It was an ideal situation for the San Francisco Giants – taking two games in Washington against the best team in the National League, they had their ace, Madison Bumgarner, on the mound to try and seal the deal at home, and sweep the Nationals.
Fortunately for Doug Fister and the rest of the Nationals bullpen, they had other plans. A combination of stellar pitching and capitalizing on key mistakes by the Giants’ usually-stellar defense extended the NLDS for Washington, and brought them back from the dead.
In case you missed it, here are my thoughts, in real-time, of Game 3 between the San Francisco Giants and the Washington Nationals in the 2014 NLDS:
1:57 PM: Here we go. We got the National Anthem playing at AT&T Park. It’s got a sort of an atmosphere that screams “tempered celebration”. We’re talking about doing something the Royals just did the other night – sweep the top seed in the league at home.
1:59 PM: There’s Bruce Bochy. He might go down as the San Francisco Giants’ greatest manager, and, with the Giants already with two World Series titles under Bochy, analysts already say he’s a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. He would probably be the first to tell you he doesn’t know, or care, about all that. Which is all the more reason it’s true.
2:02 PM: It’s truly amazing how we got here: an 18-inning marathon in Game 2 – longest postseason game by time ever – ended by a towering home run by, of all people, Brandon Belt, and a save by Hunter Strickland (who was rocked for two home runs in Game 1) to end it. Now they’re up 2-0 and look to bust out the brooms this afternoon.
2:04 PM: I’ll admit, I have my trepidations. I should be eased by the idea of our best starter in Bumgarner to take down the Nats at home, and two more chances after this to win the series, if he falters somehow. But, I’m not eased. I’m nervous as all get out. That’s the curse of being a pessimistic sports fan – you’re gifted with pleasant surprise when your team does well; but it also means you assume the worst, which usually means you suffer even through the good times, because you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.
2:07 PM: Wow – they got WWE Wrestler Daniel Bryan to pump up the crowd with a “Yes” chant. In case you didn’t know, Hunter Pence got his rallying “Yes” cry from Bryan. I just think it’s hilarious they flew him over to do it for the Giants fans.
2:10 PM: Alright – Bumgarner’s first inning usually sets the tone for the rest of his day. If he can get through it fairly easily, it’s usually a good sign.
2:13 PM: Strikeout to Span to start the game. Okay, looking pretty good.
2:14 PM: Hilarious, MLB Network – “Foreigner” to reference that MadBum’s “Cold as Ice.” Very clever.
2:14 PM: And the first hit falls on a blooper for Rendon. Runner’s on.
2:16 PM: This strike zone is already established as much narrower than Bumgarner’s Pirates outing. Looks like MadBum adjusted to get a called strike, there.
2:17 PM: Boom. Got him on a check swing high. Kind of got lucky, there. I’ll take it.
2:19 PM: Got LaRoche swinging after a strange shadow cast onto the field during his at-bat. And by “swinging”, I mean he got him to pop out. That was relatively painless. Let’s see if the Giants can make Doug Fister hurt. (Man, that’s an unfortunate last name.)
2:23 PM: Nice try for Blanco to bunt for first base – didn’t work, though.
2:26 PM: Panik is hacking away at a full count. Always a good way to rack up the pitch count. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get a hit – out on a routine grounder.
2:28 PM: MLB Network makes a good point – bad luck for Posey to foul a ball off his ankle after catching an 18-inning game.
2:28 PM: That’s it for the Giants. 1 hit between them in the first. Early going looks like a pitcher’s duel, but things can change for either side in a hurry.
2:33 PM: Ouch, that was unfortunate – taking a ball to the midsection must’ve hurt for MadBum. Buster had to check on him to see if he was okay.
2:35 PM: Swung on and missed. That’s a 1-2-3 inning for MadBum. Looks like he’s fine from that ball-strike from earlier.
2:40 PM: And the first hit for the Giants falls for the Panda. Tried for a double but settled (and almost stumbled) for a single. Pence is up next.
2:43 PM: Watching that 18th-inning home run by Belt again was satisfying. Would I have liked another one? Sure. But I’ll take a one-out walk. The Second Brandon – Crawford, that is – is up.
2:44 PM: Crawford ALMOST hit a three-run homer to take the lead. It died in left-center, though, in the glove of Bryce Harper.
2:48 PM: Fister just walked the bases loaded after Ichikawa started with an 0-2 count. Up comes Bumgarner for an epic chance to help his own cause against the Nats.
2:50 PM: Fister got Bumgarner inside to strike him out. That was disappointing, but not unlike the Giants offense – they have a hard time bringing RISP home. I suppose it was too much to ask for Bum to get an RBI or two. In any case, the Giants at least ran up Fister’s pitch count again: that’s over 40 pitches in two innings.
2:53 PM: Called strikes aren’t coming so easy for Bumgarner to start in this game. Great catch by Blanco, though, to start the third inning with an out.
2:55 PM: Bumgarner got revenge for his strikeout against Fister by striking him out. It’s not really surprising – it was just something I felt I should point out.
2:58 PM: That’s two hits with two out in the third for Bumgarner. Unease could easily set in right now. We’ll see how he responds.
3:01 PM: Way to get out of the jam – forced a groundout on Jayson Werth to end the scoring threat. Tit for tat, I suppose, for both clubs’ offenses.
3:08 PM: Two quick outs brings Posey to the plate. He got a single to drop to keep the inning going. Can Sandoval cause more damage?
3:09 PM: Apparently not. Groundout in one pitch ends the inning. This is NOT going to be fun for people hoping to see a sweep.
3:14 PM: Another strikeout for Bumgarner in the fourth. Followed by a great flyball grab by Blanco for the second out. It’s plays like that, that put my mind at ease – if only for a second.
3:16 PM: Harper looks like he wants to clobber the ball. But he just fell victim to a called strike three. Sit down, buddy – No overreactions to solo shots on THIS at-bat.
3:21 PM: Belt singles to right. Giants might have something here after Pence started with a groundout to the shortstop.
3:23 PM: That was a bad steal attempt by Belt. Who gave him the green light for that? And, a strikeout on Crawford ends the inning. Terrible sequence, right there.
3:31 PM: Another relatively easy 1-2-3 inning for Bumgarner in the fifth. His defense is backing him up, but not as much as he would really need it. Bottom line: he’s kept the Nats scoreless through 5.0 IP.
3:32 PM: The key for the Giants now is just to get to Fister – either through the pitch count or with one big hit to get some runs on the board. It’s usually all Bumgarner needs to finish the game.
3:37 PM: And that’s a one-out walk on Bumgarner. Praise to the pitcher for keeping the at-bat alive with a bunch of foul swings.
3:38 PM: A couple quick outs ends the minor threat in the fifth for Fister and the Nats. That was a couple of disappointing at-bats after MadBum got on. We’ll head to the sixth scoreless.
3:43 PM: What should have been a called third strike wasn’t to be, and the leadoff man is on for the Nationals. Them’s the breaks when umpires are calling games. Not to say the Giants haven’t benefited from the same calls, though.
3:49 PM: After allowing a hit to start the inning, Bumgarner gets three harmless pop outs to get out of the inning unblemished. Pitcher’s duel, indeed. Let’s see if the Giants can take advantage of MadBum’s great outing so far.
3:53 PM: Buster Posey goes down on a sinker by Fister. Pitcher’s duel, indeed.
3:54 PM: That’s two quick outs to the heart of the order. It’s like Fister is getting better the higher his pitch count goes.
3:55 PM: Case in point – Pence just went down on a foul-out, with a two-pitch at-bat. Fister’s getting better. I’d say this doesn’t bode well, but it’s difficult not to have faith when Bumgarner is on the mound. We’ll see if that faith will be tested – it’s the last three innings coming up.
3:59 PM: That’s a leadoff single to Desmond, and here’s Harper on a 2-0 count. This doesn’t bode well …
4:01 PM: Uh-oh. Bumgarner just walked Harper – two on, nobody out. This could spell disaster.
4:03 PM: Big mistake, Bumgarner. Instead of opting for first on a sacrifice bunt, he went to third, and it bounced past Sandoval. It’s 2-0, Nationals, in the seventh. And with Fister dealing as well as he is, it doesn’t look good for the Giants here in Game 4. That could’ve been the mistake the Nationals needed to get back into this series.
4:05 PM: Now it’s 3-0, Nationals. I think it’s safe to say the Giants will have to hope Vogelsong can come through in Game 4.
4:07 PM: Way to lay out, Panda – especially after that disastrous throw to third made you land awkwardly.
4:09 PM: It’s middle of the seventh – Nats have a three-run lead. The air seems out of AT&T Park – what a time to bring out Tony Bennett for the seventh inning stretch. This is the definition of a bittersweet moment for Giants fans.
4:14 PM: Well, after a disaster of a seventh inning, let’s see what the Giants can do with these last nine outs.
4:15 PM: That’s a good start – Brandon Belt singles to right to put a man on base.
4:20 PM: And that’s three straight outs to end the inning. Unless the Giants do the improbable, we’re headed to a Game 4. First thing’s first, obviously – they have to hold the Nats to three runs if they have any chance to come back.
4:23 PM: They’re bringing in Machi to hold the Nats in the eighth. I trust his arm at this point – moreso than Bumgarner’s, right now. Honestly, it’s just too bad that it was his mistake that cost the Giants so late in the game. But that’s what the responsibility of being the ace brings – you have to take the hit if you screw up. And he screwed up big-time.
4:27 PM: That was three quick outs by Machi to hold the Nationals to a three-run lead. Six outs to do ANYTHING on offense. If Fister stays out there, dealing the way he is, it’s difficult to believe that will happen now.
4:31 PM: Fister’s done for the day, as Clippard’s dealing right now. Quick out for Blanco leads to Panik, who’s now batting on a full count …
4:33 PM: … and that’s another ground out to short. That’s been the story of the day for this Giants offense.
4:34 PM: And that’s the end of the eighth. Not good – not good at all.
4:38 PM: That’s the pitch Bryce Harper was waiting for, and he clobbered it. That’s 4-0, Nationals, and it’s becoming clearer that this may not end well for the Giants – especially with an up-and-down Vogelsong on the mound tomorrow.
4:43 PM: Odd choice to pull Machi with two outs in the ninth, but Bochy rarely makes a bad move. Probably wants to save him for tomorrow, in the likely event Vogie struggles (sorry, Ryan. You know I got love for you, though).
4:46 PM: Jeremy Affeldt is in to deal with Ryan Zimmerman. Easy three-pitch at bat gets him out on a grounder to first, and the Giants have three outs to get at least four runs. If they do it, I won’t know what to say. If they don’t, well … on to Game 4, I suppose.
4:50 PM: Drew Storen is up to close it out for the Nationals. He gave up the tying run in the ninth to send it to extras. Something tells me he won’t do that, here.
4:51 PM: Sandoval gets a leadoff single to fall. Can’t say anything in terms of a comeback, but anything’s possible with this team.
4:52 PM: Pence hits a double off of Storen to put men on second and third, nobody out. Not saying anything in terms of a comeback, but …
4:53 PM: Here comes Belt to the plate. I guess we’ll just see what happens, here.
4:55 PM: Storen rings up Belt for out number 1. I can’t blame Belt for not swinging there, though.
4:56 PM: Crawford takes a first pitch swing for the second out. But that scored Sandoval for the Giants’ first run of the game, so they got that going for them, which is nice …
4:57 PM: And, that’s it. Ishikawa grounds out – big surprise – to end the game. That’s how the Nationals shut down this Giants offense: forcing a whole lot of ground-outs. Now the series is extended to Game 4 tomorrow – Vogelsong will have to pitch a gem in order to salvage their home-stand and get to the NLCS. But, after the Nationals’ bats woke up against the Giants’ bona fide ace, it’s going to be tough going for him on Tuesday. That’s the beauty of the postseason, though – just when you least expect it, teams can surprise you.
That’s all folks. For Giants fans, here’s hoping they can ride another perhaps-unexpected pitching performance and win the series going away. For Nationals fans, here’s hoping they can take a second game at AT&T Park and force a decisive Game 5 back at home.
You’ll know which one I’ll be hoping for.