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Three Strikes: Bumgarner, Gillaspie lift Giants past Mets, into NLDS

Wednesday’s NL wild-card game saw the Giants ride a likely hero, Madison Bumgarner, and an unlikely one, Conor Gillaspie, over the Mets to set up a date with the league-leading Cubs in the Division Series.

NEW YORK—We were promised a pitching duel, and we sure got one. Both Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard brought their best stuff to Wednesday night’s National League wild-card game, trading scoreless innings across the night in one of the best combined postseason pitching performances in recent memory. But it was Bumgarner who came out on top with yet another incredible playoff performance, this time shutting out the Mets to lead the Giants to the NLDS with a 3–0 win. Up next for San Francisco: a date with the 103-win Cubs at Wrigley Field.

You Wouldn’t Like Him When He’s Madison

We’ve seen this before from Bumgarner—this exact outcome, in fact. In 2014, the lefthander began his otherworldly postseason run with a complete-game shutout of the Pirates in the wild-card game, striking out 10. He wasn’t quite as unhittable against the Mets, but New York frequently had no answer for his dazzling array of fastballs and curveballs. Bumgarner needed just 21 pitches to retire the Mets in the first three innings, erasing his only base runner—Rene Rivera on a single—with a double-play ball off the bat of James Loney. Though the Mets threatened a couple of times in the middle innings, Bumgarner escaped with some timely strikeouts and, in the fifth, on a bad base-running blunder by rookie T.J. Rivera, who was caught going from second to third on a ground ball to shortstop.

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Bumgarner finished the night with nine scoreless innings, allowing just four hits and two walks—one intentional—to go with six strikeouts. Asdrubal Cabrera was the only Met to reach base twice against him, with a single and a walk, and T.J. Rivera’s double in the fifth was the lone extra-base hit he allowed. Of his 119 pitches, 78 went for strikes, with the Mets swinging and missing 12 times. He retired his last five hitters in order, and once Denard Span secured the final out on a fly ball to center off the bat of T.J. Rivera, the burly lefty let out a pair of fist pumps and embraced Buster Posey on the mound before his teammates joined him to celebrate.

"It's hard to put into words what he did for us tonight and what he's done for us," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy after the game. "We won the game because of him."

"Make no mistake about it, this guy has no fear and he's going to come after you," said Mets manager Terry Collins. "And he did that and he showed that."

The brilliant outing stretched Bumgarner’s scoreless inning streak in the playoffs to 23 1/3 innings, going back to Game 5 of the 2014 World Series. His postseason ERA is now a ridiculous 1.94; since the start of the 2014 playoffs, it’s just 0.88, or six runs in 61 2/3 frames. There’s no doubting it: Bumgarner is one of the greatest postseason pitchers of all time, and Wednesday night’s gem just added to his legend.

Even Year Bulls--- Rides Again

It’s alternated between myth and joke, between Twitter meme and a terrifying reality that we can’t comprehend or understand. It was funny in 2012 and a little scary in ‘14, and now, with the Giants once again advancing in the playoffs in ’16, it’s reached the level of metaphysically upsetting. In polite company, it’s Even Year Magic; to the opposing fans it's left broken in its wake, there's a less PG-13 term for it. Whatever it is—mojo, juju, the inexplicable alignment of the planets and stars—it’s the force that seems to flow through the Giants in even years.

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Watch: Conor Gillaspie gives Giants 3–0 win with ninth-inning HR off Familia

How else does one explain a night in which the game-winning hit came off the bat of Conor Gillaspie, who wouldn’t have even been in the starting lineup had regular third baseman Eduardo Nunez not strained his hamstring during the season’s final week? With two on and one out in the top of the ninth against closer Jeurys Familia, the light-hitting Gillaspie took a 95-mph sinker and drove it nearly into the Mets’ bullpen in right-center, breaking what had been a taut and tense scoreless tie and sending the scattered Giants fans at Citi Field into a frenzy. The quickly deflated New York crowd, meanwhile, could only slump into its seats, muttering something about how this won’t happen in 2017.


It’s easy to give this win to Bumgarner, who earned it, or to suggest that sometimes, that’s just how the game rolls: the little-used sub who comes through in the biggest moment imaginable. But sometimes, it’s necessary to understand that there are larger and perhaps darker forces at play in the universe—and for whatever reason, we only see them every other year. In other words: Cubs fans, beware, for the October night is dark and full of terrors when the Giants are in play.

So Sorry, Syndergaard

This wasn’t the end that Noah Syndergaard deserved. The last man standing in a Mets rotation that has been torn apart by injury, the 24-year-old righty flummoxed the Giants all night. He held them hitless through 5 2/3 innings and finished with seven scoreless frames, striking out 10. Pumping 98-mph fastballs by San Francisco hitters, the lanky Texan got 21 swings and misses on 108 pitches, topping out at 100.4 mph with his four-seam fastball and breaking off hellacious slider after slider.

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As the night went on, Syndergaard transitioned from all fastballs to a diversified array of offspeed and breaking pitches, even mixing in a few curveballs to good effect. He allowed just two base runners to reach scoring position—Span in the sixth on a single and a stolen base and Brandon Crawford in the seventh after he and Angel Pagan hit back-to-back singles. That final frame was the only time Syndergaard was truly challenged, but he got out of it by getting Joe Panik to ground out to shortstop on a ball that was briefly deflected and nearly gave 47,000 Mets fans a coronary.

Syndergaard was outdueled by Bumgarner, but that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Instead, he added another chapter to his own short yet impressive postseason legacy, one that began last year with terrific turns against the Dodgers, Cubs and Royals and looks poised to continue whenever the Mets next make it back. In a season where New York looked certain to break at any moment under yet another injury, Syndergaard kept them going, and his wild-card game performance is the latest sign that he could end up being something truly special.