To sum up tonight’s NL wild-card game: Giants drink champagne while Pirates swallow a bottle of Bum. Madison Bumgarner’s masterful performance in the Giants 8-0 thrashing of Pittsburgh was not only Kershaw-like, but it was Mathewson-like, a reference to the Giants legendary Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson, who threw three shutouts in the 1905 World Series. Bumgarner was a bummer to Pirates fans, who finished the game having to use the black rally towels to dry the tears. Still, I doubt many good Giants fans took any special glee at seeing the long faces in the stands at PNC Park. Giants fans have many of those disappointing moments over the years. The Giants win might have been a wakeup call to their NLDS foe, the Washington Nationals, and not just because of Bumgarner. The wild-card game Giants look like the post-season 2010 and 2012 champion Giants — lights-out pitching, key hitting and solid defense, and you know the Nats were paying attention. Yet, the Nats aren’t the Pirates. This Giants team faces a tough test in the pitching-rich and offense-rich Nationals. If they get a split in Washington against the Nationals talented one-two starters, it becomes a three-game series with the Giants home for two of the games. And the crucial game three would be placed in the hands of Bumgarner.
Historic slam: I was as dumbstruck as everyone else when it was announced that the Giants’ Brandon Crawford’s grand slam in tonight’s wild card win over the Pirates was the first by a shortstop in post-season history. Here is my story about that pivotal moment in the game. I was watching at work when a colleague with deep knowledge of the Giants stopped by my desk just as Crawford came to the plate with the bases full. I said this would be a good time for a Chuck Hiller moment, and my colleague nodded in agreement. You see, Hiller was a second baseman for the Giants in the 1960s who hit a grand slam against Yankees in the seventh inning of the 1962 World Series to even the series at 2-2. In a lineup with the likes of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda, Hiller was the last guy you would figure would hit the base-clearing shot. Crawford has more pop than Hiller, but you still are not asking any more than a single from him in that situation. So when Crawford went deep, my stunned colleague looked at me as if I had just magically channeled Hiller and walked away in wonder after a fist pump.
I was even more surprised when I reviewed the history of Hiller’s slam after the game. Hiller was the first National League player to hit a grand slam in the World Series. Seven others from the American League previously hit slams, starting with right-fielder Elmer Smith of the Cleveland Indians with a blast against Brooklyn in 1920. The next six World Series grand slams were hit by Yankees. Three of the first eight grand slams in World Series play were hit by second basemen, with the others being Tony Lazzeri and Bobby Richardson. Footnote: The winning pitcher in that Game 4 World Series was Don Larsen, just six years to the day when he threw a perfect game for the Yankees in the 1956 Series.
Bad vibe: I had an uneasy feeling about this wild-card matchup because of a previous game I attended when Edinson Volquez pitched against the Giants. It was a beautiful Sunday on April 27, 2008, when I went to a Giants-Reds game pitting Volquez against newly acquired Barry Zito. We were barely settled in our seats and the Reds had jumped on Zito for a 6-0 lead after one inning. Volquez threw darts during a seven-inning, 10-strikeout performance in what might have been the most boring baseball game I ever attended. The Giants lineup that day included such no-names as John Bowker, Steve Holm, Brian Bocock and Jose Castillo. Memo to new Giants fans: Your team did not always go to the post-season every other year.
Tenth man: Crowd noise is relevant in football, where opposing fans can drown out a quarterback who is trying to shout out a signal to a wide receiver. It is almost irrelevant in baseball, which is why I laughed at all the attention given to the decibel level the Pirate fans would reach to disturb the Giants. I didn’t see what effect the noise would have unless Jake Peavy tried to get a few winks in the dugout so he could be rested for the opener of the NLDS against the Nationals. Now, I enjoy as a fan the towel-waving and yelling in that situation in a big game, but the baseball knowledge side of me knows it is not going to make a difference. I remember how the 50,000-plus Giants fans screamed and shouted at Dodger outfielder Rick Monday as he came to the plate with the bases loaded in a final weekend key game in 1982. The unfazed Monday shut us all up with a blast into the right-field stands. So enjoy the Yes! Yes! Yes! chants, but don’t think you are really going to influence the game.
Managers: If Giants manager Bruce Bochy is so smart, why did he bring 10 pitchers to the wild-card game? All he needed was Madison Bumgarner and 24 position players. The managerial match is an intriguing part of the Giants-Nationals NLDS. Former Giants favorite Matt Williams is in his first year against the future Hall of Fame manager Bochy. It will be interesting to watch closely to see how this mismatch develops as the series progresses.
Hudson best choice? It appears Bochy is going with Tim Hudson in game two against the Nationals instead of Ryan Vogelsong or Yusmeiro Petit. Hudson has been the least effective of the three in the second half of the season, but Bochy is apparently counting on his veteran presence to rise to the occasion against the formidable Nationals’ offense. Expect a quick hook if Hudson falters
Day Baseball: How good is this? The first two Giants-Nationals games are being played at noon and 2:30 on Friday and Saturday. Day post-season baseball was so special at one time. All the World Series games in the 1960s, for example, were played during the day. Fans had to call in sick, children were kept home from school by parents and workers did their jobs with transistors glued to their ears. Sure, more people could have seen the games at night, but the ingenuity of the public to keep up on the games brought people together and made the national pastime even more special.
Overdue: This could be bad news for Giants. The Nationals franchise, established in 1969 as the Montreal Expos, is the only current National League franchise not to play in the World Series.
Pay the Panda: Pablo Sandoval’s spectacular acrobatic catch and flip over the rail in the seventh was evidence of his athleticism despite ongoing concern about weight. If the Giants don’t sign him, where are they going to find a replacement with his defense, offensive potential and willingness do to whatever it takes to win on the field? That plunge into the stands was Jeter-like in his commitment to win, and what else do you need if you are Giants management than that? .