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Klapisch: No shame for Mets in falling to Madison Bumgarner

October 6, 2016 GMT

NEW YORK – Mets fans who’d like nothing more than to nuke Jeurys Familia should exhale slowly and appreciate the near-historic quality of the 3-0 loss to the Giants Wednesday. Sure, it stings, and the entire franchise is disappointed today. But the Mets played a brilliant game only to come up short against baseball’s greatest postseason pitcher. Losing to Madison Bumgarner in October is no crime; it’s almost a prophecy.

You want to focus on the lousy sinker Familia threw to Conor Gillaspie in the ninth inning, the one that ended up sailing over the wall in right-center? Fair enough: Familia’s mistake turned into a three-run HR and ended the Mets’ season. The Giants advance to the Division Series against the Cubs and the Mets go home to figure out what went wrong.

But it’s not like they’ll spend the winter in anguish. To the contrary, the Mets made peace with their effort against Bumgarner, who was so good he lowered his road ERA in the postseason to a 0.50. That’s insane. That’s inhuman. But even more impressive was how Bumgarner hung in while Noah Syndergaard destroyed the Giants over seven innings – two hits, 10 strikeouts, 21 swings and misses.

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Buster Posey was right when he said Thor was, “unhittable, almost unreal.” But Bumgarner waited him out. The Giants managed to run up Syndergaard’s pitch count to 105, enough to get into the Mets’ bullpen in the eighth. Bumgarner? He was still on the mound in the ninth, retiring the Mets 1-2-3 to clinch the wild-card spot for the team that never, ever chokes.

The Giants have won 11 straight postseason series, extending the longest stretch in National League history and tying them with the 1998-2001 Yankees for the major league mark. You can say Bruce Bochy is a tactical genius and you wouldn’t be far from the truth. Call the Giants baseball’s most disciplined hitters and that’d be accurate too. But these axioms are dwarfed by Bumgarner, who’s both talented and fearless and proved it again on Wednesday.

It didn’t matter the noise level at Citi Field was close to primal, or that Syndergaard came out throwing 99-mph fastballs with a 93-mph slider. Gillaspie would later say, “[Syndergaard] has some of the best stuff I’ve ever seen.” None of the Giants would disagree. Thor didn’t allow a hit until the sixth inning and even then, it was a moral victory for the Giants to make contact.

Remember: they were the NL’s toughest hitters to fan in 2016, yet Syndergaard embarrassed them. Most opponents would’ve shriveled under such a relentless attack – fastballs at the knees, on the corners, never in the middle of the plate. He’d fix that million-mile stare at you and, at two strikes, you were as good as dead. Yet, the Giants knew Bumgarner would match Syndergaard inning for inning, zero for zero.

“There was calmness in our dugout,” is what Posey said. “We just knew in the next half-inning [after Syndergaard] we’d still have a chance.”

The Giants may have looked bad against Thor, but all those strikeouts exacted their toll. So did the three walks they drew. The big right-hander was gassed after the seventh, leaving Collins no choice but to summon Addison Reed for the eighth and then Familia in the ninth.

These were the right moves; there’s no room for second-guessing. Collins used the same playbook that netted the Mets the majors’ best record after Aug. 20. From Reed to Familia, power backed up by power. All the Mets had to do was score one run and hand the lead to their closer who’d already saved 51 games this season.

But nothing worked against Bumgarner. When T.J. Rivera led off the fifth with a double, Jay Bruce couldn’t get him to third, striking out instead. The mini rally ending up evaporating. When Asdrubal Cabrera drew a one-out walk in the sixth, Yoenis Cespedes, mired in a three-week slump, struck out, too. Another wasted chance, another scoreless inning.

Bumgarner worked all four quadrants of the strike zone – up and down, in and out. With that huge leg-kick and long, sweeping delivery, the Mets seemed out of sync all night. And in the one instance when someone actually squared up on Bumgarner’s fastball, when Cabrera smoked a line drive up the middle with Ty Kelly on second base in the eighth, Bumgarner calmly snared it on a fly.

That should’ve told the Mets the fates had abandoned them once and for all. Bumgarner was right when he said, “I don’t know where [shortstop Brandon] Crawford was, but if that gets by me, it’s a good chance it puts a run on the board for [the Mets].”

That was the Mets last gasp for 2016. In the ninth, Familia made his 79th appearance of the season, a career-high, and as only a shell of himself. He allowed Crawford a leadoff double to left; the Mets must’ve sensed trouble. Familia’s signature sinker was ineffective from the moment he took the mound, moving either too little or too much, bouncing in the dirt. Familia paid for his sinker’s shortcomings, allowing Gillaspie’s massive home run moments later.

To say the Mets were stunned barely describes their reaction. Familia himself said, “I tip my hat,” to Gillaspie. “It’s not my first time. I know those things are going to happen sometimes.”

The crowd was equally numb. After the final out, the ballpark was so quiet you could hear the Giants’ individual voices as they mobbed each other on the mound. The fans filed out quickly, like they were running from a bad dream.

Still, it would be a mistake to see the Mets as failures. Not against a dangerous October entity like the Giants, certainly not against a machine like Bumgarner. Bruce said, even in defeat, “that [game] epitomized playoff baseball.”

He’s right: October’s drama is the ultimate heartbreaker: one lousy sinker, one huge swing, one surprise home run that sends the Giants deeper into the postseason and the Mets straight to 2017 where they’ll start all over.