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Giants walk off in the 13th inning to keep playoff hopes alive

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Game 3 between the Cubs and Giants was a wild one. And a long one. It was a 13-inning affair that ultimately ended in a 6-5 walk-off victory for the Giants, helping stave off elimination in the NLDS.

Cubs starter Jake Arrieta got the action started early, blasting a three-run home run off of Giants starter Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner had never, in his career entering Monday night, allowed the opposing pitcher to homer. And he’d homered 14 times off of pitchers himself. But Arrieta changed that right quick, putting the Cubs up 3-0 in the second inning.

The Giants fought back for a run against Arrieta in the bottom of the third thanks to a Buster Posey RBI single. They tacked on one more in the fifth on a Brandon Belt sacrifice fly. It would remain a 3-2 game until the bottom of the eighth inning.

Cubs reliever Hector Rondon started the bottom of the eighth, but allowed a leadoff single to Brandon Belt followed by a walk to Buster Posey, prompting manager Joe Maddon to call on closer Aroldis Chapman for a six-out save. Chapman struck out Pence, seeming like he’d have no trouble escaping the jam. But Conor Gillaspie strode to the plate, the hero of the NL Wild Card game against the Mets. Gillaspie, you may recall, hit a three-run home run in the ninth inning to break a scoreless tie in that one.

Here’s what seemed to be the problem for the Giants: Chapman, historically, owned left-handed hitters, holding them to a .393 OPS (!) over his career. Gillaspie, historically, struggled against lefty pitchers, mustering a .523 OPS over his career. The odds were certainly in Chapman’s favor. And yet, Gillaspie laced a line drive to the gap in right-center field, a foot out of the reach of a diving Albert Almora, Jr., allowing Belt and Posey to score, giving the Giants a 4-3 lead. According to FanGraphs, the Giants’ probability of winning jumped from 26 percent entering the inning to 92 percent after Gillaspie’s triple.

Chapman continued to struggle, as Brandon Crawford singled up the middle to bring Gillaspie home to make it a 5-3 game. Crawford then stole second base and advanced to third base on a throwing error by catcher Willson Contreras. Chapman finished off the at-bat by walking Joe Panik before Maddon came out to the mound to bring in Justin Grimm. To recap: against Chapman, a feared lefty-killer, lefty Gillaspie hits a two-run triple, lefty Crawford hits an RBI single, lefty Panik walks. Baseball. Grimm escaped the inning, inducing consecutive ground outs from Gregor Blanco and Gorkys Hernandez.

The Giants were three outs from moving onto Game 4 with their NLCS hopes still alive, but that meant trusting their infamous bullpen. As ESPN’s David Schoenfield notes, the Giants’ 30 blown saves in 2016 were the most by any playoff team since saves became official in 1969. So in the top of the ninth, Sergio Romo walked leadoff batter Dexter Fowler. Kris Bryant then yanked a slider out to left field that just barely went over the fence, tying the game at five apiece. Romo was able to get through the rest of the ninth with no further damage. He worked a scoreless 10th as well.

The game would remain 5-5 until the bottom of the 13th inning. Lefty Mike Montgomery, entering his fifth inning of work, allowed a leadoff double to Brandon Crawford. That was followed by another double by Joe Panik to plate the winning run.

Game 4 of the NLDS between these two teams begins at 8:30 PM on Tuesday evening. The Cubs’ John Lackey will oppose the Giants’ Matt Moore at AT&T Park.

Nats’ success shouldn’t be about Bryce Harper

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Bryce Harper turns 27 years old today. As an early birthday present, he got to watch his former team reach the World Series for the first time in franchise history. His new team finished exactly at .500 in fourth place, missing the playoffs. These were facts that did not go unnoticed as the Nationals completed an NLCS sweep of the Cardinals at home last night.

Harper spent seven seasons with the Nationals before hitting free agency and ultimately signing with the Phillies on a 13-million, $330 million contract. The Nationals offered Harper a 10-year, $300 million contract at the end of the 2018 regular season, but about $100 million of that was deferred until he was 65 which lowered the present-day value of the offer. The Nats’ offer wasn’t even in the same ballpark, really.

Nevertheless, Nationals fans were upset that their prodigy jilted them to go to the Phillies. He was mercilessly booed whenever the Phillies played in D.C. Nats fans’ Harper jerseys were destroyed, or at least taped over.

Harper, of course, was phenomenal with the Nationals. He won the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2012, then won the NL MVP Award several years later with an historically outstanding 1.109 OPS while leading the league with 42 homers and 118 runs scored. Overall, as a National, he had a .900 OPS. Pretty good. He was also productive in the postseason, posting an .801 OPS across 19 games, mostly against playoff teams’ best starters and best relievers. Furthermore, if the Nats had Harper this year, he would have been in right field in lieu of Adam Eaton. Harper out OPS’d Eaton by 90 points and posted 2.5 more WAR in a similar amount of playing time. The Nationals would have been even better if they had Harper this year.

The Nationals lost all four Division Series they appeared in during the Harper era. 3-2 to the Cardinals in 2012, 3-1 to the Giants in ’14, 3-2 to the Dodgers in ’16, and 3-2 to the Cubs in ’17. They finally get over the hump the first year they’re without Harper, that’s the difference, right? I saw the phrase “addition by subtraction” repeatedly last night, referring to Harper and the Nats’ subsequent success without him.

Harper, though, didn’t fork over four runs to the Cardinals in the top of the ninth inning in Game 5 in 2012. He didn’t allow the Dodgers to rally for four runs in the seventh inning of Game 5 in ’16 before ultimately losing 4-3. He didn’t use a gassed Max Scherzer in relief in 2017’s Game 5, when he allowed five of the seven Cubs he faced to reach base, leading to three runs which loomed large in a 9-8 loss. If certain rolls of the dice in those years had gone the Nationals’ way, they would have appeared in the NLCS. They might’ve even been able to win a World Series.

The Nationals saw how that looks this year. It was the opposing manager this time, Dave Roberts, who mismanaged his bullpen. Howie Kendrick then hit a tie-breaking grand slam in the 10th inning off of Joe Kelly to win the NLDS for the Nats. The playoffs are random. Sometimes a ball bounces your way, sometimes an umpire’s call goes your way, and sometimes the opposing manager makes several unforced errors to throw Game 5 in your lap.

Reaching the World Series, then thumbing your nose while sticking out your tongue at Harper feels like a guy tagging his ex-girlfriend on his new wedding photos. It’s time to move on.