SAN FRANCISCO – The Giants have advanced in all seven postseason series they have played over the past five years, if you include their wild card survival in Pittsburgh.
On six of those occasions, they didn’t need to steam clean the home clubhouse.
Other than their clinching victory in the rain over the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2012 NLCS, the Giants have done all their celebrating on the road – from Turner Field to Citizens Bank Park to the Ballpark in Arlington to Great American Ball Park to Comerica Park.
They’ve got two shots to take down the Washington Nationals here in front of their home crowd, and they just assume they'll get it done behind their ace in Game 3 Monday night.
“We’ve been in their spot, and we’ve come through the other side,” said Madison Bumgarner, of the 2012 team that won three consecutive elimination games at Cincinnati to win a best-of-5 series. “So we’ve got to maintain what we’re doing and just stay hungry.”
Even in the weary aftermath of Saturday’s 18-inning victory in Game 2, the longest postseason game in major league history, Tim Hudson reminded that his A’s won the first two games at Yankee Stadium, failed twice to close out the series at home, and then got bounced when they returned to the Bronx for a deciding Game 7.
This is Hudson’s seventh time participating in a Division Series. He’s never made it past the best-of-5 round.
If the Nationals can get to Bumgarner, who is coming off a four-hit shutout in the NL Wild Card game at Pittsburgh, it’s likely to happen fast. The left-hander bristled a bit when asked about his first-half struggles, but the numbers don’t lie. He has a 5.73 ERA in the first inning and a 2.49 ERA after that. His home run rate is almost four times higher (eight allowed, or 2.2 HR/9 IP,) in the first inning than it is after that (13 allowed, or 0.6 HR/9 IP). His walk rate is doubled in the first inning, too (3.3 BB/9 IP, compared to 1.51 BB/9 IP).
And it’s at home, where he had a 4.03 ERA in 15 starts, where the first-inning troubles were most pronounced. Bumgarner shrugs it off as a coincidence but something is at work here, whether it’s the mound or the weather or some other factor.
“Whatever it is, it’s the same mentality,” he said.
Bumgarner won’t change that mentality just because the Giants are up 2-0 in the series. If the Nationals can see their way to a Game 4, they’ll throw their only left-hander, Gio Gonzalez – and the Giants were a game under .500 against left-handed starters this season. A win for the Nationals in Game 3 would mean more than showing some spunk. It would get them back in the series.
“These guys have played well for a long time and they’re on quite a roll,” said Doug Fister, who will reprise his 2012 World Series Game 2 matchup with Bumgarner when he opposes him on Monday. “At the same time, we’ve been backed into a corner before and that can only help us here down 0-2.”
The Giants know to expect Fister to be tough. Although they took a 2-0 victory over he and the Tigers in Game 2 of the 2012 World Series, the 30-year-old Merced native had allowed just four singles and was taken out of a scoreless game in the seventh after a leadoff hit. It took Brandon Crawford’s double-play grounder to push across the only run charged to him.
Most memorably, Fister stayed in the game after getting hit on the head by Gregor Blanco’s line drive in the second inning.
“I’ve seen the video many a time, I remember it very vividly,” Fister said. “It’s not something that gives me chills or anything else. I’ve gone back and looked at it to know, 'Hey I’m OK, I was blessed that day to not have to come out of the game.' It doesn’t change how I pitch, doesn’t change how I play defense or anything else.”
Said Bumgarner: “I was kind of shocked he stayed in. I’m sure their training staff watched him carefully. I’m glad to see he was OK after it, but there’s not a whole lot of guys who would want to stay in. So that tells you about his character and competitiveness.”
Fister said he plans to come out in attack mode, throwing strikes and involving the defense – and pitching carefully to Bumgarner, who owns two grand slams this season.
The sellout crowd at Third and King would love to see another one of those. Mostly, though, the fans just want to celebrate a clinching victory. And Bumgarner, between besting Fister two years ago and blanking the Pirates last week, enters with a string of 16 consecutive shutout innings in the postseason.
“I really like our chances with the way we play baseball in October,” Bumgarner said. “It’s been really special and … we’re in a good spot now, but we’ve got to press forward and can’t lose any focus.”