I've seen many playoff baseball games in my life. I've seen many of them that were great for one reason or another - some games that are indelibly stuck in my mind. I started watching baseball ardently in around 2004-05, and there have been a handful of truly transcendant games. Mind you, not all of them were well played, but they were all dramatic, exhilerating, tactical, dynamic and heart-attackingly tense. There was the 18-inning game between the Astros and Braves in 2005 NLDS, or the Game 7 between the Cardinals and Mets in the 2006 NLCS, or the ridiculous collapse that was the 2012 Nationals losing to the Cardinals, or the equally ridiculous collapse that was the 2014 A's losing to Kansas City. And of course the drama and intrigue and bat-flip-to-end-all-bat-flips of Game 5 Toronto against Texas last year.
Then there were the two recent incredible World Series Games, the Giants World Series clincher against the Royals in 2014, where Madison Bumgarner on two days rest came and pitched five scoreless innings, and the game-tying run was stranded on third base in the 9th inning. And finally then there is probably the most insane game I have ever seen, one that gives me the chills just thinking about it, when the Cardinals staved off elimination in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.
Well, we can add last night's game to this list. It isn't as good or memorable as the World Series games, and a lot of its long-term impact will depend on who ends up winning the series, but for a single game, for a single night, that was pure brilliance. The Cubs who's talent is as high as their history of not winning the world series is long, fighting to fend off the one team that seems to imbibe October baseball. It would have felt right if the Gillaspie triple ended up being the winning runs. It would have felt righter had the Cubs won after MVP-to-be Kris Bryant hit a home run that made it over by an inch to tie the game, showing how 2016 is different than 2003 and all the failures of past Cubs' postseasons. But it felt rightest for the Giants to show their mettle, the Cubs to battle back, and then the Giants to show it all over again. That was truly perfect.
There were so many small occurrences in that game that add up to an unforgettable night of baseball. From Jake Arrietta hitting a home run off of Playoff Greek God Madison Bumgarner. If anything would lead you to believe the Cubs were truly a team of destiny, it was not only them scoring on Madison Bumgarner, but their pitcher hitting a three-run HR off of him. But like the Giants do, they picked up a few runs to get back in the game.
Of course, then the true brilliance of playoff baseball was shown, from strange umpiring (How was the out call not overturned when Anthony Rizzo was so obviously off of the base), to odd managerial decisions, like Joe Maddon asking Aroldis Chapman to get six outs for a save. Of course, that wasn't so much odd as it was unexpected - but it made some sense. After Hunter Pence, who is scary enough to go to your electric closer, comes three lefties which Chapman should eat up. So of course, he strikes out Pence, and doesn't get any of the lefties out.
Nothing exemplifies the Giants more than Connor Gillaspie right now, the man who's 3-run HR in the top of the 9th ousted the Mets, and now the man who hit a triple against Chapman, banging the first 100+ MPH pitch he has ever seen 420 feet on a rope. The Giants resiliency has always been best shown by their secondary players. The men who won the MVPs for the 2010 & 2012 NLCS and World Series were Cody Ross ('10 NLCS), Edgar Renteria ('10 World Series), Marco Scutaro ('12 NLCS) and Pablo Sandoval ('12 World Series). Bumgarner wholly dominated the 2014 run, but even then they got Travis Ishikawa to hit a walk off home run to win the NLCS in Game 5.
Of course these Giants are not those Giants. These Giants are similar to the 2014 team, with a balanced offense that doesn't strike out but doesn't hit for power. But on defense, other than having Bumgarner on both teams, the 2016 team actually has other starting pitchers, but they don't have a bullpen. So many parts changed between the 2010 Giants and 2014 Giants - Buster Posey was the ONLY position player to start for all three teams, but the bullpen didn't. Four men played on all three of those teams: Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt. Only Romo is left healthy, and he was the guy who gave up the lead.
The Cubs are battling 100 years of despair, but also now high expectations built off of a year of absolute brilliance, of having the best offense in the NL, the best starting pitching in the NL, where Jake Arrietta was probably the 3rd best pitcher this year, and by far the best defense. All three were on display in this series, including the defense who saved the game in the bottom of the 9th with an incredible catch to rob Buster Posey of what would have been a game winning double into the cavernous right field. The Cubs have expectations, they have a clear path. It is all there for them, but those Giants are still alive.
There are so many positive aspects to the Giants odd little dnyasty they have put together, from showing the world why baseball has it best from metering out both regular season dominance and postseason brilliance (I mean, everyone realizes the Giants were not the best team in any of their World Series years), to introducing the world to three Hall of Fame talents in Bumgarner, Posey and Bruce Bochy. But the best has to be what it has done for that franchise. The atmosphere at AT&T Park is always so electric and pulsating. October baseball in San Francisco has become an indelible image of these past six years of baseball.
Even if the Giants lose, they won't really lose. They are not that good of a team, they have legitimate holes on their team, and are playing a team that has better hitting, pitching and defense. Even if they lose, they have reminded that the Giants will fight to the end, and still have some October Magic, from Bumgarner's shutout in the Wild Card Game, to the heroism of Connor Gillaspie, and to the magic they provided the baseball world last night. If they win? Just give them the ring already. And the fact the team they are playing is teh Cubs? That was magical.