The Giants may not have known, when they acquired Matt Moore at the trade deadline, that they would send him to the mound on the last day of the season with their postseason hopes on the line.
What they believed, though, was they were acquiring a pitcher who could handle pitching in a game of that magnitude. On Sunday, Moore did his part to validate that belief.
The left-hander threw eight strong innings, allowing one run on three hits, as the Giants beat the Dodgers 7-1 in a game it turned out they had to win to clinch a wild-card spot and avoid having to travel to St. Louis for a tie-breaker game Monday.
“He showed, with everything on the line, what he’s capable of,” said right fielder Hunter Pence.
There was cause for the Giants to wonder what to expect from Moore. On Aug. 25 in Los Angeles, he no-hit the Dodgers into the ninth inning. But in his most recent start against them on Sept. 21, he had allowed six runs in the first inning.
This time, Moore completed eight innings for just the second time as a Giant, throwing 107 pitches, striking out six and retiring his final 13 hitters.
Manager Bruce Bochy stated his faith in Moore by, in the seventh inning, letting Moore hit with two runners on and two outs, albeit with the Giants leading by four runs.
“He’s the guy I wanted out there,” Bochy said. “He’s got what you love about any pitcher – he wants to be out there, he wants to be in that moment and really came through for us.”
Moore said that in his last start in Los Angeles he thought he came out too aggressively and the Dodgers jumped his lack of command. He focused on slowing down in his last two starts and combined to allow two runs in 15 2/3 innings. Off to one corner of the Giants’ clubhouse, while teammates sprayed champagne and beer, Moore reflected on a season that started in spring training with the Tampa Bay Rays.
“Coming over from the A.L. and Tampa and kind of being in the bottom of the cellar over there in the A.L. East, it’s a really good feeling just waking up in the morning and understanding where we’re at, in the race,” Moore said. “To be heading to the postseason, I don’t know if I can quite appreciate it as much as I will later.”
If the Giants beat the Mets in the wild-card game Wednesday, Moore’s next start could come against the Cubs in the division series. If so, he will have a chance to further validate a trade that ruffled many Giants fans at the time, as the team sent popular third baseman Matt Duffy to Tampa Bay for Moore.
The Giants had scouted Moore for years before the trade, and general manager Bobby Evans said Sunday they trusted Moore to perform in a scenario like Sunday.
“Really his last five or six starts just showed us how far he had come back,” Evans said. “We felt like he was a guy we could rely on.”
▪ Third baseman Conor Gillaspie dealt Moore an assist in the third inning when he went over the railing into a camera well near the Giants’ dugout to catch a foul ball. Moore said he thought Chase Utley had actually hit the ball farther down the left-field line, then watched as Gillaspie made a highlight-reel play.
“What an effort, man,” Moore said. “I think that’s what this group of guys is about right there. The effort is always there, the calmness about them. I was a little more concerned about his overall health.”
Gillaspie said he was fine after the game. He also said he didn’t realize how close he was to the railing before he tumbled over it.
“In a situation like today where we had to win, if that ball was close enough for me to catch I’d have dove anyplace, anywhere, anytime and tried to catch it,” Gillaspie said.
With Eduardo Nunez sidelined by a hamstring injury, Gillaspie became a key contributor over the final week. He hit the go-ahead two-run double in the Giants’ win Friday night and doubled and scored in the second inning Sunday as the Giants built a 5-0 lead.
One Giants coach said this weekend he didn’t think Gillaspie had received enough credit for his contributions recently. In his final 18 games of the season, Gillaspie was 11 for 30 and went 7 for 14 on the last homestand.
“We talk about his hitting, but what a great job he did at third base,” Bochy said. “He made some tough plays and that’s not what he’s known for. That kid really picked us up.”
▪ The day’s other defensive highlight belonged to center fielder Denard Span, who made a tumbling catch in the gap to rob Corey Seager of extra bases in the ninth inning. Span also had three hits and scored three runs after not starting the first two games of the series with the Dodgers throwing left-handed pitchers.
“I woke up this morning just locked in,” Span said. “Wanted to come out here and just do whatever I could to help the team win the game today.”
Span also delivered arguably the best quote setting up Wednesday’s wild-card game and the pitching matchup between Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard.
“It’s going to be a heavyweight fight,” Span said. “We’re going to have to pack our lunch and they’re going to have to pack their lunch.”
▪ The roster for the wild-card game is not due until 10 a.m. local time Wednesday, when the Giants will make a call on whether Nunez can play. Evans said Nunez still has “a lot of things he needs to do” to be ready to play after sitting out the entire homestand.
▪ After saying before the game he would have virtually the entire pitching staff ready to back up Moore, Bochy ended up having to use just one reliever: Sergio Romo, who got the final three outs. Romo, the Giants’ closer during their 2012 World Series run, spent most of the first half this season on the disabled list, then ended it closing again following the struggles of Santiago Casilla and the entire bullpen.
“What a ride it’s been, up and down, all year long,” Romo said. “The confidence they have in me, it shows, and it’s an immense feeling. It makes you feel bigger and better than you really are sometimes.”
▪ The Giants went 57-33 before the All-Star break. They went 30-42 after it. But they won eight of their last 12 games and went 5-1 on their final homestand to ensure their return to the playoffs for the fourth time in seven years.
“That’s our way,” Bochy said. “It just seems like we need our backs to the wall.”
They will be in a true must-win scenario Wednesday. The Giants have never lost one of those in the postseason under Bochy. A trip to Chicago is on the line.