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Giants advance to NLDS behind Madison Bumgarner, Brandons

The Nationals await. Whatever. Revel in this for the time being.

Justin K. Aller

Think back to the moment when you accepted the idea of the wild card. All of those games, all of those moments, sucked into the maw of three hours of baseball-related nonsense. It was the best you could get, and you were proud to take it. Well, not proud. Willing. It was a better deal than most people got.

Here's what I told myself: I was okay with losing the wild card game.

Not because I was ready for the season to end, but because it seemed like a fitting way to end a season like this, where the Giants had it all and played their way out of it. They were irresponsible, third-generation rich kids tinkling away their trust fund, and a second wild card seemed like just the Ponzi scheme to do them in.

That's when the Pirates got involved. Man, do I have a soft spot for the Pirates. People tell me to remember that their fans are Steeler fans, too, and that almost works. That logic is easy to dismiss, though. The Pirates fans who stuck through Cam Bonifay and Dave Littlefield ... I can't even imagine. They earned these seasons, and they've earned much more. If the Giants lost to the Pirates, it would have been the least devastating loss in recent playoff history. They weren't the stupid Marlins. They weren't the stupid Mets. They weren't the stupid Angels or Cardinals. They were the Pirates. I would have been okay with that.

Then the game started.

That's all it takes. One pitch. The switch flips and it's us/them, in which "them" are a bunch of nasty goblins designed to break your heart. Every season is long. Every season is so long, and the hopes start building up after the last out of the previous World Series. You start with thoughts on Michael Morse. What about Michael Morse? Can he help? Rabble rabble rabble. They re-signed Vogelsong. Isn't he done? Rabble rabble rabble. Then the season comes and there's Brandon Hicks and Dan Uggla and Tyler Colvin and 11 at-bats from Marco Scutaro that I don't remember and four at-bats from Tony Abreu that he doesn't remember, and it drags on. Ups and downs and downs and ups? and more downs. Here's one hell of an up.

I wasn't ready to watch this team go home. I don't care if it's to the Pirates, the Buffalo Bills, or the Washington Generals. This is the team that I've spent thousands of hours on this year and last year. It was ridiculous that their postseason hopes rested on a single game before they could get to the real postseason. Understandable, but ridiculous.

This is the turning point, then. This is a vampire sipping that first taste of blood, succumbing to awful needs and horrible urges. This is the greed that puts you over the top. If you're okay with defeating the Pirates to advance, what aren't you okay with?

I dunno. Nothing, really. I argued for Melky Cabrera to make the 2012 postseason roster, you know.

The Giants are in the playoffs, where they'll play a ...


... best-of-five?


Son of a ...


I don't know who gets the attention first. Bumgarner or Crawford? Crawford or Bumgarner? There is no correct answer. Alphabetical, then.

Madison Bumgarner is a treasure, a snotty, slutter-slinging treasure. He's so easy to take for granted, too. The Giants fans around for the '60s got to watch Juan and Gaylord, and that must have been outstanding, even if there was a latent sadness when it came to championships and awards. The Giants fans around for the '70s got shooting stars, Montefuscos, D'Acquistos, and Halickis, all with so much potential. The '80s brought Scott Garrelts and Atlee Hammaker. There was Kelly Downs and Salomon Torres in the '90s. It was a rich history of dammit.

You know what happened after that, but did you ever stop to think about the 2010 rotation? It happened, just like the cynical dinks said it would. Cain's two down years into a new era and out for the year. Jonathan Sanchez is out of baseball. Tim Lincecum is a reliever, even if that's questionable at this point. Throughout it all, there's been Bumgarner. He's the reason the Giants are having fun on Wednesday night. Five seasons later, most of the rotation is ash, which is what happens. But the Giants still have one of those pitchers to lead them.

That's because Bumgarner's the youngest, of course. He hasn't spent as much shoulder and elbow bitcoin as the other guys, so it followed that he was the likeliest to be here in the first place. Still, look at how he pitched tonight. The last time the Pirates hosted a wild card game, they drove Johnny Cueto insane. Bumgarner didn't care. He had an eight-pitch first inning after the Giants went down on eight pitches. It calmed me the hell down. It was magic. Edinson Volquez shut the Giants down, but Bumgarner responded in a way that reminded you why he was the better pitcher.

The Pirates were one of the best offensive teams in the league. It didn't matter. Bumgarner hit his spots like he was making a fake pitching motion in front of a green screen, with CGI monkeys going in later to fill in the ball. That kind of outing takes down the 1995 Indians.

The shame of it all is that the Giants get to use him just once in the NLDS against the Nationals, but that's a quibble. They got past the scary first stage. They're in. It's time to troll the world. The part of the world that forgot the Giants had Madison Bumgarner, specifically.


This is also Madison Bumgarner:

Ol' Four Beers, yukkin' it up after the playoff win.


Brandon Crawford.

This was the first grand slam in an elimination game in the MLB postseason since Buster Posey, you know.


Yeah, that's the one.

Crawford had a good at-bat in the first inning, driving a hanging breaking ball to deep right with two runners on, but he was unlucky. In the video above, Crawford takes a called first strike that is pure nonsense. It was set up for an Eeyore kind of performance.

Then there was a hanging two-strike breaking ball.

It could have so easily been a comebacker to Volquez. First-to-home, one more out and the inning's over. That's what it would have been in July. That's what it would have been in August for Crawford. Instead, he has his swing back, and he's a bottom-o'-the-order asset for a team that needs one.

Part of me hates embeddable videos because they take the words out of my fingers. A much bigger part of me loves them because I'm going to watch that for the 18th time.


Crawford was the first shortstop to hit a grand slam in the playoffs. Do you know how long the playoffs have been going on? Long enough to have shortstops with names like Doc, Rabbit, Yats, Boob, Turkey, Binky, Zeb, Dot, Shorty, Roxey, Kid, Dummy, Buzzy, Dolly, and Hap. None of them hit a grand slam. None of the shortstops in the generation to follow did, either. Not in the generation after that or after that. Not Robin Yount or Cal Ripken or Derek Jeter.

This is exciting stuff. I will point out that a lot of people tweeted me mock surprise that Jeter never hit one. Note that Jeter has the all-time record for SS home runs at 20. Second place is Nomar Garciaparra, with seven.

(Rich Aurilia is fourth, with six.)

(Yay, Brandon Crawford!)

Everyone else deserves plaudits. Come hand out plaudits, everyone:

  • Gregor Blanco almost hit one out in the first, and he took a walk and scored a run. Good job, Gregor Blanco.

  • Joe Panik was three-for-five, proving that the Giants are absolute junk if they don't have a surprise second baseman slapping the ball all over the place in the postseason

  • Buster Posey was two-for-five with a run batted in, and it was a quiet night. Good. He hit the ball hard and had good at-bats. The Giants needed him to be the savior in August and September, and he was. But if they can get buy with him being merely great, they'll go far.

  • Pablo Sandoval looked so, so much better than he did at the end of the year. A renewed focus? Cartoonish sacks with dollar signs painted on them, dancing around his bed as he dreams? Don't care. He wasn't hacking. He was smart. He was focused. That's the Pablo I want the Giants to sign for 12 consecutive $20 million team options.

  • Hunter Pence was lost at the plate, again, but he had a 40-hop doink for a hit, and he eventually scored two runs. I'll take lucky Pence if that's all that's being offered. It's worth noting that he opened the game up with a great catch just in front of the right field fence in foul territory, and he made a catch in the eighth that was the perfect mix of "goin' for it" and "not gonna screw things up in a blowout." He's one of the good ones, and he's going to have two homers against Doug Fister.

  • Brandon Belt was outstanding. Remember when he looked like he was holding the bat from the wrong end two weeks ago? At the risk of self-promotion, allow me to share something I wrote years ago

    Still applies. Brandons are magic. Corner the market. Gotta catch 'em all.

  • Travis Ishikawa was the only starter without a hit, but he trolled so damned hard. The Giants will need that for the coming weeks.

The Giants are going to the playoffs after winning a playoff. They'll face Matt Williams, who is probably a fake Matt Williams in a latex Mission Impossible mask. Of all the outcomes to root for on this Wednesday night, this was probably the best one.