It was almost as if the Giants willed themselves to say, “How dare you bash our MadBum for three, you miscreants!” But this time, this eighth inning, nobody in a Cub uniform made a fatal mistake or a terrible pitch or a careless error.
This time, this eighth inning, this Game Three of this National League division series, the Cubs threw the best they had at the Giants, who threw the best he had at Kid Conor Gillaspie.
And, almost as he’d done to the Mets in the wild card game—when his three-run homer in the top of the ninth enabled Madison Bumgarner to be his own closer—Gillaspie delivered an eleventh-hour shot, with the Cubs five outs from the National League Championship Series, that said the Giants weren’t kidding, either.
It took the Giants thirteen innings to win 6-5 in Game Three. You almost got the impression nobody would have complained if the game went longer. But then you had the early impression that Cubs starter Jake Arrieta had every intention of winning the game all by himself if need be.
Forget about Cubs reliever Travis Wood going long in Game Two. Arrieta, batting against Bumgarner in a postseason showdown between past Cy Young Award winners, squared up the Giants lefthander in the top of the second, with two aboard and a 1-2 count, saw a fastball riding near the top of the strike zone and blasted it into the left field seats.
Six innings later, the Giants having long since closed the deficit to 3-2, Brandon Belt led off the bottom of the eighth with a single off Wood. Cubs manager Joe Maddon brought in Hector Rondon to face Buster Posey, who worked his way back from 1-2 to wring out a walk.
Then Maddon went to his big bull. What could be safer than Aroldis Chapman to punch his way out of this jam and deliver a six-out save? And for one batter, Maddon looked like a genius. Chapman started by striking Hunter Pence out on one of the most violent swings the Giants outfielder ever swung.
Up came Gillaspie, who seems to have a knack for being blissfully unaware of what he’s not supposed to be able to do against big men in the clutch.
That was the wild card game: Gillaspie read it right when Mets closer Jeurys Familia’s intended sinkerball didn’t sink a single inch. This was the bottom of the eighth, Game Three, two aboard: Chapman threw Gillaspie an unhittable fastball. Except that Gillaspie drove it high and deep enough into AT&T Park’s no-man’s-land right center field to send home Belt and Posey and give the Giants a 4-3 lead, after which Brandon Crawford made it 5-3 by singling Gillaspie home.
“Pretty much get on the fastball,” said Gillaspie to reporters after the game. “He throws something else there, and I might be in trouble. You know he’s got velocity. You just have to be ready to hit. It’s hard to square up 100.”
He has a fan in Bumgarner. “You don’t see many left-handed hitters turn around Chapman’s fastball like that,” Bumgarner said of the kid who stepped in and up after regular Giants third baseman Eduardo Nunez went down with an injury. “But Conor can hit, man. He’s a hitter for sure. He has been fun to watch.”
The celebrating swarm in the Giants dugout lasted only long enough for the Cubs’ Kris Bryant to measure Giants closer Sergio Romo for a two-run homer in the top of the ninth. Then Maddon went to Mike Montgomery, a mid-season trade pickup from the Mariners with a modest flight jacket despite two shutouts to lead the American League in 2015, and Montgomery erased the Giants in order in the bottom.
Montgomery also kept the Giants off the board for three more innings to come. Just when it looked like he could go longer distance, Crawford opened the bottom of the thirteenth with a double. Up stepped Joe Panik, who almost never lives up to his surname. Montgomery had nothing left, but Panik had a drive off the right field wall in him for the game-winning RBI double.
Bumgarner told reporters after the game the Arrieta bomb was hit off “probably the best pitch I threw to in the at-bat. I was thinking about going to the breaking ball, but the way it looked to me, I didn’t see any need to. Sometimes you feel like you can help a guy out by slowing it down. But from what I saw, I felt like I was making the right pitch. He just made a good adjustment.”
“Just because we’re down, we’re not out,” said Panik. “If we’re breathing, we’re still fighting.”
And, no, Maddon didn’t make a mistake bringing Chapman in and asking him for a six-out save after pitching out of an early inning jam in the eighth. Chapman himself said after the game he’d told the boss he’d be ready if it came to that. If you’re going to get beat, get beat with your best. Then, as Maddon told both his team and Chicago itself, have short memories.
“Good baseball game. That’s my takeaway,” Maddon said to reporters. “I think that both sides should be somewhat exhilarated. Obviously they win, so they’re going to feel a bit better about it, but there’s nothing on our side to be ashamed of.”
What the hell, it isn’t every team that gets to say they were the ones who put an end to Bumgarner’s postseason scoreless inning streak. Or that it was their own starting pitcher—who’d called Bumgarner “beatable” and then went out and proved it, Bumgarner leaving after five in a 3-1 hole—who did it.
The Giants are beatable but far from beaten in this series now. Shame the Cubs can’t sent a lineup full of pitchers to the plate: Cub pitchers have now knocked in six of the series’ eleven Cub runs. The rest of the Cub lineup isn’t exactly breaking windows up there.
“[W]e’re hard to kill,” Bumgarner said in his usual quietly drawling fashion. “It’s big for us, especially the way the game went into extra innings, and we had to keep fighting and grinding out innings on defense and at the plate. To come through right there, that’s huge for us. We’ll have as much momentum we can have going into tomorrow night’s game.”
It’ll be John Lackey for the Cubs against Matt Moore for the Giants. For some strange reason, Cub Country actually doesn’t feel panicky going in. All they have to do to secure it is arrange for Gillaspie’s kidnapping.