Oh right. Madison Bumgarner is still on the team.
Given the back of the rotation woes and bullpen malarky, it's easy to forget that the Giants have qualified major league pitchers available to them. Unfortunately, they don't get to pitch (seemingly) as often as the rest of the troublemakers. The Giants were finally able to run out an ace-type against the Mets' virtual all-ace rotation and the results tipped in the Giants' favor.
But Madison Bumgarner started the game shaky. He needed 24 pitches to get out of the first inning. He couldn't figure out how to put away Juan Lagares. Then something surprising happened: after pitching himself into a bit of trouble, he was able to pitch himself out of it without the inning snowballing into an insurmountable early deficit. At this point, the names Jake Peavy and Matt Cain need trigger warnings, so it's easy to curl into a ball when there's a leadoff baserunner and a walk in the same inning. But this is Madison Bumgarner. And even though he hasn't looked 8 innings/2 hits/9 strikeout-dominant yet, he has definitely built up his effectiveness with every start.
He had control of his pitches and command of the strike zone, and even in those moments where he couldn't quite find the zone, that was at least in part because of the very nice zone called by home plate ump Ron Kulpa. It was wide enough to let Bumgarner get a little greedy. As we saw in his last outing, his ability to change planes with his fastball is a really important part of his game plan, and when he struggled to make the batters change their eye lines he struggled overall. Not so these past two starts. Just look at his strikeout of Yoenis Cespedes for a great example of this.
The Mets have a heck of an offense and really made Bumgarner work, so while 6 innings doesn't jump out at you as being fantastic -- 3 innings from the Giants' bullpen is no recipe for success -- from pitch to pitch he was fantastic.
* * *
This game really did come down to a battle of two half innings: Bumgarner's bottom of the 3rd and Syndergaard's top of the 4th. Yoenis Cespedes doubled sending David Wright (who had walked two batters earlier) to third. The next batter was the hot-hitting Neil Walker. Bumgarner came right after him and got him to pop up a fastball.
It was gutsy, effective power pitching that the Giants have lacked the past couple of days.
In the top of the next inning, the Giants' rally proved to be more effective against the nearly-godlike Noah Syndergaard. This really is a strange game. After the Mets walked all over the Giants for consecutive victories 7 and 8, a 9th straight victory was all but assured. Noah Syndergaard has been tough to hit this season. Tough to hit last season. And tough for Angel Pagan to hit in the top of the 4th.
But then Matt Duffy -- oh beautiful Matt Duffy, he of the unexpected All-Star talent and ability to adjust on the fly when struggling so mightily -- singled and took advantage of the one flaw in Syndergaard's game: his Lesterian inability to hold baserunners. Bochy kept the runners moving later to avoid an easy double play, which set the stage for Hunter Pence to swat a letter-high fastball on the outside part of the plate for a line drive home run over the right field wall.
It was the "smart offense" we expect to see every night, but one that has had few opportunities to flourish given all the early deficits. And perhaps this is why something will have to give with the rotation and the 13 arms in the bullpen: keeping the game close will seemingly favor the Giants more often than not. This isn't 2009, where a 1-0 deficit heading into the 7th inning might as well be 10-0. If it's 3-2 in the 7th, the Giants have a shot.
Instead, it was 6-1 Giants in the 8th thanks to Buster Posey's 4th home run of the season. The power of starting pitching.
* * *
Santiago Casilla threw a sharp curveball down and in to Michael Conforto in the bottom of the 9th. It was Conforto's third strikeout of the game. He went 0-for-5 today after going 16-for-10 with 14 RBI in the first two games of the series. It reminded me of the all-state high school center getting triple-teamed. Sure, maybe the Giants weren't exactly focusing all their efforts on getting Conforto out, but retiring Conforto every time had the effect of silencing the Mets' offense. They weren't about to let him beat them again.
The Giants ended the Mets' 8-game winning streak. They're back to .500 and not way, way back in the standings. They're heading into Cincinnati where the tank is supposed to be on. Matt Duffy's bat is coming back to life. Jake Peavy and Matt Cain don't pitch again for three and four more days, respectively. And yes, Angel Pagan left with an injury, and that's a shame, but Madison Bumgarner. Enjoy today.