SAN FRANCISCO – They live. They always live. They are the San Francisco Giants, three-time World Series champions, all-time survivors.
With the clock about to strike midnight on the West Coast, the Giants celebrated perhaps their most improbable postseason victory yet Monday night, ensuring that they would return to AT&T Park for at least one more day.
“We’re hard to kill,” left-hander Madison Bumgarner said. “I’ll say that for sure.”
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The Cubs tried to finish the job Monday night in Game 3 of the Division Series, tried to complete a sweep that would have ended the Giants’ even-year madness for good.
The Giants were champions in 2010, ’12 and ’14, and after their stunning 6-5 victory in 13 innings – their record 10th straight in elimination games – they are still kicking in ’16.
The streak includes Game 7 of the 2014 World Series against the Royals, three straight triumphs against the Reds in the 2012 Division Series and two victories in wild-card games.
This one, though, had a special magic and certain eternal quality, lasting 5 hours, 4 minutes and ending only after back-to-back doubles by Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik.
Manager Bruce Bochy called it “one of the best, most exciting games I’ve ever been involved in.” Catcher Buster Posey, in my postgame interview with him for FS1, said, “This one’s up there, for sure.”
The Cubs took a 3-0 lead against Bumgarner on a three-run homer by pitcher Jake Arrieta in the second inning.
They summoned closer Aroldis Chapman for what would have been only the second six-out save of his career.
Then after Chapman blew a 3-2 advantage by allowing a two-run triple to Conor Gillaspie, they tied the score on a two-run homer by Kris Bryant off Sergio Romo that barely clearly the left-field wall in the ninth.
Still, here’s all you need to know about the Giants:
Bumgarner recovered to pitch three scoreless innings after his 37-pitch second. And Romo recovered to get six straight outs after allowing Bryant’s crushing shot.
The Bryant homer produced the only runs in eight innings against the Giants’ once-beleaguered bullpen – rookie Derek Law contributed two scoreless, and rookie Ty Blach earned the win with two more.
Posey had three hits and a walk and was robbed in the ninth on a spectacular catch in right by Cubs rookie Albert Almora Jr. Leadoff man Denard Span hit a double and triple and scored the Giants’ first two runs.
But, in the grand tradition of Cody Ross, Marco Scutaro and Travis Ishikawa, the Giants’ biggest heroes were of the unlikely variety:
*Gillaspie, who signed with the team as a minor-league free agent on Feb. 5 after twice getting designated for assignment last season, and …
*Panik, who batted only .214 with a .639 OPS after getting hit in the head by a pitch on June 18 and missing nearly a month with a concussion.
Gillaspie had never faced Chapman and never seen a 100-mph fastball, according to Inside Edge. He connected on a 100.9 mph fastball on 0-1 and started to run, not knowing that his drive was headed to right-center, where it would elude Almora near the deepest part of the park.
“Honestly, I didn’t even really know where the ball was when I hit it,” Gillaspie said. “I knew I barreled it, but I had no idea where the ball was.”
Gillaspie has now delivered the two biggest hits of the Giants’ postseason, the other being a three-run homer off Jeurys Familia in the ninth inning of the NL Wild Card Game.
His approach against Chapman was simple, though in a left-on-left matchup he all but faced the impossible.
“Pretty much get on the fastball,” Gillaspie said. “If he throws something else there, I might be in trouble. You know he’s got velocity. It’s hard to square up 100.”
Panik, meanwhile, had spoken before the game about the difficulty in recovering from his concussion, not making excuses, but saying he looks forward to an offseason of rest, “to get back to who I am.”
Well, he looked like the 2014 and ’15 version of himself on Monday night, finishing with three hits and two walks, including his walk-off double off lefty Mike Montgomery, who entered the 13th having pitched four scoreless innings.
Panik’s hit, too, went to right-center, a little bit to the right of Gillaspie’s.
“That ball hung up a little longer than I wanted it to,” Panik said. “I knew I hit it well and I knew it was going to get at least off the wall, but it felt like forever for that thing to get off the wall.”
Not to worry, Panik got his desired result, only to be mobbed by his teammates near second base. And just like that, the Giants gained a chance to tie the series on Tuesday night with the left-handed Matt Moore facing right-hander John Lackey in Game 4.
Bochy sat in his office afterward, flashing a mischievous smile, the smile of a man who had just escaped misfortune in a most exhilarating fashion.
Adding to Bochy’s degree of difficulty on this night: Angel Pagan had been unavailable due to back spasms, and Eduardo Nunez again could serve only as a pinch-hitter while recovering from a hamstring problem.
“I had no weapons, no bodies,” Bochy said, shaking his head in wonder.
The physical toll only grew as the game went on: Crawford took a throw off his left elbow diving back to third in the eighth, and Gillaspie appeared to tweak something in his last at-bat.
Gillaspie, as he spoke to reporters afterward, had a wrap around his torso. But both he and Crawford expect to be fine.
“Just being out there for five hours,” Gillaspie said. “I’m good.”
Of course he’s good.
It’s October. It’s an even year. You expected the Giants to just expire?