SAN FRANCISCO -- Five hours and four minutes elapsed between Madison Bumgarner throwing the first pitch of Game 3 of the N.L. Division Series against the Cubs on Monday evening and Joe Panik ending it with a walk-off RBI double in the 13th inning.
What transpired in between, Giants manager Bruce Bochy described as "one of the best, most exciting games I’ve ever been involved in."
The Giants watched their unassailable postseason ace allow a breathtaking home run to the opposing pitcher, then staged a go-ahead rally in the eighth inning against one of the game’s most unhittable closers. They failed to hold that lead in the ninth, only to have their bullpen shut the Cubs down from there until Panik’s drive off the brick wall in right center field gave the Giants a 6-5 win and sent this series to a Game 4.
For all the twists and turns in Monday’s win -- the Giants’ record 10th straight in playoff elimination games -- perhaps none was more remarkable, less likely, than what unfolded in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
Nursing a one-run lead, and with two Giants on base with nobody out, Cubs manager Joe Maddon deployed his best bullpen weapon, flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman, for what would amount to a six-out save opportunity.
Maddon later admitted this was a scenario he hoped to avoid. He had started the inning with left-hander Travis Wood facing Brandon Belt and right-hander Hector Rondon in the bullpen ready to face Buster Posey and Hunter Pence. Had the inning played out as planned, Maddon said, he would not have needed Chapman in the eighth at all.
But it didn’t. Belt singled off Wood. Rondon came in and walked Posey. And as Pence came up, Maddon emerged from the dugout and signaled to the bullpen for Chapman. It was one hitter earlier than Maddon wanted to use his closer, but he got the matchup he wanted after Chapman blew a 101.1 mph fastball past Pence for strike three.
"It was set up that he had Gillaspie," Maddon said.
In the regular season, left-handed hitters logged 44 plate appearances against Chapman and were 5-for-37 -- a .135 batting average -- with two extra-base hits, both doubles. It was later told to Conor Gillaspie, meanwhile, that he had never seen a pitch 100 mph or above in his major-league career.
A day earlier, the Giants had flown home from Chicago and held an optional workout at AT&T Park. Only a handful of players actually took part. One was Gillaspie who, a half-hour before first pitch Monday night, was also the only Giants player on the field, a solitary figure crouching along the left-field line, stretching out his legs.
"Conor, he’s so well-prepared," Panik said later. "I’ll tell you that. He works as hard as anybody."
As he walked to the plate in the eighth inning, though, five of the six pitches Gillaspie had watched Chapman throw to Pence from the on-deck circle had registered 100 mph and above. And how do you prepare for what you’ve never faced? How do you hit 100 miles per hour?
"I mean," Gillaspie said, "you just fire your hands."
‘Fire your hands’
After fouling off one pitch at 100.2 mph, Gillaspie got a second fastball at 100.9 and fired his hands. The ball redirected toward Triples Alley in right-center field. Gillaspie, head down as he headed for first base, said that part did not register right away.
"I knew I barreled it," he said. "But I had no idea where the ball was."
Gillaspie had said something similar about the location of the pitch he hit for the game-winning, three-run homer in the ninth inning of the wild-card game last Wednesday in New York. This time, Gillaspie dove into third base with a go-ahead triple, his second game-altering postseason hit in a week.
"It’s just unbelievable," Belt said. "It’s hard to even write a script like that. You can’t say enough about him, just as calm as he stays in those big situations and those clutch hits.
"I think I use the word ‘unbelievable’ way too much, so it kind of doesn’t have the same meaning. But that truly is unbelievable."
And the Giants weren’t done. Brandon Crawford followed with a single up the middle on the seventh pitch of an at-bat in which he fouled off five pitches -- four fastballs and one slider -- to drive in Gillaspie for a 5-3 lead. ESPN’s Buster Olney reported it was the first time in his career the Chapman had allowed back-to-back hits to left-handed batters.
Panik then drew a walk, the third consecutive lefty to reach against Chapman, before the closer retired the next two batters to end the inning. The Giants would see the lead vanish in the ninth and require four more innings to extend their season one more game. But it all might not have happened without the most improbable of rallies in the eighth.
"Left on left, that’s probably not the matchups Boch was hoping for," Panik said. "But in key situations it’s just about finding a way. Tonight we were able to do it."
Bailing out Bumgarner - what?
* The Giants’ 10th straight elimination-game win came with a twist: This time, they were the ones bailing out Bumgarner.
The left-hander, owner of a 1.94 career postseason ERA and 23 straight scoreless innings in the playoffs entering Monday, departed after five innings and 101 pitches in line for a loss because of one pitch, a fastball to Jake Arrieta in the second inning that the Chicago pitcher hammered for a three-run homer into the left-field seats.
It was the first home run allowed by Bumgarner to a pitcher in the majors, and as Arrieta rounded the bases and the AT&T Park crowd stood in stunned silence, Bumgarner bent over at the waist, hands on his knees, in a pose that suggested disbelief. Later, he said he didn’t think the pitch was a bad one.
"It was probably the best pitch I threw to him in the at-bat," Bumgarner said. "First pitch fastball was good and then I was thinking of going breaking ball afterward just to be sure. But the way it looked to me, I didn’t see any need to."
Arrieta swung and missed at consecutive fastballs before hitting a 1-2 offering for what at the time felt like a devastating blow. But Bumgarner kept the Giants in striking distance by not allowing another run despite giving up seven hits in five innings.
"It’s one of the guttiest performances I’ve seen," Bochy said. "He didn’t have his best stuff, but he willed his way through five innings."
In three previous appearances in elimination games, Bumgarner had thrown shutouts in wild-card games in 2014 and last week, bookending a five-scoreless-inning relief outing in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series. Monday night, he watched from the dugout as his teammates came to his rescue.
"He’s done so much for us, it was about time we kind of repaid him the favor," a grinning Panik said. "I think we’ve just all been accustomed to complete-game shutouts from him. Three runs in five innings, for a normal pitcher, it’s not terrible."
* The Giants also bailed out Romo after the right-hander, who closed for them during the 2012 title run and reassumed that role last month out of need, served up a hanging slider that Kris Bryant hit for a rainbow two-run homer that just cleared the top of the Chevron sign in left field and tied the game in the ninth.
Romo later said he was "kind of surprised that it went out." He declared himself available for Game 4 despite throwing 32 pitches and recording six outs Monday. And he offered maybe the most insightful answer to the question of why the Giants since 2012 have been so good with their backs against the wall.
"We believe in ourselves," Romo said. "And every team believes in themselves I feel, but there are few that have proof that belief is real, that belief is there.
"I’d like to say those of us that have the rings that we have, there’s proof in this belief. We’re all in, we’re selling out. Today was just another example of that."
* The Giants’ bullpen had more than its share of struggles this season, leading the majors with 30 blown saves. But they combined to allow just three hits in eight innings in relief of Bumgarner on Monday night, their only runs allowed coming on Bryant’s home run.
"They all stepped up and did something to win that ballgame," Bochy said.
It started with Derek Law, who threw a scoreless sixth and seventh inning and afterward remained a very visible presence in the dugout. Law somehow acquired one of the orange rally rags being waved all night by fans in the stands, and for the rest of the game could be seen twirling it above his head.
"Just trying to rally the troops a little," Law said.
The rookie also had an emphatic reaction after the final outs of his two innings, especially after striking out Dexter Fowler to end the sixth and strand Javier Baez on second.
"Second postseason appearance," Law said. "Blood was kinda flowing."
* Bochy said after the game that Angel Pagan, who was scratched from the lineup just before first pitch with back spasms, was not available at all off the bench Monday. It might have meant Pagan, who will be a free agent this offseason, taking in his final game with the Giant as a spectator.
Instead, he was given a chance to return. After the game, Pagan said he’d started feeling discomfort in his back Saturday in Chicago and played through it. He said he was taking things "day by day," and that, "you’ve got to be smart at this point."
If Pagan cannot play, the Giants could replace him on their NLDS roster with a healthy outfielder, such as Jarrett Parker, which would rule Pagan out for the rest of the series.
* Crawford took a throw off his left elbow diving back into third base late in the game and was "pretty sore" afterward, Bochy said.
"He’s got a pretty good contusion," Bochy said. "Hit that funny bone, so it was numb for a while."
Crawford was summoned away from a group of reporters in the clubhouse to check with trainer Dave Groeschner, but before that had not lost his dry sense of humor.
Asked where this ranked among the Giants’ 10 elimination wins since 2012, Crawford answered: "It’s up there. Game Seven of the World Series was a pretty good one also."
* Before the game, asked if he would address his team as they faced an uphill climb from a 2-0 NLDS deficit, Bochy joked he would just play them the "Rocky" theme.
As it turns out, Bochy did say something in the clubhouse, but he apparently kept it short.
"It was pretty calm," Belt said. "‘Let’s just find a way to win this game today,’ that was basically the message. I think he portrayed his confidence that he had in us. That was pretty uplifting. And we did -- we found a way to get it done today."
Bochy reportedly delivered a stirring sermon during the 2012 NLDS in Cincinnati, when the Giants also trailed 2-0 before winning three straight to advance. That the current team includes a handful of players from that year and the Giants’ 2014 World Series team likely kept him from expanding Monday.
"Boch said a few words, a ‘We’ve been there before’ type of deal," Panik said. "It was a minute or two. There’s not really much to say. Guys in this clubhouse, they’ve done it before, 2012, 2014, backs up against the wall."
The Giants still need to win two more elimination games to oust the Cubs, including a potential Game 5 back in Chicago. But in the early hours of Tuesday morning, in their tired but happy clubhouse, players reflected on taking the first step.
"I think it gives us a little momentum," Belt said of the Game 3 win. "Having the energy of this crowd really helps as well. They were great tonight."
* Finally, asked about playing 13 innings in an elimination scenario, Belt said: "I imagine Buster’s looking forward to getting some rest tonight."
Posey caught all 13 innings, but asked how he felt afterward responded: "Feeling great, ready to go."
They would be back on the field in about 15 hours, yet Posey took a moment to assess the win the Giants had just pulled off to save their season.
"I think this is what you work hard for, is to have an opportunity to play games like this," Posey said. "These are the games that you’ll remember when you’re done playing."