The curse of the Giants bullpen proved stronger than a 108-year-old curse of futility afflicting the Chicago Cubs.
The curse of the Giants bullpen killed a still-viable dream of a fourth Giants World Series title in seven seasons, a dream that died at 9:05 pm Tuesday when Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman showed ’em how it’s done:
The flame throwing left-hander mowed down Giants hitters in the ninth inning without incident to secure a momentous divisional series triumph for Chicago.
Whether they verbalized it or not, everyone in orange likely thought of three words as Chapman did his job: Must be nice.
With a decent bullpen, the Giants win the National League West in 2016. They would likely still be playing for that fourth Market Street parade to go with confetti-strewn memories of past celebrations in 2010, 2012 and 2014.
But the curse of the Giants bullpen blew a major-league leading 32 saves in 2016, many coming in a second half of the season that transformed the Giants from the best team in baseball to one of the worst.
The curse of a Giants bullpen erased the heroic performances of Giants starter Matt Moore and third baseman Conor Gillaspie, who looked to etch their names in Giants October lore Tuesday.
Moore was nothing short of inspiring over eight innings of two-hit pitching where he struck out 10 and threw 120 pitches. The left-hander acquired in a summer trade grew stronger as they game wore on. He’s not a big man but Moore commanded the mound as he worked, evoking memories of Tim Lincecum and other elite Giants pitchers that were the backbone of Giants championship seasons past.
It all went for naught when Giants manager Bruce Bochy went to the bullpen in the ninth.
Up until then, Gillaspie had been a revelation once the post-season began. His game-winning three-run homer in the Wild Card game last week was only the beginning. On Monday, his triple off of Chapman gave the Giants life in what became a memorable 13-inning win. Gillaspie became only the second left-handed hitter to triple off Chapman, who normally devours left-handed batters.
Then Tuesday, Gillaspie went 4-for-4 with an RBI. The Cubs couldn’t deal with him. From unwanted castoff of other teams last season, Gillaspie was suddenly standing in the pantheon of great Giants role players of October: Cody Ross, Marco Scutaro and Travis Ishikawa.
Then Bochy went to the bullpen.
That’s when Derek Law, Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo, Will Smith and Hunter Strickland couldn’t save the game, the season, the dream.
That’s when a desperate Bochy plan of necessity – of “closer by committee” to get the last three outs in games – was undone by a committee at least as flammable as Donald Trump’s Twitter account.
The Giants were three outs from winning an unbelievable 11th consecutive elimination game. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that wouldn’t have only been a record for baseball. That would tied the Giants of 2010-2016 with the dynastic Boston Celtics teams of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Despite three World Series titles, the baseball intelligentsia has been unwilling to call the Giants a dynasty, three rings or no. Somehow, doing it every other year was thought to be less credible.
The Giants aren’t based in New York or Boston, markets where the Giants’ kind of success gets far more attention and hype.
A fourth World Series title in seven seasons would have placed this franchise in another category. Four titles in less than a decade is a big number that couldn’t be dismissed. The Celtics did that and so did the New York Yankees. The 49ers won four Super Bowls in nine years. Get the picture?
In early July, this dream had legs. The Giants had the best record in baseball, despite a closer in Santiago Casilla who had a case of the yips.
The Giants added Moore to the mix to bolster a Giants starting rotation that kept the franchise out of the postseason last year. They added Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija to create a championship caliber starting staff.
They still had franchise stalwarts Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey, and Brandon Crawford – young men in their primes, and all with multiple World Series rings.
For his part, Gillaspie was one of those shrewd additions picked up by the Giants’ brass. He was that guy who worked hard and was fully committed to the team. So when he shined in the postseason, no one at Willie Mays Plaza was surprised.
This was all part of the formula to win. It was all working. But the bullpen? There were no saviors or late-season additions to find a formula that worked.
The Giants-Cubs series came down to this: The Cubs added Chapman in the summer so he could lock down a critical game that presented itself Tuesday. The Giants didn’t make a similar move.
Smith had nice moments down the stretch, but he’s not a closer. Law has the stuff to be a closer one day, but the jury is still out. The rest? Nothing but questions for a winter of recriminations.
Why didn’t Bochy simply stick with Moore for the ninth? Because he had thrown 120 pitches.
“Moore did his job,” Bochy said. “You’d like to think we can get three outs.”
You would, but the Giants couldn’t. It was a curse that defined their 2016 season, and proved stronger than a championship-caliber team that might have won again if baseball games ended after eight innings.