Sports

MLB Playoffs

Bumgarner, Giants shut down Pirates in NL wild card game

By Mike Rutsey, Toronto Sun

San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford (left) celebrates his grand slam against the Pittsburgh Pirates with teammates during the NL wild card game at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Oct. 1, 2014. (CHARLES LeCLAIRE/USA Today)

San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford (left) celebrates his grand slam against the Pittsburgh Pirates with teammates during the NL wild card game at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Oct. 1, 2014. (CHARLES LeCLAIRE/USA Today)

PITTSBURGH - 

To begin with, it didn’t come close to the drama, excitement and utter zaniness of the American League wild card game that played out in Kansas City Tuesday night.

Not that anybody in San Francisco really cared.

The Oakland A’s may have spit the bit against the Royals, but the team across the bay, the Giants from San Francisco, came up with some more of their October magic as they hammered the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-0 in the National League wild card game Wednesday.

Compared to the AL game, this was a complete dud.

A year ago this city, this stadium, was rocking in celebration thanks to a 6-2 wild card victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

The only similarity this night was that the PNC crowd came dressed in black, the proper colour for a funeral.

For the Giants, a team that comes alive every two years — they won it all in 2010 and 2012 — their victory may be the start of another deep October run.

With the triumph they now move on to Washington to take on the Nationals in a best-of-five Division Series that begins Friday in the U.S. capital.

Beginning with their incredible run in winning the 2012 World Series, the Giants have now won each of their last seven elimination games.

This one was easy, forged by a powerful pitching performance from starter Madison Bumgarner who twirled a complete-game shutout and one sweet swing by shortstop Brandon Crawford who hushed the crowd of 40,629 with his grand slam home run in the fourth inning that zoomed the Giants into a 4-0 lead, one they wouldn’t relinquish.

It was the first slam of Crawford’s career and the first one by a shortstop in post-season history.

The blast into the bleachers in right field came on a 1-2 offering from Pittsburgh right-hander Edinson Volquez.

Second-guessers were upset with Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle starting ace Gerrit Cole in the final regular-season game in a futile effort to catch St. Louis for the Division lead instead of saving him for the wild card game.

They’ll be piling on Hurdle now.

With Cole burned last Sunday, they turned the ball over to Volquez and he simply wasn’t good enough. In five-plus innings he allowed five runs on five hits.

Bumgarner, by contrast, was aces as he throttled and dominated the Pirates throughout, blanking them on four hits while striking out 10.

A year ago the Pirates, their fans and the city were revelling in delight. Wednesdaynight they got to taste ash.

ON WITH THE SHOW

Pirates catcher Russell Martin was far from 100% but that didn’t stop him from squatting behind the plate with a tweaked hamstring,

Martin came through with his usual gutsy performance as he collected the Pirates’ first hit, a single in the second inning, and went 1-for-4 on the night.

He surprised everybody in the park in his second at-bat as with one out and a runner on first base he almost legged out a bunt up the third-base line in the fourth inning.

His health was a topic of conversation pre-game.

“He’s batting fourth, and he’s catching,” Hurdle said of the Toronto native before the game. “He took a soccer ball out there earlier this afternoon, which is the first time he’s done that in a while. So I’m in a good place with it, and I think he’s in a good place.”

Short of his leg being amputated, Martin was set on playing in the game.

“Yeah, I would agree,” Hurdle said. “So we wanted to give him the opportunity to actually have some true rest. As he went through the weekend in Cincinnati, they added the benefit of two off days here, a practice day for him yesterday. I think he was able to work through some things yesterday as he continued to go through the activation part, the throwing, the hitting. I think he felt more confident throughout the workout. By the end of the workout, I think he felt in a very good place.”

LET ‘EM ROAR

A year ago when the Pirates emerged from their playoff drought to play their first post-season game in 20 seasons, one of the stars of the show in their triumphant wild card victory over Cincinnati was the raucous PNC Park crowd. A sea of black that would go on to celebrate Buc-tober.

It was much the same last night. If anybody arrived at PNC Park not dressed head-to-toe in black, well, they just weren’t anybody.

Try as they might, though, you can only have one first and the fans that roared last night weren’t quite up to the frenzy and downright glee that the wild card crowd of 2013 exhibited.

Too bad the PA guy played the role of ‘fluffer’ as he announced that ESPN was about to go on air so ‘wave those flags and make lots of noise.’ So much for spontaneity.

The crowd responded on cue.

Part of the legend of the 2013 game here was the fact it seemed to rattle Cincinnati starting pitcher Johnny Cueto, who in the second inning, due to the deafening din, dropped the ball on the mound as he prepared to go into his windup. The crowd went crazy and the next pitch was drilled into the seats in left field by Martin.

There was no repeat, however, as Bumgarner kept a firm grip on himself and the ball.


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