Sarah's Take: Work ahead for Giants

After blowout of Bucs in NL Wild Card Game, tough Nationals await

Sarah's Take: Work ahead for Giants

Behind a brilliant performance by Madison Bumgarner, the Giants eliminated the Pirates in the win-or-go-home National League Wild Card Game on Wednesday night. On Friday, the Giants will face the Nationals, who posted the best regular-season record in the NL this year.

Since the beginning of the season, Bumgarner has dominated his opponents. While many believed Matt Cain would be the ace of the Giants' starting rotation, various injuries plagued Cain and ultimately spoiled his season. Bumgarner took over as the staff's No. 1 arm.

After an eight-pitch first inning, everyone knew Bumgarner was pitching marvelously, but I doubt many people thought he would pitch a complete game. He allowed only three hits, and the Pirates had few scoring opportunities. Coming into the postseason, the Pirates had played great, narrowly missing winning the NL Central title -- and before this game, most pundits expected a close one unless the Giants could not quiet the Pirates' offense, which after the All-Star break scored the most runs in the NL. With an eight-run lead, many people thought manager Bruce Bochy would replace Bumgarner in the ninth. Bumgarner used only eight pitches to close out the victory.

Since the Pirates earned their second consecutive playoff berth after having 20 consecutive losing seasons, the sell-out crowd at PNC Park was loud and enthusiastic. Joe Panik, the Giants' rookie second baseman, could not hear right fielder Hunter Pence over the crowd, and this resulted in a slight collision on a fly ball. The ball was caught, stomping out the Pirates' best chance of scoring.

Unless the Giants did something to silence the crowd, its enthusiasm may have propelled its team to victory. Edinson Volquez, one of the best pitchers in the NL after the All-Star break, breezed through the first three innings. But Volquez never had pitched in the postseason before, and it showed during the fourth inning. He let the Giants load the bases with no outs. Up stepped Brandon Crawford, who became the first shortstop in postseason history to hit a grand slam.

The grand slam silenced the crowd until the ninth inning when Russell Martin, who will become a free agent, made an out. For both years that Martin has played in Pittsburgh, the Pirates have gone to the playoffs. The crowd recognized how much he did for the team and city. Despite a hamstring injury that put him on the disabled list, Martin had his best offensive performance since 2007. Before Wednesday's game there were questions whether he could play because his hamstring flared up, which kept him out of the last two games of the regular season.

After hitting a ground ball to make the first out of the ninth, Martin received a standing ovation, and some fans chanted, "Russell Martin!" To show his gratitude for the crowd reaction, he tipped his batting helmet.

Since the beginning of 2010, the Giants have been to the postseason three times. Therefore, their postgame celebration was more subdued than normal, as they have their eyes on the NL Division Series against the Nationals. The Giants should be considered the underdogs; the Nationals had the most balanced team in the NL this year. However, for all the club's balance, the players don't have a lot of playoff experience, and this is something that the Giants can take advantage of. While they have had problems with their starting rotation and lost both Angel Pagan and Michael Morse during September, the Giants and Bochy understand what they need to do to win. Making the playoffs is awesome for the Nationals and first-year manager Matt Williams. This series will decide whether postseason experience or playing ability is more important.

Sarah D. Morris can be reached at This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.