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.

Q&A: Damon Minor on Giants' Steven Duggar, Chris Shaw, Aramis Garcia

Q&A: Damon Minor on Giants' Steven Duggar, Chris Shaw, Aramis Garcia

For the past two seasons — either in Triple-A Sacramento or the Arizona Fall League — Damon Minor has worked with the Giants prospects trio of Steven Duggar, Chris Shaw and Aramis Garcia. In 2018, Minor saw all three of them as the River Cats’ hitting coach before each player made their major league debuts in San Francisco. 

NBC Sports Bay Area recently spoke to Minor, as the former Giants first baseman assessed each hitter’s development at the plate.

NBCS Bay Area: You’ve worked with Steven Duggar the last two years (13 games in 2017, 78 in 2018). He obviously made a big impression on the Giants this past season. What were his biggest improvements the last two years at the plate? 

Minor: I think it was just the adjustments to the leagues. He had to adjust to Triple-A pitching with guys who can command the ball better, and learning the strike zone. Obviously when he went up to the big leagues, it was another challenge for him to learn, and Alonzo [Powell] and Schuey did a good job of honing in on him really knowing the strike zone, and staying in the strike zone.

It was just unfortunate that he got hurt because he was starting to break through with it. 

[RELATED: Why Giants assistant hitting coach sent Steven Duggar film of Nick Markakis]

Ideally, you’d want him as your long-term lead-off hitter. Can he be that guy for the Giants? 

The best thing about Duggar is that I think with his ability, he can lead off, he can go to the 2-hole or 3-hole depending on how hot he gets, he can drop down to hit in front of the pitcher, too. He learned how to hit a little bit in front of the pitcher, so that flexibility that you give a manager, that’s really, really good for him.

Does Chris Shaw have some of the best natural power you’ve seen? 

Yes. He has someone of the best natural power there comes from the left side. I was fortunate enough to play with some guys who had that power. It was good for him to go up and see what the big leagues are about.

Just like Duggar did, he just has to make those adjustments and be more of a hitter to be able to get to his power. I think with time, and as young as he is, he will [make adjustments].

[RELATED: Chris Shaw showed potential, needs more time at Triple-A]

Are there any keys you see to Shaw unlocking that power by becoming more of a pure hitter first? 

First, it comes down to getting at-bats. And then just knowing the strike zone. It’s not really a swing issues. Little tweaks here and there. It’s more timing. If you have time to recognize the pitch more often, you’ll be more consistent and on time and ready. Your swing will take care of itself, and you’ll hone in on the pitches you want to hit.

For someone like Chris Shaw, what’s the toughest part mentally after struggling right away in the majors as a top prospect? 

It happens as a young player. You go up there, and everything’s a little bigger. You got a bigger crowd, it’s the big leagues, and you’ve been striving to get there through the minor leagues. When you do, it is a bigger picture.

You just have to learn how to control the emotions and not let things get overly big for you. For him, he’s a tough kid. He’s from Boston. He’s a hockey player. The best thing about Chris Shaw is that he’s gonna find a way to figure things out. He’s not stubborn, and he’s gonna make changes accordingly to have success in the big leagues.

What was your first impression of Aramis Garcia once he made it to Triple-A? 

I was fortunate enough to work with Aramis in the Fall League when I was there last year. I’ve been seeing him work his way up from Double-A to up here the last couple weeks before he was called up. The main thing with him was not only his bat, but being a catcher and being a guy to handle a pitching staff. I think that was the most impressive thing.

It just so happens he’s a pretty good hitter as far as staying through the field, being able to drive the ball the other way, and he’s learning to pull the ball a little better. He has a really good high ceiling. 

[RELATED: Aramis Garcia flashes power, opens eyes in September]

He looks like someone who could at least a backup in the bigs sooner than later. 

And it took him a little bit of time. He’s a little bit older at 25, turning 26. But that happens with players. He stuck with it, and he’s been more aggressive. You see it as a hitting coach and what he does behind the plate. I’m happy for him. 

Going from Sacramento to AT&T Park, do you think there’s a swing or mental adjustment for players? 

Fortunately, the Sacramento field actually plays to the tendency of AT&T. It’s got some shadows to it. It’s deep in center field like AT&T, and when the sun goes down, the ball doesn’t carry. It plays fairly fair. But obviously just like anywhere, you still gotta hit and do your damage on the road, like Colorado. In the PCL, it’s Las Vegas and different places like that.

There is a different mindset [to AT&T Park], but the thing is, if you keep your mindset of going up there and staying with your plan, things will take care of itself. If you put too much pressure on yourself — I was fortunate enough to play there, and you crush some balls, and I’m not fast enough to run around even in Triples Alley. There was only one guy that made that place look small, and that was Barry [Bonds]. 

MLB rumors: How Dodgers' Dave Roberts could replace Giants' Bruce Bochy


MLB rumors: How Dodgers' Dave Roberts could replace Giants' Bruce Bochy

The Giants already made one drastic change to their franchise this offseason in hiring Farhan Zaidi away from the Los Angeles Dodgers as their new president of baseball operations. Another year from now, could they add another prominent figure from their archrival?

According to FanCred's Jon Heyman, the Dodgers and manager Dave Roberts appeared close to a multiyear contract extension a week ago, but they now sit at a standstill, unable to come to an agreement. Roberts is said to be on vacation overseas, per Heyman, and the sides “remain far apart."

Los Angeles picked up Roberts’ $1.1 million option for 2019, meaning he’s under contract for next season, but not beyond. If the sides can't come to an agreement on an extension, Roberts essentially will enter next season as a lame-duck manager.

How do the Giants figure into this, you ask? Well, they just might have a managerial opening in one year’s time.

Bruce Bochy is entering the final year of his contract, and while the Giants have experienced plenty of success under the future Hall of Fame manager, there is plenty of reason to believe this will be Bochy’s last season in orange and black.

If 2019 indeed is Bochy’s final season with the Giants, could Roberts be the front-runner to replace him, provided he and the Dodgers don’t reach an extension? In many ways, it would be a logical pairing.

Zaidi obviously is familiar with Roberts, having served as general manager of the Dodgers since the beginning of the 2015 season. Roberts was hired as manager the following year, and Los Angeles has won the National League West in every season since, ultimately losing in the World Series each of the last two years.

Giants fans should be familiar with Roberts as well, and not just because of the last few years. The Dodgers manager spent the final two seasons of his 10-year playing career in San Francisco, batting .252 and stealing 36 bases in 166 games for the orange and black. He also played three seasons in Los Angeles and two in San Diego.

There’s still plenty of time for Roberts and the Dodgers to come to an agreement on an extension, but if for whatever reason they don’t, he could find another home within NL West a year from now.