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Wild Card Games: It’s about the pitcher, not the stadium

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 05: Madison Bumgarner

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 05: Madison Bumgarner #40 of the San Francisco Giants looks on against the New York Mets during their National League Wild Card game at Citi Field on October 5, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Photo Credit: Getty Images / Al Bello

From start to finish, Madison Bumgarner provided the latest proof for why home field is just about meaningless in a Wild Card Game.

With his second four-hit shutout in two tries, Bumgarner showed that the important thing is not where the game is played but who is on the mound.

With the Giants’ 3-0 victory at Citi Field on Wednesday night, visiting teams are 7-3 in the one-game playoff showdowns in the five years since Major League Baseball instituted the format. It is no coincidence that five of those seven victories were shutouts, including the past three National League games, two by Bumgarner.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy said on Tuesday, when he was asked about the lack of home-field advantage, “I can’t give you an answer to that. It was loud in Pittsburgh [in 2014]. You’d much rather have it as your home game.”

Then he added the pertinent point: “But I really think it’s up to the guy on the mound. He sets the tone. What happens in that game is how well your guy is pitching.”

Both starters were exceptional on Wednesday. Bumgarner just lasted two innings longer than Noah Syndergaard did. He was dominant, as he had been on the road against the Pirates two years ago and as visitors Jake Arrieta and Dallas Keuchel were last year against the Pirates and Yankees, respectively. The results show that teams would be better off getting their rotations in line so that the ace is prepared for the one-game “series” rather than pushing to earn the best record and a home date.

The atmosphere at Citi Field was relentlessly loud, at least as intense as any game in the 2015 World Series. But the passion could not help the Mets get a run home.

“You can’t go out there and pitch scared, like you’re afraid to give up that home run,” Bumgarner said after another unflappable complete-game performance. “You’ve got to throw every pitch with conviction and believe it’s the right one and just try to execute it. I mean, that’s really it.”

One thing that does come with the home field is the manager’s right to make a routine decision about when to use a closer in a tie game. It is common for the home side to call on him in the top of the ninth on the rationale that there will be no need for a save if a run scores in the bottom of the ninth. The Blue Jays did that on Tuesday and Terry Collins did it on Wednesday. Although it did not work out for the latter, the Mets manager did not receive the welter of criticism aimed at Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who never did use closer Zach Britton in the 11-inning road loss Tuesday.

“Buck was in a tough spot,” Collins said before the Mets Wild Card Game. “If he uses him in the 10th, [Britton] is liable to get out of a jam, then if the game goes 13, they finally score, who is he going to run out there? Then he’s going to be criticized for using his closer in a tie game.

“It’s just the nature of the game. [Buck] is one of the best if not the best in baseball, in my opinion, of running a game. So I feel bad he’s being heavily criticized because he knows what he’s doing.”

Commissioner Rob Manfred said Wednesday that he would prefer not switching to a best-of-three format. “I’m a huge fan of the one-game Wild Card Games. I think it is very positive for the game in terms of getting our playoffs off to the most exciting start possible. Fans love knockout games and I think it’s important never to lose sight of the fact it’s about what the fans like.”


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