A decisive Game 5 at Wrigley Field was within reach for the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday.
They’d played their second-best game of the postseason at the plate, racking up five runs on 11 hits. They had a new Even Year hero in Conor Gillaspie, who had another impressive outing. And after months of dull vibes in AT&T Park, the place was alive as orange towels waved throughout.
But like so many times this season — 32 instances to be exact, leading Major League Baseball — the team needed the game to end after the eighth to win.
That’s not how things work in reality. And the Giants’ dreams of a fourth title in six years are no more because of it.
“It’s a weird feeling, it is,” manager Bruce Bochy said in his first press conference following his first postseason-ending defeat with the franchise. “It just ends so abruptly and especially the way it ended. That’s kind of tough on all these guys.”
The two best teams heading into the All-Star Break, this matchup against the Chicago Cubs seemed an inevitability. But, San Francisco collapsed late and scraped into the playoffs in the second wild-card spot, so their meeting would have to be in the National League Division Series, in which Chicago jumped out to a 2-0 lead.
The Giants appeared to have shaken their funk in Game 3 when Gillaspie shook the offense alive and the team overcame their first blown save of the postseason. But one night later, the stink returned, and it was egregious.
Five pitchers combined to blow it: None of whom were Santiago Casilla, the target for so much ire during the regular season. It was a true team effort this time. No single scapegoat in sight.
The 6-5 loss — the first time the Giants lost a playoffs game when leading after eight innings since Oct. 17, 1911 — represents a reminder of how cruel the game of baseball is. It was also evidence of how inane the idea of momentum is. Because the home team had all of the positive energy in the world heading into that fateful frame: Starter Matt Moore was masterful and the hitters had severely outplayed their counterparts up until that point.
Yet, nothing matters if you can’t get those last three outs.
And the Giants struggled all season, racking up a franchise-most losses when entering the ninth inning with a lead. And what made this team unique from those championship-clinching clubs that experienced swoons of their own: They botched games late in the season, losing six of their 10 blown leads in September and October.
“With the way the ball bounced that last inning, I hate to use the word destiny, but [the Cubs] have had a great year and that’s quite a comeback they mounted there,” Bochy said. “… But that’s baseball.”
As a beneficiary of so much of that luck over the years, it was only a matter of time before the pendulum swung in the other direction.
The MLB playoffs are a trial of how much agony the dedicated can handle. And the Giants had been dealing and thriving in that torturous environment for the better part of a decade. But this year’s team was too flawed: Too weak in the back end of the bullpen, or, possibly, had a manager unable to properly patch the holes.
The Giants, like 29 of the 30 teams in the league, end their season with a disappointed feeling. And a searing notice that Even Year magic is as make-believe as it sounds. Even if it was fun to pretend it wasn’t.
The most unfair — and exciting — aspect of the postseason is how these short series can make 162 games irrelevant. The best team rarely wins the World Series — ask the New York Yankees in 2010, the Washington Nationals in 2012 and the Los Angeles Angels in 2014.
“I think that the system is built for the best team having a chance to lose,” Joe Maddon said to laughter before the game when asked if the system was not built for the best team in baseball.
On Tuesday, the better team advanced. And the Giants’ habit of torturing its fans just to eventually provide jubilation was halted in the process.Bruce BochyChicago Cubsdenard spanjacob c. palmerJoe MaddonJohn LackeyMatt Moorenational league division seriesNLDSSan Francisco Giants