Giants' Bumgarner, Mets' Syndergaard clash in NL wild card game

BY foxsports • October 4, 2016

NEW YORK -- Baseball's regular season is a novel, one that was full of melodramatic twists and turns this season for the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants. When the Mets host the Giants in the National League wild card game Wednesday night at Citi Field, the novel becomes a Choose Your Own Adventure, with the season hanging on every turn of the page.

"Tomorrow's different -- I have not been in a one-game win-all scenario before," said Mets manager Terry Collins, who began his managerial career in 1981. "We'll have 25 guys out there, and if we need to, we'll use all 25 to win that game."

The wild card game is familiar to the Giants, whose lineup Wednesday will likely feature six players -- including starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner -- who started the 2014 NL wild card game. Bumgarner threw a four-hit shutout in an 8-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates that jump-started San Francisco's run to a third World Series title in five years.

"You're just jumping right into it -- this huge, emotional, intense, all-in, all-or-nothing game," Giants outfielder Hunter Pence said. "It's definitely a wild ride. That's why they call it the wild card."

Bumgarner will oppose New York's ace, right-hander Noah Syndergaard, as the Giants and Mets battle for the opportunity to face the top-seeded Chicago Cubs in the NL Division Series.

Both the Mets and Giants finished 87-75 -- the Mets earned home-field advantage by winning the season series 4-3 -- but they reached the finish line in decidedly different fashions.

With most of their rotation and nearly all of their Opening Day lineup ravaged by injury, the reigning NL champion Mets were 5 1/2 games behind in the race for the NL's second wild card on Aug. 19 and 61-62 after beating the Giants in San Francisco the next day. It was the latest a wild card team has been under .500 since the 2005 Astros were also 61-62 after 123 games.

But the Mets had the best record in baseball (26-13) the rest of the way to reach the playoffs for a second straight season for only the second time in franchise history.

Rookie pitchers Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo went 9-2 with a 2.44 ERA in 15 games (14 starts) during the Mets' season-ending run, which happened with six Opening Day starters either already sidelined for the season or playing part-time roles due to injury or ineffectiveness.

Collins spoke throughout the season about how important it was for his team not to ride the daily rollercoaster. But did the season ever feel as chaotic from the inside as it looked from outside?

"In the manager's room it did," Collins said with a grin. "We tried not to let it spread to the clubhouse too bad. But there's so much maneuvering that we had to do.

"We know that certainly the planes from (the Mets' Triple-A affiliate) Vegas to here were (used) a lot. There's a lot of red-eyes that were used. But it all comes with the territory."

The Giants, meanwhile, led the NL West by as many as eight games on June 26 and reached the All-Star Break with the best record in baseball at 57-33. But they went just 30-42 the rest of the way -- the worst post-All-Star Break record for a playoff team since the wild card was implemented in 1995 -- and fell out of first place for good with a 2-0 loss to the Mets on Aug. 21.

"As good as we were in the first half, we had our hiccups the second half," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.

The bullpen, long a strength for the Giants, blew nine ninth-inning leads, including five in September. San Francisco finally steadied itself over the final week, when it went 5-1 to stave off the St. Louis Cardinals by a game.

"To be honest, I think we all were trying to figure out what's going on here," Bochy said. "But that's what you have to deal with during the baseball season."

Now the Giants hope to enjoy some familiar success with a pitcher who deals with the postseason better than anyone in Bumgarner, who is 7-3 with a 2.14 ERA in 14 playoff games (12 starts). He posted a 1.03 ERA in seven games (six starts) in the 2014 postseason, which ended with Bumgarner throwing five shutout innings to earn the save in Game 7 of the World Series against the Kansas City Royals.

In addition, Bumgarner is 4-0 with a 0.62 ERA in four career starts at Citi Field.

"He's got this special -- this 'it factor' and this incredible competitiveness that's just so beautiful to watch and to be a part of and to play behind," Pence said.

The Mets will counter with Syndergaard, who proved ready for the big stage last fall by coming out of the bullpen to pitch a scoreless seventh inning in the decisive Game 5 of the NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers before winning Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs and Game 3 of the World Series against the Royals.

While Bumgarner dominates at Citi Field. Syndergaard -- who made his final regular season start last Tuesday -- has thrived when pitching on extra rest: He has a 2.51 ERA in 16 career starts made on more than five days' rest.

"These two guys going (Wednesday), I would think, sitting here today, they're going to get pretty deep into a game -- they're both pretty good," Collins said. "Certainly, deep in the game, we'll make whatever move we think is essential."

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