Wild card baseball has had its share of critics since debuting in 2012. One game and you’re out? After that long and hot summer you get one last shot to prove you’re worthy enough to play the best team from your half of the league? You either do that or you’re done for the winter. That’s it.
Yeah, that is it. And as the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets showed last night, just like the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles did a day earlier, Wild Card baseball can give you some unforgettable results even though it’s all over in a few hours.
Last night’s game, however, was a classic. Scoreless until the ninth, Conor Gillaspie’s three-run homer will probably be talked about by Giants and Mets fans for years to come, both because of the unexpected source it came from (Gillaspie was filling in for an ailing Eduardo Nuñez), and the utter heartbreak it caused Mets fans who watched their injury-plagued team somehow shock the world by getting to last night. That homer was impressive, no doubt, but it was the pitching matchup between Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard that we’re going to spend a lot of time unpacking from here on out. It was one of the greats, but, as Syndergaard pointed out after the game, somebody has to go home.
Baseball has a way of ripping your ❤️ out, stabbing it, putting it back in your chest, then healing itself just in time for Spring Training.
— Noah Syndergaard (@Noahsyndergaard) October 6, 2016
Friday night, the Giants will open up their playoff series against the Chicago Cubs. Some say Chicago is the favorite to win, while others will remind you that you’re talking about the Cubs, and you know what that means when it comes to postseason baseball. But whatever ultimately happens, however good the Giants play in that series, you can thank Bumgarner. He’s the catalyst for his team, that’s what he does. And even though it was a wild-card matchup and not game seven of the World Series, the 27-year-old lefty used his opportunity in Queens to continue building his case for all-time great status. Not even 30 and he’s got three World Series rings and a handful of records to go along with those, he might not have a Cy Young or regular season MVP in his trophy case, but he has shown time and time again that those regular season trophies don’t mean much. The summer is one thing, MadBum wins in October. Not a lot of pitchers can boast that. His performance last night, nothing short of masterful, proves once again what makes Bumgarner so utterly terrifying. There’s no October surprise when it comes to him and the playoffs since you can have faith that Bumgarner is probably going to come out on top.
Then there was his rival with the flowing blonde locks. Syndergaard was equally as impressive, going seven innings, striking out ten and only giving up two hits after the Giants started wearing him down in the sixth and then another in his last inning on the mound. It was the pitching duel we all wanted to see, the type that some could kvetch shouldn’t have been wasted on a wild card game, but those people are wrong. The desperation that a do or die type game brings out, juxtaposed with the calm, nearly flawless pitching from two of baseball’s elite starters, was something special.