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Baseball is boring. Baseball is slow. We need to speed up the pace of the game. The kids aren’t going to watch the games if this keeps up.

This is the mantra of our times. The lie is that we want those extra 20 minutes of our lives back each and every night; the reality is that it isn’t the extra time but the deliberate pace that kills us by degrees. The game slows down until it is the second hand of a clock inexorably pounding out each moment like a gong.

Game Five of the NLCS between the Giants and the Cardinals was one of those games that shattered those italicized myths into tiny little pieces. The game took three hours and three minutes to play, but the pace was as crisp and efficient as an Ernest Hemingway novel. Like most of the games that weave their way into the inner circle of our greatest baseball memories, there were several dramas that played out throughout the night.

If Game Five had been scripted, it would have been structured as a three-act play. Each act gave the audience a different impression than the last, with no real idea of how the drama might end.

Act One: The Offense Strikes First

Game Five had the potential to feature the best of the best on the hill. Both teams had their aces going for them: Madison Bumgarner and Adam Wainwright. There were some concerns regarding Wainwright’s health, particularly after his first outing against the Giants. The same concerns did not exist with Bumgarner, who appeared to be on his way to a postseason for the ages. If Wainwright wasn’t on his game, the advantage clearly rested with the Giants.

For the first two innings, it appeared that it might be a pitchers’ duel. Wainwright and Bumgarner both struggled a little bit in the first but regained command of the game in the second. But then in the top of the third, the Cardinals drew first blood. Bumgarner showed an uncharacteristic lack of control, walking two batters in between a Wainwright sacrifice bunt that led to a Jon Jay double that gave the Cards a 1-0 lead.

But Wainwright then gave up a Joe Panik home run on the heels of a Gregor Blanco single to give the Giants a 2-1 lead in the bottom half of the frame. Under ordinary circumstances, a two-run inning off of Waino wouldn’t be cause for concern, but Cardinals fans had to wonder if it was going to be one of those nights, particularly with Mad Bum on the hill.

But then Bumgarner had his own struggles in the top of the fourth. Matt Adams—who had an abysmal .190/.231/.298 slash line against lefties this year—added Bumgarner to his postseason trophy case alongside Clayton Kershaw, with a 372-foot home run to right, tying the game at two. Two batters later, Tony Cruz hit an improbable 404-foot home run to left off of Bumgarner to give the Cards a 3-2 lead. It was Cruz’s fourth career home run in 488 career plate appearances, including the postseason. He wouldn’t even have been in the game if not for Yadier Molina’s oblique injury. At the time, it seemed like the Cruz home run might simply be the beginning of two offenses improbably trading body blows against two ace pitchers.

But then the aces settled in.

Act Two: Aces Trump

Entering the game, Bumgarner had pitched 241 innings (including the postseason), by far the most innings he had tossed in a single campaign. With all of the talk of how Wainwright might be hurt, lost was the fact that Bumgarner might not be himself either, considering the additional workload. Unlike some of the other pitchers in the postseason who had managed to get a little extra rest, the Wild Card game meant that Bumgarner just kept going and going.

But Bumgarner locked in after allowing those two home runs in the fourth and shut down St. Louis the rest of the way, retiring 12 batters in a row. Below is a look at what he did in the first four innings versus what he did the rest of the game.


Table 1: Madison Bumgarner, Innings 1-4

Table 2, Madison Bumgarner, Innings 5-8

Bumgarner wasn’t exactly lobbing the ball down the middle at the beginning of the game, but he was finding a good deal more of the plate than he typically does, as seen in Table 1. The Cardinals took advantage, as good teams typically do when a pitcher isn’t fine with his location.

But the next four innings were vintage Bumgarner. Table 2 shows a Bumgarner who simply refused to give in. He lived outside of the strike zone, particularly against the Cardinals' lefty-oriented lineup. Umpire Greg Gibson—one of the most highly rated umpires in the game—didn’t give Bumgarner any cheapie called strikes out of the zone, but the Cardinals were caught flailing against offerings just outside of the zone. The end result was a lot of weak contact and four shutout innings in a row.

With all due respect to Bumgarner, though, the story in the middle innings was Wainwright. While some had wondered if he could even go five innings, Wainwright put together one of the biggest games of his life, which is saying something given the Cardinals' long run of success and Wainwright’s glittering postseason resume.

As he often is, C.J. Nitkowski was dead on. Wainwright had a slight delay in his timing throughout most of the night, and with Wainwright relying even more on his curve than usual, the Giants couldn’t catch up. The Panik home run turned out to be a blip, and not a sign of things to come, so the Cardinals lead held…and held…and held. The only fly in the ointment for St. Louis is that this wasn’t the Wainwright who was going to go 130 pitches and be carried out of the stadium on his shield like a medieval warrior. This was playoff baseball 2014, so it was going to come down to what it almost always comes down to in this day and age.

Act Three: The Battle of The Bullpens (and the managers)

Seven innings and 97 pitches were more than anyone would have asked for from Wainwright entering the night, particularly given the tempered expectations. Mike Matheny decided to go with Pat Neshek and defense, taking Matt Holliday out of the game, moving Jay to left, and sticking seldom-used Peter Bourjos into center field.

Bruce Bochy countered with Mike Morse as a pinch-hitter for Bumgarner. Morse had quite literally limped to the finish line, nursing an oblique injury down the stretch, playing once in the regular season after August 31st, and getting all of three at-bats as a pinch-hitter in the postseason entering last night. This was well documented, but even before the injury, Morse had done little after a sizzling first half, hitting a paltry three home runs in his last 267 regular season plate appearances. So naturally, Morse drilled a flat Neshek slider out of the park to tie the game.

Neshek limited the damage, and Bochy started the ninth with Santiago Casilla. Casilla had been one of the hottest pitchers down the stretch and seemed like he’d cruise through the inning. Naturally, he didn’t have it. The Cardinals loaded the bases in between two outs. Matheny brought up Oscar Taveras to pinch hit for Bourjos. Bochy countered with lefty Jeremy Affeldt to neutralize Taveras. It worked—Taveras grounded out to first. Some managers would have stuck with their closer win or lose, but Bochy—who has never managed by the tired cliches that make up "the book"—didn’t like what he saw. The game headed to the bottom of the ninth.

Managerial maneuvering often is extremely overrated, both in the postseason and the regular season. The players have to perform, and while the manager makes the decisions, ultimately it is on the players to get the job done. But with a sharp Wainwright and only Neshek used out of the pen, Matheny had a plethora of options. He could have even elected to go with a starting pitcher, since there was no tomorrow if St. Louis lost. Instead, he decided to go with Michael Wacha. This move was mystifying in that 1) Wacha hadn’t pitched since September 26th and 2) Wacha had not pitched like the Wacha of 2013 in some time. With all of the options that Matheny had, it felt like going to Wacha was a huge mistake. Or, as Matthew Leach of MLB.com so aptly put it:

This was the part of the show you could have seen coming a mile away. Wacha’s stuff looked flat and the Giants—as they always seem to do when the clock strikes October—capitalized. Pablo Sandoval singled to right field on a hanger. Hunter Pence flew out to right, but then Brandon Belt walked. With Travis Ishikawa and Brandon Crawford due up, Matheny could have opted to go with Randy Choate or Marco Gonzales against the left-handers. Instead he stuck with Wacha.

Wacha fell behind quickly to Ishikawa. Ball one. Then, ball two.

Wacha had to throw a strike. He had thrown six balls in a row. He threw a gimmie strike to Ishikawa, figuring that he would be taking all the way. He wasn’t. He had the green light, and knocked it dead red out of the park to win the game and the series for the Giants.

This was the nature of the entire series for both teams. The Giants' balance won it for them, but they also won with unlikely players like Ishikawa providing help when they needed it most. The Cardinals were hurt due to injuries to key players like Molina and Wacha, but Matheny seemed to handcuff the team with baffling decision after baffling decision. In Act Three of Game Five, Bochy managed like he wanted it more than Matheny did. It sounds downright inane, but it was emblematic of the entire series. The Giants certainly made their mistakes and had their own miscues, but in a series where the team already had some inherent disadvantages, the Cardinals painted themselves into a corner of their own decision-making process enough times that they weren’t ever going to find their way out of it.

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BillJohnson
10/17
There were times during this post season when Matheny's moves struck me as having a bit of petulance to them. "All right, critics! You've been on me ever since the first playoff game to use Michael Wacha more. So I'm going to bring him in here, in this incredibly high-leverage situation, and you'll see!" *BOOM* "See? I told you!" On the other hand, doesn't an event like that argue just as strongly that he was right to be cautious about using Wacha in the first place?...
Richie
10/17
More the opposite, really. Matheny is absurdly loyal to his players, more like a high school baseball coach than a MLB manager. He figured he owed it to Wacha to use him the next chance that came up, and it was that one.
shmage
10/17
"Hunter Pence flew out to right." That ain't what I saw. Never airborne, Pence walked back to the dugout after he flied out to the right fielder. What has happened to baseball English? As I learned 75 years ago from Red Barber and Mel Allen, "to fly [out]" Is a regular verb (past tense-*flied*) unlike "to fly [move airborne, or very fast]" which is an irregular verb (past tense-*flew*). To hear or see something like "he flew out to right" conjures up only ridiculous images.
MikeGianella
10/17
I'll keep this in mind in the future (this is not sarcastic). However, one of the primary goals of language is to communicate without confusing the reader. While the usage may have been technically incorrect, I doubt anyone reading this account thought that Hunter Pence stepped out of the batters' box, stepped into his flying contraption, and flew out to right field.
Richie
10/17
Actually, it is THE! primary goal, beyond discussion. But commendations for handling this exactly right, Mike. Including 'OK, maybe I actually will use "flied out" from now on'. Kudos.
jjpzebra
10/17
Not sure I get the grammar lesson there . . . and besides, there is a typo with the word "Is" [sic]. If you want to be really critical, and I am sure I'm making mistakes as I type, "fly out" is incorrect. The word "fly" gets the message across and the word "out" is a useless preposition. I guess one should be saying Pence hit a fly ball to right for an out; but, then that violates the crisp journalism principles one strives to achieve. :-)
therealn0d
10/17
We avoid this by making it its own single word "flyout." Baseball is it's own language.
I75Titans
10/17
Worth noting that Wacha wouldn't have been in the game if Panda hadn't defelected that grounder to Crawford for an out in the top of the 9th. That very unlikely play prevented the go-ahead run from scoring, and possibly a big inning. And it kept Rosenthal from coming in for the 9th in a save situation. That's not to say that Rosenthal couldn't have done what Wacha did in the bottom of the frame.
buckgunn
10/17
That's only true if the rest of the inning proceeded the same way after Peralta's AB. But considering Casilla would have been pitching from the stretch against Adams, most likely choosing different pitches, so on and so forth, I'm not sure we can say for certain that if Peralta reaches there he ends up scoring. But we do know that a run is far more LIKELY if he reaches base - that I agree with. The deflection play was pretty emblematic of the series. Not saying the Giants didn't deserve to win - they made fewer mistakes than the Cardinals - but, much like the 2005 World Series, it was a short series where nearly every game could have gone the other way were it not for an inch here or an inch there.
salvomania
10/17
Er, I don't think we're talking about Peralta's grounder, but Wong's, the one with two on and one out. I think Titans is saying that a run WOULD have scored on the play in which Panda deflected Wong's grounder ball, had the deflection not skipped directly into the mitt of Crawford and instead rolled into short left field. And I think he's right.
buckgunn
10/17
You're both right. I just utterly misremembered the play.
medler312
10/17
I'm just happy I don't have to watch Matheney screw everything up again. How many seasons will the Cardinals put up with him mismanaging a team in its competitive window? I will never, ever, ever understand the game 4 decision to put Choate in as a loogy match up in the 4th inning. It looked especially egregious after Martinez pitched so well after him.
rweiler
10/17
One of the odd thing Bochy did was to play Ishikawa in left and Belt at 1st. Belt runs better, has the better arm, and had actually played a few games there even if he didn't particularly enjoy it. They are both pretty good defensive first basemen. But odd things just seem to work for Bochy although it looked doubtful when Ishikawa horribly misplayed John Jays line drive.
Robotey
10/17
Unless of course you realize that Belt is his prime first baseman, for this year and years to come, and Ishikawa is a fill-in, replacement who just happened to jump on a poor pitcher's poorer pitch in a high-stakes situation.
lyricalkiller
10/18
I think he's suggesting Belt could play left, as he has some in the past, not get benched.
Robotey
10/18
Yes, he meant Ishi at 1b and Belt in LF, right? My point was that Belt is the starter and Ishi the replacement, so it's awkward for a manager to move a starter from his rightful spot for a negligible gain somewhere else. Baseball is funny that way: it begs for roles to be defined and dares to smite those who would defy those rules.
oakwcj
10/18
Belt had just returned to action in late September, after missing most of the season with a broken thumb and a concussion. The last thing he needed was to play out of position while trying to get his batting eye back.
oldbopper
10/18
Without a doubt, Matheny's decision to bring in Wacha was stupifying. As was mentioned here on BP, on several occasions, it looked like the only reason Wacha was on the roster was in case of emergency, like an 18 inning game in which a long man might be needed. This ranks up there with the zaniest moves ever observed by this very old baseball addict. Grady Little's decision to leave Pedro in back in 2003 at least made a bit of sense. This made none!
Johnston
10/18
Putting Wacha in was an act that made no sense whatsoever. It has to rank as the one of the most illogical playoff moves in history. I'm not going to call it stupid, even though it looked that way, but it was a move that absolutely made zero sense. If you're going to forfeit, just forfeit. Don't drag it out. I turned the TV off at that point, knowing that the game and the series were both over.
dcoonce
10/19
Matheny, after the game, said "I couldn't bring my closer into a tie game, on the road" so there's that, too.
Dodger300
10/19
Okay guys, watch this short video. Keith Olbermann explains, in his entertaining way, why it made perfect sense for Matheny to call on Wacha and leave him in. You may not agree, but I think after watching it you will at least see that there is another side to the issue and that the decision was entirely defensible: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VKYHaO0ddMs
greenengineer
10/19
"Baseball is boring. Baseball is slow. We need to speed up the pace of the game. The kids aren’t going to watch the games if this keeps up." How about "Baseball is on too late at night"? My kids were in bed well before the late inning heroics. Heck, so was I.