NEW YORK — Madison Bumgarner has worked the ranch. He has seen the rodeo. He understands the inherent danger of an open gate.
In this most rugged of seasons, Bumgarner did not allow the bullpen gate to open. He added to his postseason legend with another Rio Bravo performance, Conor Gillaspie stunned a sellout crowd with a three-run home run in the ninth inning, and the Giants snuck past the New York Mets, 3-0, in the NL wild-card game Wednesday night at Citi Field.
The Giants survived the fire and fury of Noah Syndergaard’s seven innings. But the Mets could not outlast Bumgarner, who snuffed out their season and carried the Giants through to an NL Division Series against the Chicago Cubs. Johnny Cueto is scheduled to oppose left-hander Jon Lester in Game 1 on Friday at Wrigley Field.
Gillaspie, a former first-round pick who came back to the Giants as a minor league free agent this spring, joined a list of improbable October legends that includes Cody Ross and Travis Ishikawa.
Gillaspie wasn’t supposed to start at third base, but with Eduardo Nunez’s strained hamstring too sore to go, he received a chance and thrust his way into franchise lore. Brandon Crawford started the ninth inning with a leadoff double and Joe Panik worked a seven-pitch walk to extend the inning for Gillaspie, who connected against Mets closer Jeurys Familia.
Although Jarrett Parker had replaced Bumgarner in the on-deck circle, there was little doubt that Bruce Bochy would send his indomitable ace back out for the ninth — especially when his bullpen had blown a franchise-record 30 saves this season.
Bumgarner finished the deal on 119 pitches and lowered his ERA to 0.50 in seven postseason road starts, including two shutouts in these all-or-nothing wild-card games. But unlike his maestro performance in Pittsburgh two years ago, the Giants did not give him a grand slam or a cushion of any sort.
He held the Mets to four hits and a pair of walks (one intentional) while striking out six, continually working the top of the zone with his fastball before mixing a humpbacked curve that deceived as much as it dived.
Not even a Willie Mays-inspired catch by center fielder Curtis Granderson could save the Mets. His sprinting effort to strand a runner on second base caused Brandon Belt to spike his helmet in the sixth inning.
That was the nearest the Giants came to scoring off Syndergaard, who took a no-hitter into the sixth inning. He struck out 10 while throwing 109 pitches in seven innings.
But Bumgarner outlasted them. He outlasted them all. His final pitch of the night resulted in a fly out to Denard Span that will ensure another baseball game at AT&T Park this season.
Bumgarner has allowed one earned run in his last 34 postseason innings, and he’ll attempt to keep his run going when he faces the Cubs in Game 3 on Tuesday.
Syndergaard allowed 48 stolen bases this season, the most by an NL pitcher in two decades (Hideo Nomo in 1996). The Giants hoped to take advantage of the right-hander’s deliberate delivery by putting runners in motion.
First, they had to get those runners. Syndergaard carved through the Giants order the first time through, striking out five of nine batters while hitting 99 mph with a sinking, two-seam fastball that might violate blue laws in 11 states.
The Giants struck out the fewest times of any NL club. It didn’t matter. Panik was the toughest player in the NL to fan, at one strikeout per 9.1 at-bats. It didn’t matter. Panik struck out swinging — flailing, to be more precise — in each of his first two at-bats.
Panik hadn’t struck out twice against the same pitcher in a big league game all season; the Padres’ Brandon Morrow was the last to do it, on April 10, 2015.
The Giants finally put Syndergaard in the stretch in the fourth, when Span worked a seven-pitch walk. To nobody’s surprise, Span took off with a pitch to Brandon Belt, and although his front foot clearly slid into second base prior to the tag, second base umpire Mike Everitt swung his arm with the out call.
Bochy instituted a replay challenge that the club lost, with the only explanation being that Span’s front foot might have buckled and come off the base before his back leg hit the bag. Replays appeared to show that Jose Reyes kept the tag applied when Span might have lost brief contact with the bag.
The Giants still retained one challenge because teams are allotted two of them for postseason games. But the chance went by the boards. At least the Giants forced Syndergaard to throw 28 pitches in the inning.
The fourth inning was a war of attrition for both starters. The Mets also dug a bit deeper on Bumgarner than they did in the first three innings, when they went down on seven pitches each time.
The Mets forced Bumgarner to throw 22 pitches in the fourth, as the left-hander began to mix more curveballs along with fastballs at the top of the zone.
Bumgarner pitched with no margin for error after T.J. Rivera dumped a leadoff double into left field in the fifth. He struck out Jay Bruce, then the Giants cut down the lead runner when Crawford fielded a grounder and got Rivera in a rundown that lasted long enough for Rene Rivera to advance to second base.
Bochy took no chances with first base open and light-hitting first baseman James Loney, instructing an intentional walk — the first one Bumgarner issued all season — and then Syndergaard struck out to strand two runners.
With the strikeout of Syndergaard, Bumgarner improved to 0-for-23 in his career with runners in scoring position in postseason road games.
The Giants had no better luck against Syndergaard when they advanced runners to second base in the sixth and seventh, and Belt received no joy out of a 390-foot drive.
Span set up their chance in the sixth when he fought back from an 0-2 count to line the Giants’ first hit of the game, a leadoff single up the middle. He immediately took off again and stole second base.
Belt followed with a drive that left the bat at 105.9 mph with a 25-degree launch angle — the kind of contact that cleared a major league fence 91 percent of the time, according to Baseball Savant. The expected batting average was .971.
But Granderson channeled his inner Willie Mays to account for the other .029. He sprinted and did not slow down as he approached the wall, making the catch as he crashed into the fence while turned mostly away from the infield.
Belt, already around first base, took off his helmet and spiked it into the ground as the sellout crowd roared.
The Giants created another chance in the seventh when Crawford walked and Pagan hit an infield single. But Mets manager Terry Collins stuck with Syndergaard against Panik, and his ace induced a ground ball on his 108th and final pitch that ended the inning.
The Giants were able to exhaust Syndergaard before the Mets got Bumgarner out of the game. But they were unable to punch through against Addison Reed in the eighth.
Gillaspie hit a leadoff single and Bumgarner, unbelievably, put down his first sacrifice bunt of the season. Span failed to advance Gillaspie while popping up. But the Giants loaded the bases when Belt walked, and following a passed ball, the Mets gave Posey an intentional pass. Reed escaped by striking out Hunter Pence to strand the bases loaded.
Meanwhile, Bumgarner just kept on making pitches and controlling the tempo. He was back in the stretch after a one-out single in the eighth, but stranded a runner at second base when he gloved Asdrubal Cabrera’s line drive up the middle to end the inning.
Bumgarner squeezed the ball into his glove, then grasped it with his throwing hand and squeezed it some more.
He did not let it go.