In beating presumptive N.L. Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw twice in the National League Division Series, the Cardinals both times did the majority of their damage in the seventh inning. On schedule, their offense began to stir in the seventh Saturday night — and Madison Bumgarner beat it back down.
With Cardinals on first and second after back-to-back singles, Kolten Wong hit a chopper to Giants first baseman Brandon Belt, who flipped the ball to Bumgarner at the bag. The big left-hander and the speedy Wong came together, with Bumgarner slapping a tag down — and appearing to dip his shoulder into Wong as the two collided.
Wong protested and the Cardinals challenged whether Bumgarner had blocked the base. But the out stood, and on his 104th pitch of this October night Bumgarner fired a 93-mph fastball past Tony Cruz for a swinging strike three to end the inning. It was the Cardinals’ final threat, as the Giants won 3-0 at Busch Stadium to seize the early advantage in the best-of-seven N.L. Championship Series.
“He’s going to do whatever it takes,” second baseman Joe Panik said of Bumgarner. “He made the right play (by) going for the tag, trying to beat Wong that way. And that’s the way he is — he’s going to go all out and do whatever it takes.”
Staked to an early lead by a Giants offense that worked Cards ace Adam Wainwright and capitalized on defensive miscues by St. Louis, Bumgarner extended his mastery in postseason starts on the road. He has not allowed a run in 262/3 consecutive playoff innings on the road — a major-league record, breaking the former mark of 23 set by Art Nehf in 1924.
“That’s pretty cool, obviously, to have any kind of record,” Bumgarner said. “But there are stats for everything nowadays.”
Such as these: Bumgarner is 4-0 in four career playoff road starts with a 0.59 ERA, and in three starts this postseason has a 0.76 ERA with 14 hits allowed and 23 strikeouts in 232/3 innings. The Giants, meanwhile, have won their last seven road playoff games dating back to Game 4 of the 2012 NLCS in St. Louis, the longest streak in franchise history.
Offensively, the Giants continued their habit these playoffs of grinding out at-bats against opposing starters. Wainwright, the Cardinals’ ace and 20-game winner, allowed six hits and three walks while throwing 98 pitches, and departed with two outs in the fifth trailing by three runs.
In the Giants’ six games this postseason, the opposing starters have lasted more than five innings just twice. The Pirates’ Edinson Volquez and the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg both exited after five innings, Washington’s Gio Gonzalez departed after four, and the Giants chased Wainwright after 42/3 innings — after Wainwright had failed to complete five innings in just two of his 32 regular-season starts.
“It’s kind of what you have to do in the playoffs when you’re facing pitchers like this,” Belt said. “We’re just going out there with the approach that if we’re going to get out, we’re going to get out on our terms. And we’re going to make them work a little bit.”
After the first three Giants hitters of the game went down in order, the next three reached safely. Pablo Sandoval hit a drive to right that bounced out of Randal Grichuk’s glove as he hit the wall for a double, Hunter Pence walked, and Belt hit a blooper to left field that loaded the bases with no outs.
Wainwright struck out Brandon Crawford, but Travis Ishikawa lofted another blooper to shallow left, scoring Sandoval. After Bumgarner struck out, Gregor Blanco hit a grounder to Matt Carpenter that the third baseman let bounce under his glove for an error, giving the Giants a 2-0 lead.
It was the second career postseason RBI for Ishikawa, who had two hits off Wainwright and also made a diving catch to end the fourth inning in left field — a position he’d rarely played before the second half of this season. Despite Michael Morse rejoining the roster for the NLCS, Bochy gave Ishikawa his eighth career start in left, and it paid off.
“I think there’s something about this postseason where guys are just bearing down better, and I think they’re being more patient for their pitch,” Ishikawa said.
The Giants capitalized on another Cardinals miscue in the third. With runners on first and second, Pence hit a potential double-play ball up the middle that Wong bobbled. St. Louis settled for one out. Belt then hit a sac fly.