By Andrew Kahn
If you’re a baseball fan without an allegiance to any of the four teams that played in the wild card games, you likely enjoyed your viewing experience. If you’re a fan of the Blue Jays or especially Giants, you endured it; Orioles or Mets? You went through a rough few hours for what now feels like nothing. Such is the nature of a winner-take-all baseball game.
1. Another huge homer for Blue Jays
The bat flip was not nearly as epic, but unlike Jose Bautista’s memorable home run in last year’s playoffs, Edwin Encarnacion’s was a walk-off. He came to bat with one out in the 11th and blasted the first pitch he saw from Ubaldo Jimenez into the second deck in left. The three-run homer made Toronto a 5-2 winner over Baltimore.
Bautista came up big for the Jays, too, getting them on the board with a towering solo shot in the second. Both he and Encarnacion will be free agents once the season ends. Toronto improved to 35-16 with the roof open at Rogers Centre this year; they were 11-18 with it closed. This game figured to be a slugfest—both lineups had relatively good career numbers against the opposing pitchers—but that was not the case. There were 23 strikeouts and other than a rare miscue from Michael Bourn on a fly ball down the right field line, the defense on both sides was solid.
The two teams had the same overall record during the regular season (VERIFY) but Toronto earned home field because it went 10-9 against the Orioles. Eight of the games were decided by one-run and two were walk-offs. In fact, Encarnacion hit a walk-off, extra-inning homer against Baltimore on June 10.
2. Lots of pitchers used, but not Britton
There was no clear-cut ace for either manager to hand the ball to in the wild card game, though both Chris Tillman and Marcus Stroman were effective. Even so, the bullpen phones rang early and often. Baltimore manager Buck Showalter used six pitchers in relief, including Mychal Givens, who induced a double play to end the fifth and struck out three in 2.1 innings. Showalter did not, however, use closer Zach Britton, who saved all 47 of his opportunities this season and hadn’t allowed an earned run since April. Britton warmed up three separate times, but the Orioles never grabbed a late lead and Showalter trusted other arms, including Jimenez in the 11th with one out. Jimenez had been hot recently, but imploded in his five-pitch appearance, allowing two hard singles and the game-winning homer.
Donnie Hart allowed a deep fly ball to left-center to end the seventh, and as Hyun Soo Kim prepared to make the easy catch, a fan threw a half-full (it’s important to remain optimistic, especially in the face of stupidity) beer can that just missed hitting Kim. Kim flinched but held on to the ball, and center fielder Adam Jones berated the fan (Kim does
not speak English), who fled his seat before security arrived. Blue Jays fans turned Rogers Centre into a garbage dump last year during a playoff game, so maybe it’s time Major League Baseball take punitive measures.
3. The man, the myth, the legend
Road teams have now won seven of 10 wild card games, two of them because of Madison Bumgarner. The Giants’ lefty was his usual dominant postseason self last night, throwing a complete-game shutout in a 3-0 win over the Mets. He has pitched 23 innings in elimination playoff games and not allowed a run. Manager Bruce Bochy brought 10 other pitchers to New York, but it was clear early in the game that none of them would be used. Bumgarner, who threw 119 pitches, was not going to come out unless the Mets somehow got to him, and they never did.
He allowed just four hits, three of them singles, and no Met reached third base. He struck out six and walked two, one intentionally. The Mets were aggressive against him, especially early (he needed just 21 pitches to get through the first three innings), but hits and runs, not driving up the pitch count, were seemingly the only way to knock him out of the game. He also snagged a soft liner at his waist to end the eighth (with a runner on second), and tossed the ball far into the stands before entering the dugout. Simply put, Bumgarner is a superhuman postseason performer.
4. Blueprint fails for Mets
Unlike the Mets’ losses in the World Series last year, this game can’t be blamed on manager Terry Collins. He used two pinch hitters to start the eighth; one struck out and the other singled. He deployed his pitchers exactly how he would have liked: Noah Syndergaard matched Bumgarner for seven scoreless innings, striking out 10 and allowing just two hits. Ace reliever Addison Reed (1.97 ERA) loaded the bases in the eighth but got out of it, and Collins turned it over to closer Jeurys Familia in the ninth with the game still scoreless.
Familia was not as dominant this season as 51 saves would suggest (1.21 WHIP), but he had only allowed one home run. He allowed a leadoff double but struck out the next hitter. Joe Panik came up next, and if Familia could have retired him, he could have intentionally walked Conor Gillaspie to get to Bumgarner’s spot, forcing Bochy to make a decision. Instead, Familia walked Panik, and the unheralded Gillaspie clubbed a three-run homer to right-center. The Mets went in order in the bottom of the ninth.
The lone highlight for the Mets came on defense, when Curtis Granderson robbed what would have been a run-scoring extra-base hit from Brandon Belt in the sixth, running a long way to dead center and extending to make the catch before crashing into the wall and the warning track dirt. Like Endy Chavez’s incredible play in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, it occurred in a crushing loss.
5. Looking ahead
The Blue Jays begin a best-of-five series this afternoon against the Texas Rangers; Cleveland and Boston are on the other side of the AL bracket. In the NL, the Giants/Mets will be at Wrigley Field tomorrow night the Dodgers and Nationals face off. Toronto and Texas had a feisty five-game series last year and the bad blood continued this season, most notably when Rougned Odor punched Bautista in the face after a play at second base. Since the wild card game was introduced in 2012, the postseason results of the winners have varied. In two of the four years, the NL wild card winner won its next series while the AL winner did not; in another, both were immediately bounced; in 2014, the Giants and Royals went from the wild card game to the World Series. San Francisco fans are counting on their recent “even year luck”: the Giants won it all in 2010, 2012, and 2014.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local. He writes about baseball and other sports at andrewjkahn.com and you can find his Scoop and Score podcast on iTunes. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn