The last time the Giants lost the first two games of a best-of-five postseason series, a persona was revealed. Hunter Pence gave an impassioned speech in the dugout in Cincinnati before Game 3 of the 2012 National League Division Series, and as details emerged and the Giants rallied to win the series en route to a championship, it earned the right fielder the nickname of “Reverend” and an identity as the team’s motivational leader.
Now the Giants face that same deficit in the NLDS against the Chicago Cubs, and in a subdued clubhouse after their Game 2 loss at Wrigley Field, Pence was asked if it might be time for another oration.
“I don’t know,” Pence said late Saturday night in Chicago. “I feel pretty good about the spirit of the group. I feel really good about these guys, the talks with everyone. The energy is good. A lot of people are looking forward to getting home. We understand the situation. Our backs are against the wall, and everyone believes what we’re capable of.”
The Giants, simply, must win three straight elimination games against a Cubs team that did not lose three straight after the All-Star break. It’s a familiar situation for the Giants, who have won nine straight postseason elimination games. And in the interim between Games 2 and 3, they professed the same near-defiant calm toward their daunting task as they did during a second-half spiral that they righted just in time to earn a wild-card spot.
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Madison Bumgarner said there hadn’t been much talk among players in the aftermath of Game 2 about what it took to rally from a 2-0 deficit in 2012, “because everybody knows what kind of spot we’re in.” Manager Bruce Bochy also notably gave an inspiring speech to the team during that series against the Reds. Asked if he will rally the troops again, Bochy indicated he might let the past speak for itself.
“This club has a history … of finding a way to win that game they had to win and moving on,” Bochy said. “And that experience, that’s so vital to draw on. If you don’t have that, you may not have that belief that you can do it. Well, they know they have done it.
“It’s all about believing. If there’s some doubt in there, no question I’ll talk to them. But I don’t think there is. In fact, I know there isn’t.”
The Giants’ best reason to feel confident going into Game 3 may be that they’ll send one of the best postseason pitchers of all time to the mound. Bumgarner owns a 1.94 ERA in his playoff career and has not allowed a run in 23 innings over his past three appearances in win-or-go-home games.
Asked to put Bumgarner’s playoff feats into context Sunday, Cubs manager Joe Maddon did not shy from lofty comparisons.
“I look at it as, wow, it’s just like what (Bob) Gibson did, it’s like what (Sandy) Koufax did, and maybe Whitey Ford and the Yankees prior to that,” Maddon said.
“This guy competes. That’s what sets him apart. It’s not that his stuff is that special. It’s really good. But how he competes is what sets him apart.”
Bumgarner demurred when told of those comments.
“As soon as you start buying into that, that’s probably going to take a turn,” he said.
The Giants would like the run to continue at least for one more start Monday night. They will face Jake Arrieta, last year’s N.L. Cy Young winner and no easy task for an offense that has scored two runs in the first two games of this series and 12 runs total in their last six games against the Cubs.
Before this pitching matchup was set, Arrieta was asked last week about the possibility of pitching against Bumgarner, and while he lauded Bumgarner’s accomplishments Arrieta also issued a blunt statement of intent.
“He’s really good,” Arrieta said. “But he’s beatable.”
This series so far has shown the Giants are beatable. Yet, in nine win-or-go-home games under Bochy since 2010, nobody has knocked them out.
“We would be foolish to be overconfident about this situation,” Maddon said. “They’re really good; they’ve done this before. This is a group just dripping with tested veterans and a manager that’s outstanding. So you never take the Giants for granted. Never.”