SAN FRANCISCO — One of these days, one of these years, one of these decades, it’s going to hit them. One of these days, one of these years, one of these decades, these miracle workers disguised as the San Francisco Giants are going to have that moment of clarity when they realize that what they keep doing shouldn’t be possible.
But apparently, that day isn’t this day. That year isn’t this year. And that decade definitely isn’t this decade.
Ten times in their past three October appearances, the Giants have headed for six different ballparks in three different time zones, knowing a loss would end their season. So what are the odds of winning, say, seven of those games? Or eight? Or nine?
Well, I’ll tell you one thing. They might be greater than the odds of Pablo Sandoval winning the Olympic 100-meter final. But they’re a piece of cake, compared to the odds of doing what the Giants did this time — on a remarkable Monday evening at AT&T Park, in Game 3 of the National League Division Series.
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On this night, they didn’t just win their (gulp) 10th postseason elimination game in a row, wriggling past the Chicago Cubs 6-5 in a game that ended at close to 3 a.m. back in the groggy confines of the Eastern time zone. No sir. On this night, what the Giants won was a 5-hour, 4-minute, 13-inning ride on the postseason Ferris wheel.
They were down. They were up. They were dead. They were alive. They were queasy. They were euphoric. Sometimes all in the same inning.
But in the end, they did what they always do in games like this — namely, make the impossible once again feel not just possible, but practically normal.
“When you’re still playing, you’ve got a chance,” Hunter Pence said as the clock ticked toward 1 a.m. Pacific time in a nearly deserted clubhouse. “So there’s no impossible.”
Pence is one of five members of this team who has played in every one of those 10 elimination games. The others are first baseman Brandon Belt, shortstop Brandon Crawford, outfielder Gregor Blanco and, of course, the Derek Jeter of his generation, catcher Buster Posey.
If the producers of “Survivor” ever decide it’s time to cast a season of “Survivor: Bay Area,” then “we have a lot of candidates,” joked general manager Bobby Evans. “They’d have a tough time paring it down.”
Joe Panik’s double in the 13th inning beat the Cubs in Game 3 of the NLDS. EPA/MONICA M. DAVEY
What these men have experienced, what they’ve shared, what they’ve accomplished, is almost as hard to comprehend as it is to actually pull off. So no wonder that on this latest, greatest night of performing their regularly scheduled postseason magic show, they struggled to find the words to describe what they’d just experienced. Again.
“You know, I use the word ‘unbelievable’ way too much,” Belt said. “But it really is unbelievable.”
It’s hard for these guys to remember all these games, let alone rank them. But how could we not ask them where this particular game ranked, seeing as how it contained about 11 different moments that would have caused the average human heart to explode.
“Boy,” Crawford said, after scoring the winning run, “it’s right up there. But Game 7 of the World Series [in 2014] was pretty good, also.”
Oh, OK. We’ll allow them to rank that one ahead of the rest, considering it led them all the way to the parade floats. This game, on the other hand, was just their latest survival act — another desperate, gut-spilling effort to avoid being told it was time to go home.
It began with the incomprehensible sight of Jake Arrieta launching a three-run home run off Mr. October himself, Madison Bumgarner — the first home run Bumgarner had ever served up to any pitcher. It ended with Joe Panik becoming the first second baseman to deliver a walk-off hit in an elimination game since (who else?) Bill Mazeroski.
In between, there was the just-not-possible procession of three consecutive Giants left-handed hitters reaching base in the eighth to hang a blown save on Aroldis Chapman … and a stunning, game-tying, two-run, ninth-inning home run that skipped off the top of a car billboard by the Cubs’ Kris Bryant … and a sprinting, sprawling, game-saving, ninth-inning Web Gem by Cubs right fielder Albert Almora Jr. … and a controversial replay review that left 43,571 people in shock … and yet another incredible, out-of-the-blue lightning bolt by this October’s least likely hero, Conor Gillaspie — a go-ahead, eighth-inning triple off a 101 mph Chapman flameball that was the hardest pitch Gillaspie had ever seen whooshing toward him in his career.
But in the end, you know what this was? It was just the San Francisco Giants, doing what they do: living to play October baseball for at least one more day.
“This,” Evans said, “was the kind of game you really dream about.”
He thought back to the moment in his own life when he realized that postseason baseball was something so fantastic, so dramatic and often so downright improbable that it produced memories that stick with you for a lifetime. That happened back in 1975, when he was 6 years old and Carlton Fisk lofted a home run toward the Green Monster in Fenway that hasn’t stopped flying through that night — for four glorious decades.
“And now,” the GM said, “you have to pinch yourself to think you’re here watching all these historic performances over these last seven years, and realizing these guys are getting all these big hits, pitching these big innings, making these great plays, in equally tough situations — some to get you to the World Series, some of them actually in the World Series. . . . And it’s just hard to imagine you’re living it right now.”
Oh, but they’re living it, all right. Over three different Octobers. One sensational Houdini act after another.
No baseball team, before they came along, had ever won 10 postseason elimination games in a row. And only one team, in any of the four major professional sports, has won more of these games than this. That would be a team of legends — the 1959-67 Boston Celtics, who won 11 in a row, in a very different sport and a very different time.
But in this sport? In this time? It’s a feat of outrageous magnitude. Just to give you some perspective, have you heard of those mighty New York Yankees? They’ve done a lot of winning in October, right? Word of that has probably reached you. But they’ve won just 11 of their past 25 postseason elimination games — a stretch that goes back 40 years.
These San Francisco Giants, on the other hand, have done this just over the past four years — and still have nine players on the roster who have been a part of this cast for all of it.
“I’ll tell you,” Pence said, exuding the sort of glow that makes you understand why people play sports in the first place. “It’s just awesome playing with these guys. … We just keep each moment and each day, and get out there and play to chase our dreams.”
Those dreams, for this year, will still require a whole lot of chasing, because all this emotional night had done for them was allow them to show up to play Game 4 on Tuesday. But that doesn’t mean what just happened, on their own little field of dreams, wasn’t worth savoring.
Ten consecutive wins, in games in which winning was the only option? Tell us how that is possible. Seriously. How?
“You know what? I don’t know,” Crawford said. “But hopefully, we can find out again tomorrow.”