If every win went down like this, we’d probably like baseball a lot less. But every once and a while? When it extends a winning streak? Sure. Let’s do it. Turn that baseball knob to 11. Let’s blow it out.
It’s 11:37pm and the broadcast has just switched off. The last shot was of Donovan Solano running off the field to join the rest of the Giants in celebration after his walk-off hit. Somehow, they came back from a 2-1 deficit in the bottom of the 16th inning to win 3-2.
There are a couple of reasons why this game lasted so long: both teams made few mistakes and the Giants were pretty tired.
It wasn’t just because they’d played four games in three days — those four games in three days were played a mile high. The return to the bay wasn’t just a park adjustment, it was an altitude hit, and not the light-headed good kind. Meanwhile, the Mets were on a four-game winning streak and starting Noah Syndergaard, one of the best pitchers in baseball.
You wouldn’t know it to see it, but there’s a good team underneath the Mets’ 44-52 record. Every team would want Jeff McNeil, Michael Conforto, Pete Alonso, and even Robinson Cano. Dominic Smith, J.D. Davis, Amed Rosario, and Todd Frazier have all kicked in above average performance, too, and I haven’t even gotten to the pitching.
The Mets have had one of the worst bullpens all year long, but tonight that bunch pitched eight strong innings and they only lost because a rookie with all of 7.2 innings under his belt before tonight couldn’t hold the line. That’s virtually the same spot the Giants found themselves in with lefty Williams Jerez, called up today to replace Andrew Suarez.
Bruce Bochy left him in to face Home Run Derby champ Pete Alonso probably because — and, I admit this is probably a tired brain firmly settling on this — he just wanted the game to end at a reasonable hour. He had a bunch of tired guys, there are still three games left in this series — sure, why not let an erratic lefty hit a virtually peerless power righty in the 16th inning? The second part of the equation was probably this, too: hey, if it doesn’t work out, I’ve got the heart of the order going up against the Mets’ bullpen.
And look what happened:
The @SFGiants gave up a run in the top of the 16th before scoring 2 in the bottom half to win it.— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) July 19, 2019
It's the first time the Giants have won a game after trailing in the 16th inning or later since 09/01/1958 against the Dodgers.#SFGiants
Screw it, let’s do it. The Giants can trade their bullpen, replenish with their depth, and use their acquired pieces to bolster the major league roster and the farm system and they can storm ahead to claim the second Wild Card.
Or, at the very, very least, scare the crap out of every team ahead of them. An 85-77 season that ends with the Rockies, Diamondbacks, Padres, Brewers, Cardinals, and Phillies radically remaking their rosters as though they needed to build a superteam to compete with the Warriors would be the next-best possible outcome outside of winning the Wild Card game and then knocking out the Dodgers in five.
The Giants finally did something historically positive, a rare occurrence since 2016. They’re now 7-2 in extra innings this year, and that’s because the story of tonight was the story of the past month or so: the Giants didn’t give up.
Madison Bumgarner knew that Pete Alonso’s groundball to Pablo Sandoval in the top of the ninth inning did not climax in a double play. He didn’t bother to leave the mound while he waited for the replay review in New York to confirm it. He calmly waited to receive the ball and face the next batter after the call was overturned, and then he threw one pitch to Todd Frazier to get a groundball and get out of the inning.
He threw 94 pitches and he’s still mad at Bruce Bochy for pulling him. Pitching 10 innings to, say, get the win, could’ve been one last great Bumgarner performance as a member of the Giants — if, indeed, this was his final home start, a thing we’ve been saying for a while now, but still! — and probably been the highlight of the season... unless this thing gets as wild as our tired brains would like it to get.
He had an eight-pitch eighth inning, but all night long he kept Mets hitters off balance. He had a bad first inning in terms of command and control, but he built up strength very quickly, and adeptly changing batters’ eyelines with breaking pitches down and fastballs up and in. It was precision, it was beautiful, it was vintage Bumgarner.
Because sports are fun and so are numbers...— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) July 19, 2019
This is the 2nd time that Madison Bumgarner has thrown EXACTLY 94 pitches in an outing of EXACTLY 9 innings AGAINST the Mets.
He also did so in a Giants 9-0 win at Citi Field on August 3, 2014. That game did not go extras like this.
Smith takes over for Bumgarner in the 10th. Bumgarner's last five starts: 1.86 ERA.— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) July 19, 2019
mmm that’s some good statsin’. And that’s a tasty vintage of Bumgarner, too. Yeah, sure, he boosted or sustained the Giants’ asking price for him, but more importantly, he’s recognizably Madison Bumgarner. Our last fond memories of him won’t be of something that happened five years ago.
It’s extremely difficult to hit a 97 mph fastball. Sources say it’s even more difficult to 98 mph. Still others insist that 99 mph is tougher than both. All would agree that it’s nearly impossible to hit 100 mph.
Noah Syndergaard has averaged 97.8 mph with his four-seam fastball this season. That’s basically where he sat through the first five innings of tonight’s game, but it wasn’t the most amazing part of his performance. In a reverse of Bumgarner, he used his curveball, sinker, and slider to setup his blazing heater. And when the Giants threatened — yeah, they threatened (more on that in a sec) — he got even better.
This didn’t feel like a vintage Syndergaard performance because, really, what does that mean? He came back last year after missing most of 2017 because of a lat tear and pitched two complete games (including a shutout) on his way to being worth 4.2 fWAR — a top 25 pitcher. What’s going on with him this year (4.55 ERA, a 3.81 FIP that’s nearly a full run higher than his career average) can be attributed entirely to the Mets.
Manager Mickey Callaway was supposed to be a pitching guru — Mets pitching has been a mess. The Mets have one of the worst defenses in baseball. He’s just 26 years old. There hasn’t been anything wrong with Noah Syndergaard this season and while he wasn’t flawless tonight, he looked like one of the best pitchers in baseball.
To their credit, the Giants didn’t look woefully overmatched against him. They “battled”, but more importantly, they didn’t have a bunch of three-pitch see-yas. Oh sure, those were in there — Syndergaard was that good (8 K in 7 IP) — but they weren’t the only at bats we had to watch. Twice the Giants hit leadoff triples. Twice Noah Syndergaard held the Giants in check by digging deep to overpower them.
Here’s how Brandon Crawford’s at bat immediately following Alex Dickerson’s leadoff triple in the second inning ended:
Two things: this isn’t the same Brandon Crawford we say from March through June. That’s a ten-pitch at bat against power stuff and while the outcome wasn’t great, pitches six and eight were ones he was offering at just a few weeks ago.
Meanwhile, the Rockies never quite figured out that pounding Yastrzemski with power fastballs was a better way of getting him out, but here he still managed to hang in there a little bit against a superior foe. This one’s like in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER when Falcon is able to fight The Winter Soldier one on one for about four seconds.
The scouting report for Kevin Pillar is pretty clear: no fastballs, just offspeed stuff. But when your fastball is as overpowering as Syndergaard’s, why not play to your strength? For Kevin Pillar, this was a great at bat.
The Giants, for all of Syndergaard’s overpowerment, battled — they hung in there for as long as they could against Syndergaard, driving his pitch count up. They didn’t get him out early, but because Bumgarner was able to hold the line, getting him out after seven innings was just as good as knocking him out after five.
Just real quick: the Giants are terrible against four-seamers of 97 mph+:
For comparison, here are the five best teams:
This could’ve felt like an extremely long night, but the Giants did better than nothing against power fastballs: they fouled off pitches and created a little bit of uncertainty in the outcomes. Seven of the ten hardest hit balls on the night came off Giants’ bats.
The way both dudes were pitching tonight it felt like a couple of runs was going to be enough to win it anyway. This felt like a matchup of two good teams vying for a playoff spot. Oracle Park sounded alive and the Giants played sixteen innings with focus.
Move in the fences, Exhibit ZZZ:
Posey never struck out 4+ times in a game in college, either. https://t.co/6WI6VCovZ7— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) July 19, 2019
Buster Posey went 1-for-7 with four strikeouts tonight. That was the first time in his adult life he’s struck out four times in a game. Didn’t happen in college, didn’t happen in the minors, hadn’t happened in the big leagues until tonight. But the Giants still won the game.
Will Smith started the top of the tenth inning by allowing a single to Robinson Cano followed by a double to Amed Rosario. He struck out catcher Tomas Nido on three pitches, compelling Bruce Bochy to intentionally walk the pinch hitter, Wilson Ramos. That meant all Will Smith had to do to preserve a 1-1 game was get through two of the Mets’ best hitters: Michael Conforto and Jeff McNeil, the hitter with the highest batting average in baseball and just a 12% strikeout rate.
His fastball was closer to 93 than 94, and that extra mile per hour made a difference. He couldn’t get away with mistakes as much and the lack of crispness on his curveball and slider meant that his mistakes were going to be a magnitude greater than if his stuff was 100%. Who knows how the layoff affected him — he’s still an All-Star closer who’s going to net the Giants a great return at the trade deadline — but he’s definitely brought back some shakiness from his trip to Cleveland. But the Giants still won the game.