In his brief tenure with the Giants, Matt Moore has run hot and cold. He’s allowed six earned runs in an inning-plus in one start and completed the first 26 outs of a no-hitter in another, with the full range of outcomes in between. But this one streaky starter, his bushwhacked bullpen, and a lineup of spare parts had to beat the Chicago Cubs in order to win the Giants’ 11th straight elimination game and force a Game 5 in the NLDS. If Even Year Bullshit is for us, who can be against us? Apart from Joe Maddon’s perfect killing machine.
In the playoffs, managers don’t have long to take their starters’ temperature. The stakes are so high that unless you’re Clayton Kershaw or Madison Bumgarner, or unless you’re throwing a shutout, there’s no guarantee you’ll even last long enough to record the win. But Moore pitched the game of his life when his team needed him most; he danced around a David Ross homer in the third and a Brandon Crawford throwing error in the fifth, and thanks in part to a bases-loaded, two-out single of his own creation, he came out for the sixth inning up 5–2.
That’s curtains for a no. 4 starter under anything resembling normal circumstances in a must-win game, but Giants manager Bruce Bochy, like a craps player with a $500 stake and $100,000 in overdue mortgage payments, let it ride. Moore, the 27-year-old Marton Csokas lookalike with the surgically repaired elbow, delivered in the sixth. In the seventh he held the Cubs scoreless again, finishing the inning on his 106th pitch.
Surely Bochy would call for a reliever then, six outs from erasing a 2–0 series deficit despite a lackluster start from Bumgarner, thanks to a run of luck that can most succinctly be done justice by the words “Conor Gillaspie went 4-for-4.” But Bochy didn’t cash out. He pressed his luck, and a tiring Moore got three more outs, two by strikeout, then finally exited the game after 120 pitches.
It might not seem like this when the Cubs can run out such a stacked lineup, or when the season hangs in the balance, but a three-run lead with three outs to get is nearly insurmountable. (My exact words at the time were: “Sergio Romo’s gotta be able to get a three-run, three-out save. I mean, if he’s not what are you even doing there?”) The Giants entered the top of the ninth as 39–1 favorites to advance to Game 5, where after sweating through their pajamas for 13 innings on Monday and tottering over the line on Tuesday, they’d rest a day, then toss Johnny Cueto, backed up in all likelihood by Bumgarner, in a decisive contest on Thursday.
But it turns out that what caused Bochy to leave Moore in for eight innings was not a fatal case of tight butthole but the height of wisdom, because in those waning hours of innocence, we truly did not knew what tight butthole was.
The Cubs came back to win the game 6–5 and the series 3–1, which was shocking enough considering how it had been 30 years since a team erased a three-run deficit in the ninth inning to clinch a postseason series. It was all the more stunning because it happened as quickly as it did: Pitching change, four pitches, single. Pitching change, six pitches, walk. Pitching change, five pitches, RBI double. Pitching change, three pitches, two-run single, one pitch, fielder’s choice, throwing error. Pitching change, three pitches, RBI single, two pitches, inning-ending double play.
In moments, with a triumphant slurp as buttholes tightened across the nation, the Cubs got it all back. If Bochy hadn’t interrupted play to substitute so many times the Giants would’ve gone from near-certain victory to season-ending defeat — erasing Moore’s heroics, Gillaspie’s Brian Doyle act, the looming Cueto, and the joking-not-joking musical and metaphysical subplots — in the time it takes to listen to “Bat Out of Hell.”
I’ll come out and say it — I was rooting for the Giants in this series. Not out of dislike for the Cubs, who are by any rational measure the best team in baseball this year. They’re run by smart people and their roster is populated by and large with impossibly skilled, fun players.
But if they win the World Series, it means that if a franchise has enough money and a national brand and hires the best front office and the best manager and nails every high draft pick and every high-profile free-agent signing, it’ll win, no matter what curses stand in its way.
Maddon and Theo Epstein breaking the 108-year hex on the Cubs would feel like the apotheosis of sabermetrics, the final triumph of empiricism over hokum, and proof of concept that there’s no bogeyman we can’t outsmart.
The Epstein coalition isn’t the first to take on this Apollo program of metaphysical conquest, but we’ve accepted as a baseball culture that it’s a realistic possibility that they’ll succeed. To assault the biggest spiritual curse in American sports and even contemplate victory before it’s in hand feels hubristic, a rebuke to our shared history and mythology on the scale of the Tower of Babel. Without that mythology, baseball is merely throwing darts at a bell curve — it’s Yahtzee with a better literary tradition.
So when the best team in years, backed by unfathomable financial and intellectual wealth, came up against a fatally flawed opponent in line to take its fourth turn in seven years atop the medal stand, I wanted God to smite the humans for their arrogance, destroying their prized monument to themselves and scattering them to the four corners of the earth, unable to even understand each other’s speech. I wanted this to happen with such ferocity that their leader’s name became as much a synonym for idiocy as Nimrod is today.
And for all the Cubs’ hubris, it almost happened. You could start to smell blood in the water as the Cubs came up empty against Moore inning after inning. Because there’s no butthole as tight as the one on the team that thinks it’s conquered the spectral realm but doesn’t quite know for sure.
But it didn’t happen, and now the Cubs are eight wins away from killing God. FiveThirtyEight says they’ve got a 39 percent chance of pulling it off, but what if they do? Once you kill God, what’s next?