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The Giants’ season is over, and it was the bullpen that ended it

It was the bullpen, in AT&T Park, with the noose.

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John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Here we are, friends. It’s an even year, and the even-year jokes are dead. Were they jokes? I’m not even sure anymore. Part of me wasn’t serious, but another part of me kept giggling about Conor Gillaspie.

In one sense, it would have been much easier for the Giants to roll over and get swept on Monday night. Baseball would have made a lot more sense if Aroldis Chapman came in and mowed them down for six outs. There wouldn’t have been this same sense of disgust, shock, and pain. We would have been numb. It would have faded quickly. Here lie the Giants: They just weren’t as good as the Cubs.

In another sense, I wouldn’t trade Game 3 in for anything. When Gillaspie hit that triple, I don’t know about you, but I believed. Like a moron. I still believed after Romo blew the save. Like a moron. And when it was all validated with a Joe Panik walk-off, a moment that some franchises have to wait decades for, I still believed. There’s nothing like being sports fan the day after a win like that, thinking everything’s still possible.

Everything was still possible, alright! Everything was suuuurrrre possible.

This game was the cost of experiencing that feeling of undeniable hope. This was the garnishment on the paycheck that you were presented with just last night. Is it really better to have hoped and lost than to never have hoped before? We’ll leave that question to the philosophers. But, yeah, probably.

Even if I’m absolutely stunned at the incompetence of the Giants’ bullpen, even if I’m aghast at the cruel symmetry of the Giants blowing incredibly safe three-run leads like it was intentional performance art, while never once coming back in a single ninth inning, I’m okay with our Conor Gillaspie souvenirs. There were a couple years when the best Giants highlight since 1989 was J.T. Snow hitting a ninth-inning home run ... in a game that they ended up losing. At least the Giants gave us the Wild Card Game against the Mets. At least they gave us the comeback against Chapman.

And at least we don’t have to remember back 50 years for the truly happy baseball moment. This could have been the ninth inning in Arlington. This could have been Miguel Cabrera sitting on the sinker. This could have been Salvador Perez catching up to the high fastball.

Or if you want to look into a dystopian future, this could have been Yasiel Puig in Game 7 of the NLCS.

These are all positive words from someone who threw the first couple stages of grief through the TV, but let’s retrieve one, brush the shards of glass off, and appreciate what just happened. The Giants just had one of the most stunning bullpen meltdowns in the history of the postseason. This followed one of the most stunning collective bullpen meltdowns in the history of baseball. No, really! This isn’t hyperbole. It might be 20 years before another team blows as many saves as the Giants did this year.

And it was all done in support of a team that never came back in the ninth inning once.

Well, that was certainly one of the possible baseball seasons that we could have watched. We’ll never see a bullpen that awful again. That doesn’t even feel like a threat to the baseball gods. Like, they’re not laughing and saying, "Ohhhhhh, realllly?" They’re nodding.

We'll never see a bullpen like that again. Goodness, I hope I'm right. Because that was one of the most consistently awful spectacles I've ever witnessed in any sport.

* * *

Part of me wants to be mad at Bruce Bochy for using a procession of incompetent pitchers in the ninth, but the thing about that is three-run leads are supposed to be easy to hold for a reason. Leads like that are supposed to be historically easy to hold for any team, with any bullpen, good or bad.

That’s because Vin Mazzaro would save the majority of three-run leads. He would have games where he would allow homers and make you nervous. He would have games where he would allow a couple of runs and strand the tying runs on base. And he would have blown more than a few. But any pitcher above, say, Double-A, will usually get three outs without giving up three runs.

What made the Giants special this year is that no matter what permutation Bochy used, it was wrong. Stick with Casilla? Wrong. Go with Sergio Romo, platoons be damned? Wrong. Start with Derek Law? Wrong. Bring in Javier Lopez? Wrong. Okay, ha ha, just kidding, bring in Will Smith? Wrong.

Did you notice that the winning run scored because Brandon Crawford made an awful throw to put a runner (who should have been out on a double play) in scoring position? Involving Brandon Crawford in a crucial defensive play? Wrong. Everything was wrong.

If Bochy brought in Santiago Casilla, y’all would have lost your damned minds. Yet he probably would have gotten three outs before allowing three runs. Because anyone could have. It had to be just the wrong concoction, and it always was.

Now, before you think this is just me suggesting the bad-luck and unfortunate-permutation goblins got to the Giants, please note that there is some science behind the idea that struggling bullpens are a self-perpetuating monster, especially when it comes to command.

What happened in Game 3? Sergio Romo walked the leadoff hitter, even though he didn’t represent the tying run.

What happened in Game 4? Javier Lopez walked the only batter he faced, possibly the last batter of his Giants career, even though he didn’t represent the tying run.

The Giants escaped the first one. The second one ruined them. And I’m pretty sure that if Bochy brought in Will Smith, he would have walked Rizzo. I just don’t know if there was a way around this bullpen collapsing upon itself. When we say no matter what Bochy did this year, it failed, maybe it’s more fair to say that no matter what any manager would have done, it would have failed.

We’ll remember this team forever. You don’t have a lot of old-timers telling you what was wrong with the 1971 Giants, but even new Giants fans probably know about the pain of 1962, because it was a unique pain. This will be the kind of team that will be on your lips for decades, in every season with a bad bullpen. "JUST LIKE 2016," you’ll shout, maybe half-joking.

But it will never be like 2016. This team will go down in franchise history as one of the best teams ever, just not when it came to winning games. It was one of the best teams ever at making you think they were about to win a game, then throwing up on your shoes.

The 2016 Giants: One of the most memorable teams in franchise history. Golly, that will look nice on the ballpark giveaways next year.

* * *

BOBBY EVANS: Larry. I, uh, look, don’t want to get too personal, but why are you on all fours, riding around the ballpark with Mark Melancon on your back?

LARRY BAER: It’s compl...


BAER: Neigh. Snort. Neigh.


* * *

We should be talking about Matt Moore right now, you know. He should have been a legend. Instead, he’s the J.T. Snow home run of pitchers. He deserved better.

* * *

He got an RBI hit, too, you know.

* * *

Back in July, I wrote about how the Giants shouldn’t trade for Aroldis Chapman because he’s a goblin. If they had acquired him, they might have won the division. They certainly wouldn’t have lost a game quite like this, over and over again. So it would follow that, on a night when that unrepentant goblin celebrated on the field at AT&T Park, maybe I would have regrets.

This is not the case. Even in this moist pit of baseball despair, I am okay with the Giants missing out. That’s not to shame Cubs fans, not at all, because if it did happen — and the Giants were definitely trying — we would have found a way to root through the disgust. It’s not like I would have turned in my blogging badge and quit the team, even as they advanced through the postseason. I would have cheered the wins. I would have cheered the saves, while doing my best not to cheer them.

From here, though, we get to play ignorant to that conflicted bliss. The either/or from that perspective might have been too seductive, something we would be unwilling to give up. Maybe that’s the point, and maybe that’s why the Cubs are smart and I’m dumb. But I’m okay with the trade off from this side, looking up at what could have been, because I know the other way around wouldn’t have been so easy.

I just didn’t think the bullpen was going to be this awful.

Anyway, buy a Conor Gillaspie shirt before tomorrow ends, and I’ll send my profits to W.O.M.A.N., Inc.. I knew that Gillaspie’s hit was going to sell more shirts, but for some reason, it felt weird that I was going to profit because Chapman existed? Dunno.

I don’t know about any of this.

* * *

One of the things that will make the 2016 Giants so memorable is just how awful their bullpen really was. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

* * *

The Giants almost got it right. They went looking for a co-ace, and they got one. The wanted to shore up the middle of the rotation, and they did. Then the bats all regressed at the same time, and the bullpen was historically awful. And yet they still almost faked their way to a winner-take-all game with Johnny Cueto on the mound to get to the NLCS. Amazing.

In a few days, you’ll be checking out the free agent lists.

In a couple weeks, you’ll be drunk on rumors.

In a couple months, you’ll hate the bullpen, but in an abstract way.

And by spring, you’ll pretend like you don’t hate baseball at all. Because it’s really a very lovely sport, and Giants fans have been very spoiled.

It’s just hard to believe that the season is over. Now close the door and lock it behind you.