This time, Giants fall short in an even year, lose to Cubs
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Bruce Bochy has often been bleary-eyed and exhausted going through it all this year. His once-reliable bullpen hit bump after bump and an offense that appeared so powerful way back in spring training regularly faltered when it mattered most.
The Giants had the majors' best record at the All-Star break but couldn't sustain it. They earned the second wild card on the season's final day, beat the defending NL champion New York Mets then lost to baseball's hottest team Tuesday night in a four-game NL Division Series – the 103-win Chicago Cubs.
That even-year rallying cry for this club, it's gone. Also gone is the remarkable 10-game winning streak in postseason elimination games, an 11-series playoff unbeaten run stopped in the process for a franchise that captured World Series championships in 2010, '12 and `14.
The Cubs were too good. The Giants were too inconsistent.
''It's a tale of two seasons, the first half and second half,'' Bochy said. ''But I think what I'll remember is how they really bounced back and found a way to get in there, to get to the wild card and that game.''
Yes, this ranked among the most trying seasons yet for the 61-year-old Bochy, who completed his 10th year as San Francisco skipper and 22nd overall as a manager after having guided San Diego for the other 12. Bochy faced constant scrutiny for his club's second-half struggles after holding the majors' best record at the All-Star break (57-33).
Here are some things to consider from a season that fell short:
San Francisco's top starters did their part, and that's a positive for Bochy going forward when he looks at his trio of aces: Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. Trade deadline acquisition Matt Moore dazzled for eight innings in Tuesday's Game 4, striking out 10 and hitting a go-ahead single in the fourth.
Rookie Ty Blach showed he will be considered for a rotation spot in 2017, earning the win with two scoreless innings in San Francisco's 6-5, 13-inning victory Monday night to stave off elimination for a day.
Javier Lopez owns four World Series rings, three with the Giants, while Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo have three apiece.
A bullpen that was so good for so long during all the title runs failed to hold a 5-2 lead in the ninth inning, with five relievers unable to end it. Bochy never turned to demoted closer Casilla and Romo couldn't finish off Chicago.
The flame-throwing Aroldis Chapman, whom San Francisco tried to acquire at the trade deadline, closed out the Giants this time after giving up the game a night earlier.
Now, San Francisco will almost certainly go forward with new faces – Derek Law, Steven Okert, Will Smith.
''The job doesn't change. You gotta get outs. I wasn't able to do that today,'' Romo said. ''They showed that they'll never give up either there at the end. For us we're more in shock that just it happened, how it happened, the way it happened. We went in, pretty decent lead going in that ninth. It looked pretty good in our favor to win tonight.''
Conor Gillaspie arrived at spring training with no guarantees, just a determination to be a better teammate and person in his second stint with San Francisco. He claimed he had grown up in his three years away, then he broke out on the big October stage as an unlikely postseason star.
He hit a three-run homer in the ninth inning of a 3-0 wild-card win at New York last week. His catch over the railing and into the photo well in Game 162 against the Dodgers will be remembered, too. Vin Scully called it ''superior'' in his final broadcast.
Gillaspie was an injury replacement to boot.
The Giants missed two key regulars in the final two games of the series. Left fielder Angel Pagan, wrapping up a $40 million, four-year contract, sat out with back spasms and third baseman Eduardo Nunez to a strained right hamstring.
In the end, the every-other-year Giants couldn't pull off the very kind of improbable comeback that defined their championship runs in recent seasons. In 2012 against Cincinnati, the club became the first ever to rally from an 0-2 deficit in a best-of-five series by winning three straight road games. San Francisco also overcame a 3-1 deficit in the NLCS that year against St. Louis.
San Francisco had been nearly unbeatable with the season on the line in recent years, namely winning those 10 straight elimination games.
''It's crazy good,'' Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. ''It just doesn't happen, that's so difficult to do.''