Programming note: Watch the Giants press conferences with Hunter Pence and Bruce Bochy today at 2:45 p.m on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area and streaming live right here
SAN FRANCISCO – Wave after wave of microphones and notepads crashed in front of Madison Bumgarner’s locker, each one attempting to pull him in with the same question.
What was Buster Posey yelling? Where was he telling you to throw?
“I’ll, I mean …well,” Bumgarner started. “Buster, you’ll have to talk to him. I thought we had a shot there.”
Next wave. What if anything were you hearing from Posey?
And again. It’s Posey’s call, isn’t it? What was he…
“You’ll have to talk to him,” Bumgarner said. “That’s the fourth time someone’s asked me that.”
It was one split-second decision that caused so much to splinter. It broke Bumgarner’s run of 22 consecutive scoreless innings in the postseason, snapped the Giants’ NL-record 10-game playoff winning streak, and punctured their air of invincibility that somehow enveloped this series against the NL’s winningest team.
Bumgarner cannot tell a lie. But he also cannot chop down a tree and allow a teammate to stand under it.
He answered the question without answering the question, of course, after the Giants’ 4-1 loss to the Washington Nationals on a sunny Monday afternoon at AT&T Park.
And Posey acknowledged the rest – that yes, he was yelling “Three! Three!” as Bumgarner fielded catcher Wilson Ramos’s two-strike bunt with runners at first and second in the seventh inning of a scoreless game.
Bumgarner, his face forlorn, later shook his head as he walked out the clubhouse door. “Doesn’t matter,” he said. “He didn’t tell me to throw it into left field.”
He might as well have thrown a car battery in a swimming pool. He had no chance. He chucked it anyway. It went wide, and past a contorting Pablo Sandoval, and into the Giants bullpen, and off the tarp, and past the shoe tops of coach Mark Gardner, powerless to drop his clipboard, staring at the white ball in horror as if it were a porcelain heirloom about to clatter on a hard museum floor.
By the time left fielder Travis Ishikawa figured out the ball was behind him, and not in front of him, two runs had scored. The errant throw set up one more run. And the Giants will turn to Ryan Vogelsong as they try to close out this best-of-5 series in Game 4 on Tuesday.
It was a risk the Giants didn’t have to take, and Bumgarner understood as much as he reconstructed the inning. If he gets the out at first base, it’s second and third with one away and he can pitch around No. 8 batter Asdrubal Cabrera. Then, as Washington manager Matt Williams later confirmed, gimpy pinch hitter Ryan Zimmerman would’ve come off the bench to hit for pitcher Doug Fister – not the most comfortable scenario, but one that had its advantages given the way the right-hander from Merced had bossed the Giants in the first six innings. Bumgarner would’ve had a left-handed hitter, Denard Span, after that.
The inning was a cave-in, no doubt. But if Bumgarner takes the safe out, there were enough cracks in the rubble for him to claw his way to daylight.
That is not the way the Giants tend to play, though. They did not win two World Series by sagging into a prevent defense. This is the team that used three-fourths of its playoff rotation to win a non-elimination game and claim an NL pennant at Philadelphia, remember?
So Posey placed a bet. Bruce Bochy wishes he hadn’t.
“To be honest, I was hoping we would get an out there,” Bochy said in the interview room. “He tried to do a little too much there. He tried to rush it. He threw it away. He threw it away well, too.”
A titter of laughs eased the tension in the room for a moment.
“I’m sure they want it back,” Bochy said. “You can’t take it back.”
Bochy and Bumgarner shared the same thought: Even if Ian Desmond had the force play beaten at third base, which, without question, he had, there still might have been a shot for Sandoval to throw across the diamond in time to retire Ramos.
The infielders had the wheel play on when Ramos squared but took the first three pitches, two of them strikes on the corner. The infielders retreated after the second strike. Bumgarner said he figured it was 50/50 whether Ramos, who didn’t have a sacrifice in over three years, would bunt again with a 1-2 count.
He fielded it cleanly on the first base side of the mound. Then he threw a bar of soap.
“I just threw it away,” Bumgarner said. “We can’t lose a game like that. I can’t throw the ball away right there.”
Said Posey: “Yeah, I told him to throw to third. Just with the way it was bunted out, I thought we had a chance. But Desmond is a fast runner. I probably should’ve taken the out at first. I just thought the way it came off the bat, we had a shot.”
About the wild throw, Posey said, “It happens. I made a mistake telling him to throw to third. It just happens.”
Afterward, Posey was informed how Bumgarner answered wave after wave of the same question, how he refused to let his catcher get sucked in the undertow. Posey smiled, even let out a laugh.
This is a team that protects one another. Now they have to protect their house in Game 4. Bochy has a well earned October reputation as a line-in-the-sand manager (remember Philadelphia?) so do not be surprised if he pulls out any and all stops to win in Game 4. Yusmeiro Petit, even Jake Peavy, you name it.
The Giants do not want to go back to Washington for a decisive Game 5, knowing the Nationals have both Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann fully rested, should Williams decide to buy out the bakery.
They do not want to turn this series into a blind chase. They do not want to let it get away. They already know how that feels.