Wild-card games leaves Giants, A's where they should be

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Don Wright/AP
Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner toyed with the Pirates’ potent lineup
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Baseball can be utterly confounding, turning conventional wisdom on its head to the point that so-called insiders are left throwing up their hands in surrender, a la Bud Selig at an All-Star tie.

Yet to expect the unexpected would be a mistake — even in the playoffs, where the unexpected happens so often.

All of which brings us to Tuesday and Wednesday. To the A's and the Giants and their respective wild-card games. Nothing about any of it didn't happen exactly the way any astute follower of both Bay Area ballclubs figured it might.

The A's found a way to lose, and they did it in soul-crushing fashion. Since July 31, that's pretty much what they've been doing on a regular basis.

The Giants found a way to win, emphatically underscoring the value of having so many veterans of postseason elimination games, and winning when they absolutely must win is pretty much what they've been doing since gagging away their massive early division lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

It just made sense.

Granted, your money on Jon Lester to shine seemed pretty safe given his history. That he gagged a bit himself certainly wasn't in the tea leaves. And Brandon Crawford hitting a grand slam? Hell, if you expected that, you're a straight-up freak. No shortstop had gone salami in the history of playoff ball before Crawford silenced PNC Park.

But still. If you looked at these two teams with even an ounce of objectivity, you knew the Giants had a far better chance of reaching their division series. Backs against the wall, they win. It's well-established. The A's with their season on the line? Um, no. Quite a bit of history on that front, too.

(Yes, they won Game 162 this year with their season on the line, but even that doesn't count. Their season wouldn't have ended with a loss, they would have faced the Seattle Mariners in a play-in-to-the-play-in game Monday.)

So we all woke up today about where we should be: Still in a form of awe at the mess the A's have been for months, and with an entirely different form of awe in regards to Madison Bumgarner.

Remember when MadBum, as a rookie, compared pitching in the World Series to his high school state championship game? Looks like he's still doing it mentally, because he cut through a pretty darn good Pirates lineup — the Bucs battered Bum at AT&T this year, remember? — like they were an overmatched collection of pudgy future farmers from Hickory High in North Carolina.

It'd be unfair and inaccurate to say the A's looked like flailing preps against the Kansas City Royals — they did what they always do, even in defeat. They battled their asses off. But let's be honest. There's no way they felt extreme confidence at any single point in that game, whereas the Royals surely expected to come back every time they fell behind.

The Giants, steeled by Games 3, 4 and 5 of the 2012 NL Division Series, Games 5, 6 and 7 of the 2012 NL Championship Series, and dramatically improved play when they needed to come up with it down the stretch, surely expected nothing less than a season-saving show.

It was as predictable as baseball gets, and it cemented two things indelible: The A's season was an abject failure, and the Giants' season, regardless what happens against the Washington Nationals, is a success.

Mychael Urban, a longtime Bay Area-based sportswriter and broadcaster, is the host of “Inside the Bigs,” which airs every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon on KGMZ “The Game” (95.7 FM).

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