This is coming a little late, but I guess better late than never. I was at the game and I was certainly not getting a recap up last night and just didn't really have the words to put it together yesterday so today is as good as any to get something down.
I know a lot of Pirates fans had a pretty good feel going into this game but in reality it was a coin toss. Both teams had 88 wins and both teams had some ups and downs throughout the season. The Pirates were the hotter team down the stretch but the real difference was that the Pirates had Edinson Volquez on the mound and the Giants had Madison Bumgarner on the mound. I don't think enough people appreciate how good Bumgarner is. Maybe it is because he is on the West Coast and isn't quite as dominant as someone like Clayton Kershaw but people probably don't see Bumgarner a lot since a good deal of his games happen after people in bed. No matter the reason he completely dominated the Pirates on Wednesday night and made some pretty good hitters look really clueless.
Although I didn't put it in writing before the game I thought that if the Pirates were going to win that they needed to get to Bumgarner the first time through the order. They were able to do that earlier this year but this time around they had no answer. Bumgarner threw 28 pitches through the first three innings throwing 23 of them for strikes. He doesn't have overpowering stuff but he was hitting his spots and after those three innings he was able to mix in his secondary stuff and that was all she wrote.
Volquez did his best to match him. He got through the first three innings clean on 38 pitches but in the fourth inning things came falling down. He threw 25 pitches in the fourth inning and didn't record the first out of the inning until four runs were already in. He gave up a pair of singles and a walk before getting Brandon Crawford to a two strike count. I was hoping that he would bury a curveball but he got the pitch up and Crawford put it into the seats in right field. The game was far from over but with how Bumgarner was pitching it was tough to see the Pirates coming back.
Volquez was a pretty big wild card coming into the game. He had a pretty outstanding season but if you read any article about him before the game you knew that it was a little smoke a mirrors as to how he was getting it done. One inning did him in and unfortunately this was a one-and-done playoff game where one inning was all it took to end the season. This shouldn't be the storyline for Volquez this season as he was about as rock solid as it got. In a year where every other starting pitcher missed significant time with injuries Volquez took the ball every fifth day and gave the Pirates a chance to win in most starts. For $5M it was a great investment but it will probably still open up the questions for what should have happened with Gerrit Cole on that last day out.
That isn't really a question in my mind. I was fine either way. The bottom line is that the Pirates scored zero runs and even if Volquez or Cole had a lights out day the Pirates still couldn't get the win. Baseball sucks sometimes.
The offense just really struggled. I would usually side with pitching over hitting in the playoffs and if this was a five or seven game series I would just brush it off because against the opposing teams ace sometimes you are going to get shut down. You tip your cap and go on to the next game. There is no next game.
Josh Harrison recorded a pair of hits which represented half of the Pirates hits for the day. All the hits were singles and the Pirates had four at bats with runners in scoring position and they didn't come up with a single hit. All six guys that got on base were left there. Just pretty frustrating to watch after the Pirates had arguably the best offense in the National League this year and have them come up empty in the true biggest game of the year.
This just underscores how important it is to win your division. Before the Wild Card team would be able to just get into a series in the NLDS but now the one game playoff gives you extra reason to win the division and not have to worry about playing a one-and-done game. The Pirates season might be a lot different if they can finish ahead of the Cardinals but instead they are watching the Giants play in the NLDS as I am typing this. They were so close to winning the division and it just makes you sit back and wonder what might have been if one of those bounces go a different way in a lot of those close losses this year.
One non-baseball thing I wanted to touch on before I close here is that the atmosphere at PNC Park was awesome. Things kind of got bad in the fourth inning with the grand slam but the buzz in the stadium pre-game was pretty awesome. I wasn't able to get to the park last year but this year that place was nuts for the pre-game introductions and for the first three innings. I stayed for the entire game just to take everything in and maybe one of the coolest things happened in the ninth inning. Russell Martin is no guarantee to come back next year and he is going to cash in when free agency starts. After he got out (can't remember how) in his final at bat the entire stadium gave him a standing ovation. He tipped his cap as he walked into the dugout and then a "resign Russ" chant started. While I don't think that will have even the slightest, minuscule, reason as to whether he does or doesn't come back to Pittsburgh it was really cool to be there with a half full stadium sounding as loud as a full stadium for a guy that the Pirates got for pennies on the dollar a few years ago. When he was signed for the two year, $17M deal there were a lot of people not on board thanks to the fact that he hit .211 with the Yankees a year prior. After two years you can say that outside of Andrew McCutchen he was the most valuable Pirate. Please come back Russ.
I haven't really read too much about the game, and season, since the game was over but I really hope this doesn't dampen how good the Pirates season was. A lot of people saw last season as some type of fluke and while the Pirates probably weren't 94 wins good in 2013 they were still a good baseball team. Making the playoffs this year, even thought it was just a wild card, gives some validity of what is going on in the organization and while the Reds and Brewers look to be weak you can make a pretty good argument that the Pirates, Cardinals, and Cubs (maybe?) will be in contention next year for playoff spots. The ending to the season wasn't what everyone wanted but making the playoffs in baseball, which takes only 33% of teams in the playoffs, and after 162 games you get a pretty good idea of how good teams are. The Pirates were good. Despite some serious challenges and injuries the Pirates brushed it off and got 88 wins and went to the playoffs for consecutive seasons. This team is going to be fun to watch in coming years and while there are things that need done (which I won't get into here) there should be some optimism about this franchise going forward.
I think that is all I have. I have no idea. There are still a lot of things going through my mind about this season that I am not sure where to start. I hope to have some end of season throughs up over the next week or so but who knows.
Thanks to everyone who read this year and came to TRBB. This is what baseball is supposed to be about and it's fun to come here and write about it and talk to a bunch of different people on Twitter. Next year is a new year and hopefully it comes with a Pirates division title.