Pirates, Volquez Fall Flat in Wild-Card Loss to San Francisco Giants
The Pittsburgh Pirates believe they're building something special. The San Francisco Giants provided a reminder that much work remains to be done before a contender becomes a champion.
Geared up for another run at "Buctober," Pittsburgh's postseason journey lasted all of 3 hours, 12 minutes, just long enough for Madison Bumgarner and the Giants to overpower the Pirates for an 8-0 victory in the NL wild-card game Wednesday night.
Bumgarner tossed a four-hitter while striking out 10, and Brandon Crawford hit the first grand slam by a shortstop in postseason history as the Giants put an abrupt end to Pittsburgh's second straight postseason appearance.
"We got outplayed tonight," second baseman Neil Walker said. "Bumgarner went out there, he did what he wanted to do. He put up the strike zone and he made it tough on us. When they got up early on us we were trying to scratch and claw our way back, and he was good from the first pitch until the last pitch."
The ones in between, too.
Pittsburgh was unable to duplicate last year's victory over Cincinnati in the wild-card game that followed a 21-year playoff drought. Playing before raucous crowds at PNC Park, the Pirates pushed St. Louis to a decisive Game 5 before losing their NLDS.
This year, Pittsburgh went 17-9 in September while taking the Cardinals to the final day of the season in an attempt to win the NL Central.
The chase included a decision to start budding ace Gerrit Cole in the regular-season finale in the hopes of catching the Cardinals and avoiding the wild-card game. Cole struck out 12 in a brilliant performance but the Pirates lost, putting Pittsburgh's hopes for extending its season on Edinson Volquez's excitable shoulders.
The former All-Star — in the midst of a mid-career renaissance after winning a team-high 13 games — navigated three innings in the biggest start of his career before it all unraveled in the fourth, when a pair of singles and a walk loaded the bases with no outs.
Crawford followed with a drive that kept carrying all the way to the seats above the 21-foot high Roberto Clemente wall to quiet the largest crowd in the 13-year history of PNC Park.
"I tried to bounce it down, back foot, and the ball just kept going," Volquez said. "Bad spot."
Bumgarner did the rest as San Francisco won its eighth consecutive postseason game and seventh in a row when facing elimination.
Overpowering one of the NL's best lineups, Bumgarner walked one and threw 79 of 109 pitches for strikes in his latest stellar October performance. The big left-hander, who allowed only four singles, has thrown 15 scoreless innings in two World Series starts.
Brandon Belt drove in three runs as San Francisco added on. That was more than enough for Bumgarner, who mixed his fastball with a slider the Pirates couldn't seem to figure out.
Pittsburgh, fourth in the majors in extra-base hits this season, rarely hit the ball hard.
"A professional, well-pitched game by him," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "We tried to counter-punch, we just couldn't muster up anything."
Bumgarner was helped by his defense, too. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval — all 245 pounds of him — flipped over the railing in front of the Pittsburgh dugout to track down a foul popup off the bat of Russell Martin.
Sandoval landed on his feet, a perfect symbol of San Francisco's seemingly endless resiliency this time of year. Back in the playoffs after winning the World Series in 2010 and 2012, the Giants are looking to continue their every-other-year success.
"We thrive in these situations," Crawford said. "I don't know what it is. We just keep fighting no matter what the circumstance."
It's a path the Pirates insist they're on after winning 94 games last season and backing it up by going 88-74 this year despite a series of obstacles, including extended stays on the disabled list for Cole and Francisco Liriano, and an offense that didn't start to click until utility man Josh Harrison found a spot in the everyday lineup in mid-May.
"Not to take away from this year, we know it was a good season," Harrison said. "But these losses right here hurt. It's not anything anybody would ever get used to. At the end of the day we still know that we are fortunate enough to be in this situation. There were a lot of teams that were eliminated on Sunday. And we had a chance to win tonight and play more."
Instead the Pirates could only watch as San Francisco piled on against Pittsburgh's normally reliable bullpen. A sizable portion of the crowd — most of the fans dressed in black — remained until the bitter end. There was a standing ovation after the final out even as the Giants poured onto the field in celebration.
An important offseason lies ahead as Pittsburgh tries to re-sign catcher Russell Martin and figures out how to address potential holes in the rotation with Volquez and Liriano becoming free agents.
Owner Bob Nutting says the normally frugal Pirates will do what they can to keep Martin and build around a nucleus that includes Harrison, Cole and Andrew McCutchen. If last fall's success was a breakthrough following 20 years of misery, this fall's failure revealed the gap between the Pirates and a championship team is narrowing, but not quite closed.
"It's not like we're 90-plus wins saying we've got work to do," McCutchen said. "We were in the wild card again and there are things we need to improve."