When it ended, with the Chicago Cubs celebrating on the field at AT&T Park and with the San Francisco Giants learning what it felt like to lose a postseason series for the first time this decade, it didn’t take too long for the second-guessing to begin.
This was different. They wondered about Bruce Bochy, the humble genius who had navigated the team to three titles in five seasons. And they wondered about the bullpen, which had navigated the best team in 2016’s first half to a last-day, wild-card spot thanks to 30 blown saves.
When it ended, it seemed obvious that if it were going to end for the 2016 Giants, it were going to end like this: A great start from Matt Moore followed by a horrific showing from the bullpen. Another blown lead. Another loss. Another implosion.
An inning earlier, everything seemed so different. Moore finished the eighth with a strikeout, his 11th of the game. The Giants were up 5-2, just three outs from a decisive Game 5 in Chicago. And that’s when even-year magic turned into every-day disappointment. The hits came, the pitchers went. The lead left, the reality set in. The Cubs rallied for four runs off five Giants pitchers. Season over.
So came the second guessing: “You think the Giants should have just stuck with Matt Moore in the ninth?”
A postseason clincher without an appearance from coulda, shoulda or woulda is like a night at the club without a Drake song — it ain’t happening, as much as you might like it to. But this question was legit. It was the first one pitched to Bochy in the postgame press conference.
“That’s a lot of work he did,” Bochy said of Moore. “At that point where he’s at, he did his job. We were lined up. I would like to think you’re going to get three outs there. We couldn’t do it. Because of the job he did, we had all the guys set up, we just couldn’t get outs.”
Now, we have every reason to trust Bochy’s postseason decision-making, but this still seems like something to consider beyond, “He did his job.” A point-counterpoint seems in order:
Point: Moore had thrown 120 pitches, the second-highest total of the season for him and tied for the second most of his career. He threw 120 in a June 2013 game when he was with the Tampa Bay Rays and threw 133 on Aug. 25 with the Giants, as he tried to close out a no-hitter against the Dodgers.
Counterpoint: Well, no better time than the postseason, right? Fact is, Moore hadn’t worked through too many laborious innings before he was pulled. He hadn’t allowed a run since the fifth inning and a baserunner since the sixth, when Dexter Fowler drew a four-pitch walk. That inning, Moore still only threw 12 pitches. He threw just seven pitches in the seventh inning, then 13 in the eighth. It wasn’t like he soldiered through a 30-pitch inning before he was pulled.
Point: The heart of the Cubs’ order was coming up in the ninth: Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist. Forget that they were a combined 1-for-8, you don’t want that group facing Moore in the ninth inning. Not for the fourth time in the game with 120 pitches already spent.
Counterpoint: Who else do you want? The Giants don’t have a shut-down reliever. In fact, their bullpen blew the most saves in baseball this season. So for many onlookers, going to the Giants bullpen wasn’t so much a question of if they would blow it, it was more like “how?” The Giants relievers then proceeded to give up three runs on four hits. Matt Moore couldn’t have at least tried to see if he had another seven-pitch inning in him?
Point: If you’re the Giants and you have a three-run lead in the ninth inning and your entire bullpen available, do you really deserve another postseason run if you can’t shut that door?
There’s no easy answer to this one, folks. That’s what makes postseason baseball so great and so frustrating.
What about Moore himself? What did he have to say? After the game, he was accepting of the decision but didn’t extra say he was ready to be done. He told Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News:
“You can’t second guess it. What are you going to do? As an athlete, you always want to feel you have more to offer. But I’m not going to go there.”
When it ended, it made every bit of sense that there was second-guessing. The Giants had just lost in the postseason. This hadn’t happened since 2003. It was going to take some time — and some questions — to properly digest.
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