In the end, all the debate about whether Clint Hurdle should have pitched Gerrit Cole or Edinson Volquez didn’t really matter all that much. Not when Madison Bumgarner left the Pirates bats silent inning after inning, striking out 10 and walking one in a complete game four-hitter that was . . . impressive. What the Pirates needed was someone with the stuff and ability to keep the Giants scoreless, and if that was the criteria then Volquez was as good a choice as anyone, entering the game with an 18-inning scoreless streak. Cole, who has the stuff to overpower an opposing lineup, has just one outing in 2014 where he’d tossed up repeated zeroes, a five inning affair on July 4th.
Volquez escaped trouble in the second, only to hang a curve to Brandon Crawford in the fourth, and there was the game as Travis Snider watched the ball sail over his head into the right-field stands. Grand slam. 4-0. A hanging curve from Volquez isn’t anything new, though at the time he hadn’t left anything sitting middle of the plate like he’ll occasionally do. I thought his breaking ball looked sharp, if not particularly hitting its marks, and prior to the home run it looked as though Crawford was a little overmatched in that at-bat. So much for my thoughts of Crawford punch out. Give the Giants batters some credit, though. They stayed away from those Volquez pitches in the dirt, making the righty work. Making perfect pitches repeatedly is a grind that can just about wear anyone down.
Sometimes I wonder what it must be like for a pitcher to face Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence back-to-back. Sandoval fouls off quality pitches, swatting away balls inches off the plate with a practiced ease until he finds one to his liking. What’s the bonus for making your pitch, getting Sandoval to swing at one that he has no business hitting? The good fortune to do it all over again. Then there’s Pence with his frenetic stance, nearly hopping up and down enough to make a person dizzy, and his batting zone is the general plate area, from the boundaries of each batter’s box to about a foot over his head. Ask Jordan Zimmermann about throwing Pence a fastball eyeball level. Pence will just drive it over the fence. Navigating through the Giants lineup must be equal parts mental frustration and physical exhaustion.
Maybe if Volquez doesn’t hang one, the Giants don’t score and the frenzied Pittsburgh fans rattle Bumgarner. The home run took the crowd out of it, and Bumgarner kept the Pirates from ever bringing them back in. Maybe a healthy hamstring helps Russell Martin beat out his bunt, and the Pirates get to Bumgarner in the bottom half of the fourth. Or, maybe it’s more telling of how well Bumgarner was pitching that the Bucs cleanup hitter thought a bunt was a good idea in the first place.
Regardless, it’s the Giants that are moving on to face the Nationals on Friday while the Pirates begin plans for 2015. Can they resign Martin? What will they do with Pedro Alvarez? For the love of God, what are they going to do about first base? Please tell me that Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez aren’t the answer.
While I’m glad that I might possibly see the brilliance that is Tanner Roark dominate once more on the West Coast, I’m sad to see the Bucs eliminated. After 162 games, a one-game playoff for everything just seems unnecessarily cruel.