sour look on his face. He was confident his team could find a way back. He was not as confident about going back home and facing Cueto and Madison Bumgarner, a potential closer in a closeout game. 

“We were going to snap out of it,” Epstein said. “I just wanted them to hurry up and snap out of it before it was Cueto and MadBum in a Game 5."

The winning rally built steam quickly, but first came a decision Bochy will surely toss around throughout the long offseason. Moore’s 120th pitch of the night was a 92 mph fastball that froze Dexter Fowler. The ballpark rumbled as the left-hander walked slowly down the dugout steps. There was no talk of one more inning, even though Moore had thrown 133 in an August bid for a no-hitter. 

“No, that’s a lot of work he did,” Bochy said. “At that point, where he’s at, he did his job. We were lined up.”

Moore arrived to a new team on August 1 and found a bullpen in dire straights, attempts to acquire Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller and Mark Melancon having fallen short. Over the final two weeks of the season, he watched as the final innings seemed to set themselves. Santiago Casilla was demoted so far down the line that he did not even warm up Tuesday. Romo regained his old job, with a committee tasked with getting him the ball and providing backup. 

Moore was confident when he handed the ball over, but nobody but Bochy seemed to know exactly what was in store. Before the game, he was asked to name his ninth-inning solution de jour. 

"I'll let you know in the ninth,” Bochy said, smiling. 

Derek Law, potentially the future closer here, got the first shot. Kris Bryant singled through the shift. All season long, Bochy had operated with a quick hook, a situation relievers grumbled about behind closed doors. Law was immediately replaced by Javier Lopez, who walked Anthony Rizzo. Lopez, the elder statesman of the bullpen, gave way to Sergio Romo. He fell behind Ben Zobrist and came with a 3-1 fastball that was scorched to right for an RBI double. 

“I thought, let’s go with the guy that’s been closing games, and Zobrist got the big double there,” Bochy said. “And then when they put the left-handed hitter up, I had Smitty ready, who has been doing a great job for us. He got the ground ball. We just got a bad break there.”

Chris Coghlan was the lefty, but when Smith came in, Joe Maddon instead turned to rookie Willson Contreras. Smith had not given up a run in his previous 19 appearances, but Contreras bounced a curveball up the middle, a foot away from a diving Joe Panik. 

The game was tied. The first team to blow 30 saves and still reach the postseason had done it again.

When Javier Baez came up two batters later, Bochy called for a fifth reliever, Hunter Strickland. He threw a 100 mph fastball with two strikes and Baez lined up right back up the middle, allowing Jason Heyward to race home with the lead.

“You’re doing everything you can to try and figure out a way to get those guys out,” Posey said. “Bryant finds a hole, Rizzo works a walk, Zobrist gets into a hitter’s count and Contreras finds a hole up the middle. I’m definitely not taking anything away from them, but sometimes that’s just the way it goes. If a couple of those balls are hit in different spots, it might have been a different ending.”

The ugly cousin of the blown saves was the inability to come back against other closers. The Giants went 0-62 during the regular season when trailing heading into the ninth, and they went down quietly in the bottom of the inning against Chapman, a pitcher they sought, only to fall far short in the bidding. 

“It's a tough one, there’s no doubt about it,” Posey said. “Everyone was anxious to get back to Chicago and have the Cueto-Lester matchup. Hats off to the Cubs for not shutting it down. It would have been easy to say, ‘We’ll get them in Game 5.’”

The Giants felt that way for much of the night. As the lead built and Moore cruised, players started to dream of Cueto going back to Wrigley Field and this time getting the edge on Jon Lester. That could set the Giants up to throw Bumgarner in Game 1 of the NLDS. You didn’t have to squint to picture a dominant rotation leading this team to another unlikely title, backed by a lineup that was full of surprise contributors. None played a bigger role than Conor Gillaspie, the season-long backup who found stardom in the wild card game and carried it over to the NLDS. Gillaspie had four hits Tuesday, but he said he would give all the postseason success back for another day on the field. 

“It happened so fast,” he said, shaking his head. “I felt we had control of the game. In five minutes, everything changed.”

That was the story of their season. The Giants seemed headed for this kind of ending for six months. There was nothing the Even Year Magic could do about it. 

“It’s a little strange,” Lopez said. “We’re a victim of our own success here. You don't expect to go home when you’re wearing this Giants uniform.”

Giants vs. D-backs lineups: Logan Webb set to make big league debut


Giants vs. D-backs lineups: Logan Webb set to make big league debut

Saturday will be a big day for Logan Webb.

The young right-hander will make his big league debut for the Giants in Arizona as Bruce Bochy's club looks to continue their winning ways in the desert. 

After Dereck Rodriguez twirled a gem in the opener on Thursday, the Giants crushed six home runs in an extra-inning win Friday, and now have their eyes on a series win against their NL West rival.

Here are the full lineups for Saturday's game. You can follow the action on NBC Sports Bay Area or by downloading and streaming on the MyTeams app

San Francisco Giants (62-61)
Mike Yastrzemski, RF
Stephen Vogt, C
Evan Longoria, 3B
Alex Dickerson, LF
Scooter Gennett, 2B
Kevin Pillar, CF
Brandon Belt, 1B
Brandon Crawford, SS
Logan Webb, RHP (major league debut)

Arizona Diamondbacks (61-62)
Jarrod Dyson, CF
Wilmer Flores, 2B
Eduardo Escobar, 3B
David Peralta, LF
Adam Jones, RF
Jake Lamb, 1B
Nick Ahmed, SS
Alex Avila, C
Taylor Clarke, RHP (4-3, 5.46 ERA)

Logan Webb to become youngest Giants starter since Madison Bumgarner


Logan Webb to become youngest Giants starter since Madison Bumgarner

PHOENIX -- The Giants have gone with youth in their rotation, but even by that new standard, Logan Webb's debut will be noteworthy. 

Webb will be 272 days past his 22nd birthday when he throws his first pitch Saturday night, making him the youngest Giant to start a game since Madison Bumgarner. He'll be the fourth-youngest Giants starter since 2000, trailing just Bumgarner (20 years, 38 days in 2009), Matt Cain (20 years, 332 days in 2005) and Jerome Williams (21 years, 143 days in 2003), according to Stats LLC.

It's been no secret that the Giants have leaned heavily on veteran starters over the past decade, with guys like Ryan Vogelsong, Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy filling in during the championship years and Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto joining the top of the rotation in recent years. 

But as the game has gotten younger, the Giants truly have fallen behind. It's not just that the Giants haven't had a 22-year-old starter since Bumgarner's debut. They haven't even had a 23-year-old. Bumgarner made 105 starts before turning 24. The next youngest Giants starter during that time was Erik Surkamp, who was 24 years and 52 days old when he made his debut in 2011. 

This year the Giants have used 24-year-olds Shaun Anderson and Conner Menez, and they always thought Webb could be an option in the second half. Manager Bruce Bochy admitted the thinking changed a bit when Webb was suspended for 80 games, but back in spring training, Webb opened eyes. 

"He threw the ball well," Bochy said. "The thing you like about him is he throws strikes, and he's got good stuff. I thought he was very confident this spring in his outings and with how he handled himself. This spring he really impressed. I'm not surprised to see him."

Webb said that he thought about his future during the spring, and he was ready to take on any role to get a shot at the big leagues. He said his hopes about a timetable changed a bit after the suspension, but after just three starts back in Double-A and one in Triple-A, the Giants will use him to fill a hole. 

With an off-day Monday, Dereck Rodriguez back in the rotation, and Anderson just about 100 percent, it seems likely this will be a cameo appearance for Webb. But no matter how it goes, he'll get his name in the books as one of the youngest Giants starters of the past two decades.

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Webb gave a reminder of just how young he was while chatting with reporters Friday. Asked about his Niners fandom, he said he doesn't remember certain players familiar to reporters. 

"I was born in 1996," he pointed out.