Between the end of the 2014 National League division series and this Memorial Day, Bryce Harper hadn’t batted against Hunter Strickland. During that NLDS, Harper faced Strickland twice and took him deep twice, both mammoth blasts, one of them a splash hit in the deciding Game Four:
Boys will be boys, but that sometimes includes getting a little reckless on their off-duty time. Last fall, Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer sliced a thumb with one of his hobby drones and was almost useless to the Indians’ push to break their World Series drought. Now it’s springtime and Madison Bumgarner, on a day off, sprained a bone in his pitching shoulder and bruised a few ribs—breezing along on a dirt bike in Denver until he hit a slippery spot.
Wouldn’t you love to have known the dialogue between Giants manager Bruce Bochy and his Opening Day starting pitcher and Cy Ruth Award candidate Madison Bumgarner, when Bumgarner wasn’t pitching during their not-pretty 6-5 loss to the Diamondbacks? Rumour has it that it went something like this:
Bochy: Bum, it’s not that we don’t need the runs, but would you kindly remember that your job with this team is not to do your impersonation of Henry Aaron every other time up?
Bumgarner: Skip, just don’t look at me!
We talk much, and often hyperbolically, about the worst kept secrets in baseball. But in 2016, the Giants’ bullpen was an easy candidate for the absolute worst-kept secret in the game. In a word, the Giants’ pen was a wreck populated by arsonists.
They went from baseball’s near-best record at the All-Star break to lucky to be in and win the wild card game against the Mets. Few thought they were better than long shots to keep their too-often spoken even-season championship streak alive.
This is the kind of thing that used to be done to the Cubs, not by them. The Giants went to the bullpen in Game Four of the division series Tuesday night. Leading by three runs. Their mission: save it and force the set to a Game Five in Wrigley Field.
Mission aborted by four Cub runs in the ninth with only one out on the board. Season aborted by a bullpen that began to look like it was finding itself in the postseason until they lost each other, the plot, and the ball game.
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.
The Mets survived everything thrown at them in 2016 and came up three bucks short. The Giants survived themselves and, at the eleventh hour, punched their ticket to Chicago for a division series showdown with the Cubs.
And until Jeurys Familia threw the wrong pitch to a no-name number eight hitter named Conor Gillaspie, who had to step in for injured Eduardo Nunez late in the season, the National League wild card game threatened to go to extra innings and maybe beyond no matter who might be the last man standing on the mound.
You could hear Dodger Stadium groan in the top of the third Monday night. An unearned Giants run that began with a steal and ended with a wild pitch was not supposed to happen when the Dodgers—behind Clayton Kershaw, yet—got crack number four at Madison Bumgarner this season.
You could hear the ballpark groan a little through the howls as the Dodger seventh ended, and Bumgarner and Yasiel Puig had a little debate following the inning-ending out Puig made on a checked-swing infield grounder. A debate apparently provoked by Bumgarner himself.
All good things must come to an end, even in baseball. But so must all bad things, in due course. For the San Diego Padres, the latter can’t happen soon enough. For the Los Angeles Dodgers, the former happened a little too soon for comfort.
The Padres at this writing remain in search of their first run of the season. Presumably, they’ll take it any way they can get it when they meet the Colorado Rockies this weekend. Preferably right out of the chute, just to have done with it.
If the decision had been up to the Negro Leagues’ club owners and the Brooklyn Dodgers, Monte Irvin would have been the first African-American to re-break baseball’s unconscionable colour line in the 1940s. Irvin—who died Monday night at 96, following a long and distinguished baseball life—was the one who turned the opportunity down.