For the past week, the Giants have been asked repeatedly whether they’ve uncovered the formula for playing well in October. They have mostly answered with a collective shrug, but surely one ingredient has been avoiding the kind of mistake that cost them on Monday.
The Giants lost Game 3 of their National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals 4-1, ending their N.L.-record streak of consecutive playoff wins at 10 and forcing at least one more game in this best-of-five series. The Giants hold a 2-1 series lead and will send Ryan Vogelsong to the mound today against Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez in Game 4.
A rowdy, orange-towel-waving crowd flocked to AT&T Park hoping to see the Giants clinch behind ace Madison Bumgarner and instead witnessed the Giants’ first postseason loss since Game 4 of the 2012 N.L. Championship Series in St. Louis – with Bumgarner making a key error in a three-run seventh inning that broke the game open for Washington.
With the game scoreless, Bumgarner allowed a leadoff single to Ian Desmond and walked Bryce Harper. Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos bunted and Bumgarner fielded the ball and threw to third base instead of taking the sure out at first.
The throw, which appeared too late to get Desmond anyway, was wide and skipped past third baseman Pablo Sandoval. Desmond scored, and while left fielder Travis Ishikawa corralled the ball in the Giants’ bullpen, Harper sprinted home as well.
“I thought I might have a shot,” Bumgarner said. “And regardless of whether we’re able to get (Desmond) out or not, I feel like we’ve still got a chance to get Ramos at first. But I just can’t throw the ball away right there.”
While he insisted a good throw might have left Sandoval enough time to throw out the slow-footed Ramos at first, Bumgarner acknowledged: “Hindsight’s 20-20, you get an out.”
Catcher Buster Posey said he directed Bumgarner to throw to third.
“I just thought the way it kind of jumped off (Ramos’) bat that we might’ve had a shot,” Posey said. “But Desmond had a good jump on it, and (we) probably should’ve just taken the out at first.”
“That was not a good decision, and sure, you wish you could have it back and just get the out there,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “Can’t take it back. Hey, it happened, and you move on.”
The play left Ramos, who hadn’t executed a sacrifice since 2011, on second, and he scored when Asdrubal Cabrera followed with a single to left field, sliding in just ahead of a strong throw by Ishikawa.
“(That) was huge for us, being able to get to Bumgarner in that situation,” Harper said, “because he’s carved into every postseason start he’s ever had, I feel like.”
The play snapped a streak of 22 consecutive scoreless postseason innings by Bumgarner, the second-longest streak in Giants history behind Christy Mathewson’s mark of 28. It ended a scoreless duel between Bumgarner and Nationals right-hander Doug Fister, who hurled seven scoreless innings in a repeat of the pitching matchup from Game 2 of the 2012 World Series.
In that game, the two starters also matched zeroes for six innings. This time, Bumgarner blinked first, and Fister escaped a jam in the seventh with a little defensive help. Brandon Belt hit a leadoff single and took second on Brandon Crawford’s groundout. Ishikawa hit a sinking line drive to left field, but Harper caught it inches above the grass on a slide to likely save a run, and Fister got Matt Duffy to ground out to end the inning.
Harper, who also robbed Crawford of extra bases near the wall in the second inning, gave the Nationals some insurance when he hammered Jean Machi’s 1-1 pitch over the wall in right-center in the ninth. The Giants avoided a shutout against Washington closer Drew Storen in the ninth when Sandoval singled, Hunter Pence doubled and Crawford drove in Sandoval on a one-out sacrifice fly, but Ishikawa grounded out to end the game.
Though they still lead the series, the Giants have scored two runs over the past 18 innings and six runs in three games overall – three against Nationals starters. Fister, a Merced native, scattered four singles over his seven innings, throwing a variety of pitches that were rarely straight.
“He was mixing them pretty good and he was pitching fast, and their defense did a good job today,” Giants center fielder Gregor Blanco said. “We never had a chance to really do some good damage today.”
Maybe the best chance came in the second, when the Giants loaded the bases on a single by Sandoval and walks to Belt and Ishikawa. With two outs, that brought up Bumgarner, who hit two grand slams during the regular season. With much of the announced crowd of 43,627 on its feet, Bumgarner took two big swings but missed on both, striking out to end the inning.
Coming off his 10-strikeout shutout in the wild-card game in Pittsburgh, Bumgarner hit 95 mph on the stadium radar gun in the first inning and gave up only four singles over the first six innings. It was only the second Bumgarner start the Giants have lost since Aug. 15.
“It’s just unfortunate that we handed it to them like that,” Bumgarner said.
The Giants have one more shot today to clinch at home and avoid a return flight to Washington for Game 5.
“I think there’s going to be a lot more to be said as far as the postseason goes. The story is yet to be written,” Pence said. “You don’t ever put all the focal point on one thing. A lot of times, you don’t remember a lot of the games in the middle anyway.”