2016 SF Giants – Angel Pagan’s Back Spasms

2016 SF Giants

The 2016 SF Giants don’t die.

You may want to thank Angel Pagan and his back spasms for this one.

Pagan was scheduled to start in left field and hit fifth on Monday night against Jake Arrieta and the Cubs. But his back started acting up in Chicago and he couldn’t go. I’m not sure why he was in the initial lineup, but in the second lineup, Gregor Blanco was in left field and batting eighth. Conor Gillaspie was pushed up in the order into the fifth slot.

Angel Pagan’s back spasms would pay major dividends before this game was over. But sure didn’t start well for the Giants.

Madison Bumgarner took the rubber. While his stuff looked okay early on, he didn’t look like he did in the wildcard game. Then again, to ask him to repeat that performance was a little greedy. The Giants just needed to be in the ballgame. The responsibility would be on the offense, which had only scored two runs (both in game two) in the series so far.

On the radio postgame show, Mike Krukow said he thought Bumgarner had one of his best early curveballs of the year. But it wasn’t the curveball that would doom him.

He gave up a double to the new Giant killer, Kris Bryant in the first, but it didn’t hurt him as he struck out Jorge Soler to end the inning. In the second, he hit Addison Russell with a pitch up and in. Russell was nearly hanging over the plate and didn’t move. Then, after quite a battle, Javy Baez got on via an infield hit. Bumgarner got Miguel Montero to line out to bring up Arrieta.

Bumgarner blew two fastballs by Arrieta and went to the well one too many times. Arrieta blasted the next fastball over the fence for a three-run homer. With just one swing, Bumgarner’s 24 straight scoreless innings streak in the postseason was over and the Cubs had a 3-0 lead.

(While Bumgarner’s overall numbers didn’t look fantastic, he stretched himself to finish the fifth inning and save for one mistake against Arrieta, he kept the Giants in the ballgame. Considering this game would go thirteen innings, his five were huge.)

The Giants started chipping away in the third inning. Buster Posey singled in Denard Span who had doubled and the Giants were on the board. In the fifth, Brandon Belt hit a sacrifice fly to plate Span again who had tripled right in front of him. Just as it looked like the Giants were getting to Arrieta, he set them down in order in the 6th, but that would be it for him. Pedro Strop would set the Giants down in the 7th.

Derek Law got a lot of TV time for swinging around a rally towel in the dugout. My buddy Brad Evans called him an emotional beaver. But more importantly than his cheerleading were the two innings he threw after Bumgarner. Though he allowed two baserunners, only one of which was his fault, he shut the Cubs down, giving way to Hunter Strickland who did the same (while hitting 100 on the gun).

The Giants saved their best baseball for the eighth inning. It was also the same inning that Joe Maddon got cute with his bullpen. Travis Wood, one of the heroes for the Cubs on Saturday night, came into pitch specifically to Belt. Belt met him with a base hit to left field. Hector Rondon came in to pitch to Posey and walked him. Rather than let Rondon pitch to Pence, Maddon said screw it and brought in his ace closer, Aroldis Chapman.

I was talking with co-workers about this move. These same co-workers and I stayed at the office until 11:30 PM, trying to make it through the entire game before heading home. I said that I thought Maddon would let Rondon pitch to Pence and then bring in Chapman to face the next four hitters who were all left-handed. It made sense to bring Chapman in the eighth. They were in closeout mode and went with their best guy. It didn’t quite work.

Chapman struck out Pence who didn’t really look like he had a chance or a clue in his at bat. That brought up wildcard game hero, Conor Gillaspie, aka Babe Gillaspie. He came through again, taking a 102 MPH Chapman fastball and depositing it into Triples Alley in right-center. Both Belt and Posey scored and the legend of Gillaspie struck again. If I’m being completely honest, after Pence struck out, I didn’t think Gillaspie or Brandon Crawford would have a chance against Chapman. I thought Joe Panik had the best chance to make solid contact. Well, I was wrong. Way wrong.

Crawford followed up hitting one through a drawn-in infield and all of a sudden, the Giants were up 5-3.

There was an interesting scenario that wasn’t really talked about much that happened next. Crawford stole second and went to third on Willson Contreras’ throwing error. Panik walked and took second when Contreras tried picking Crawford off third, nearly taking out his elbow in the process. There was still only one out. That brought up Gregor Blanco, Pagan’s replacement. Maddon had enough of Chapman’s implosion (and also needed to save him to use him in game 4) and brought in Justin Grimm to face him. Blanco dribbled it toward first. My immediate thought was that Crawford had to break for the plate, but he didn’t. Then, as Anthony Rizzo fielded it and softly tossed it to Grimm, I really thought Crawford should’ve broke for the plate. But he didn’t. Grimm wasn’t so graceful on the play. Crawford would’ve easily scored. And it would turn out that the Giants needed that extra run.

By now, everyone knows the Giants bullpen problems. Santiago Casilla led the league in blown saves. He’s never been a lights out closer, but he’s done a commendable job for the last few years. If you look deep into the numbers, his season was very similar to last season when he did a decent job as a closer. In fact, take away an extra two home runs, and it might even be better. You just can’t ignore those blown saves though.

His failures in the ninth led Bruce Bochy to go with a closer by committee late in the season. That didn’t lead to any better results, so he turned to old reliable Sergio Romo. With El Mechon blasting from the speakers at AT&T, Romo came out in the ninth as fired up as ever. Except, what had happened was…

He got cute with Dexter Fowler and walked him. He then hung a fat slider to Bryant and just like that, the game was tied again. It felt like it took every bit of energy for the Giants to add those three runs. And with the blink of an eye, the Cubs tied it.

Both teams had their chances to take the lead or win the game in extras.

In the 10th, Belt walked with one out. Posey hit a laser into right field that looked like not only a sure hit, but one that would bounce hard off the wall and maybe be chaotic. If Belt got a great jump, he could score. Right-fielder Albert Almora Jr., who was the Cubs’ third right fielder of the day, made a great diving catch on Posey’s drive. He threw the ball to first to double off Belt and end the inning.

I’ve talked to smart baseball people who believe Belt should’ve hesitated. I can see that. But in the 10th inning of an elimination game, he had to think about scoring. Even off the bat, you knew it was either going to be a hit, or take a tremendous play for it not to be. If you play that over 10 times, Almora Jr. probably catches it at most three times. That’s what great plays are. They’re out of the ordinary. So it was key for Belt to score on that play to end the game. It took a great play to stop them. That’s playoff baseball.

In the 11th, Panik was on second with just one out. Pinch hitter (and last non-injured player on Bochy’s bench) Trevor Brown was more aggressive than he needed to be as Mike Montgomery was semi-pitching around him. He grounded out and so did Span and the game continued.

The Cubs had their best shot in the top of the 13th against long man Ty Blach. Baez and Contreras singled with one out. That brought up David Ross, who is more than likely retiring at the end of the season. His swan song could’ve been knocking in the run that sent the Cubs to the NLCS. Instead, he grounded into a double play to end the inning.

The Cubs wouldn’t get another shot. Crawford doubled to lead off the bottom of the thirteenth. Then Panik sent everyone home with this blast.

The Giants would live to fight another day. And finally, after five hours, I’d get to go home.

Thanks Conor Gillaspie. Thanks Joe Panik. And thanks Angel Pagan’s back spasms.

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