Coun­try hard­ball in the big city

It’s Bum­gar­ner vs. Syn­der­gaard in wild-card game tonight

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Mike Fitz­patrick

Bright lights, big city, ol’ coun­try hard­ball.

Madi­son Bum­gar­ner against Noah Syn­der­gaard with the sea­son on the line. A pair of tow­er­ing tough guys you prob­a­bly don’t want to mess with.

Play­off pitch­ing matchups don’t get much bet­ter.

Tot­ing his out­stand­ing Oc­to­ber re­sume to the mound, Bum­gar­ner will start for the San Fran­cisco Gi­ants against Syn­der­gaard and the New York Mets in the NL wild-card game tonight.

The win­ner moves on to face the ma­jor league-best Chicago Cubs (103-58) in a best-of-five Divi­sion Se­ries. The loser heads home for the win­ter.

“It’s go­ing to be an ex­cit­ing game,” Gi­ants man­ager Bruce Bochy said Tues­day, when both teams worked out at Citi Field. “I mean, this is the fun thing about post­sea­son is you’re go­ing to get great matchups like this.” It took 162 games to set it up. San Fran­cisco, the top team in the ma­jors at the All-Star break, strug­gled badly through­out the sec­ond half be­fore fin­ish­ing with a fourgame win­ning streak. That was enough to hold off St. Louis by one game and se­cure the last NL play­off spot on the fi­nal day of the reg­u­lar sea­son.

New York, the de­fend­ing NL cham­pion, was two games un­der .500 on Aug. 19 af­ter los­ing con­sec­u­tive games in San Fran­cisco. But with slug­ger Yoe­nis Ce­s­pedes and short­stop As­drubal Cabr­era back from the dis­abled list, the Mets posted the top mark in the ma­jors (27-13) from that point on and jumped over four teams in the pen­nant race, book­ing their post­sea­son trip Satur­day with one game to spare.

Both teams fin­ished 87-75, and

New York earned home­field ad­van­tage by win­ning the sea­son se­ries 4-3.

“Good ma­jor league play­ers, when it comes crunch time, they turn it on,” Mets man­ager Terry Collins said. “So I’m not re­ally sure that mo­men­tum go­ing in means a whole lot. Both of us have had to play good at the end — we did.”

Citi Field should be rock­ing Wed­nes­day night, but

Bum­gar­ner, Bochy and the Gi­ants know all about ex­celling in elim­i­na­tion games and thriv­ing un­der post­sea­son pres­sure. Af­ter win­ning World Se­ries ti­tles in 2010, ‘12 and ‘14, they want to ex­tend their pat­tern of evenyear cham­pi­onships with another run through Oc­to­ber.

The last time Bum­gar­ner pitched in the post­sea­son, he saved Game 7 of the 2014 World Se­ries in Kansas City with five score­less in­nings on two days’ rest to cap one of the great­est post­sea­son per­for­mances

in base­ball his­tory. His 0.25 ERA in five ca­reer out­ings is the low­est for any pitcher with at least 25 in­nings in the Fall Clas­sic.

He was 15-9 with a 2.74 ERA and 251 strike­outs this sea­son.

“With us fin­ish­ing up the way we did, I feel re­ally, re­ally good about our chances,” Bum­gar­ner said.

The 6-foot-5, 250-pound lefty, born in Hick­ory, North Carolina, started San Fran­cisco’s play­off surge in the 2014 wild-card game by strik­ing out 10 in a fourhit shutout at Pitts­burgh — a sim­i­lar as­sign­ment to Wed­nes­day.

“We have been through this be­fore. We’ve been down this road. I like this wild-card thing,” Bochy said. “I love it. I have to. We have a ring be­cause of this wild card and have a chance now.”

The 24-year-old Syn­der­gaard, with long blond locks and the nick­name Thor, is no in­ex­pe­ri­enced sopho­more.

The 6-foot-6, 242-pound righty from Mans­field, Texas, joined Bum­gar­ner on the All-Star ros­ter this

sum­mer and went 14-9 with a 2.60 ERA and 218 strike­outs over 183 2/3 in­nings. Fea­tur­ing a 100 mph fast­ball, sharp slider and im­pres­sive con­trol of sev­eral sec­ondary pitches, he won a pair of post­sea­son starts last year — in­clud­ing Game 3 of the World Se­ries against the Roy­als.

In that one, Syn­der­gaard caught ev­ery­one’s at­ten­tion with his first pitch: a siz­zling fast­ball above the head of Kansas City lead­off man Al­cides Es­co­bar, who had been on a roll swing­ing at the ini­tial of­fer­ing.

“He’s not in­tim­i­dated by any­thing,” Collins said about Syn­der­gaard. “He’s not afraid. He wants to take charge. His stuff speaks for it­self. I think he’s grown as a pitcher. I think he trusts his stuff a lot more now.”

Syn­der­gaard, for his part, is ea­gerly an­tic­i­pat­ing Wed­nes­day night.

“It’s just a dream come true,” he said. “It’s go­ing to be re­ally ex­cit­ing and I’m look­ing for­ward to get­ting out there and feel­ing the en­ergy from the home­town crowd. Just hav­ing an awe­some time.”

JULIE JA­COB­SON — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

New York Mets start­ing pitch­ers Bar­tolo Colon, left, and Noah Syn­der­gaard (34) walk along the warn­ing track dur­ing work­outs for the Na­tional League wild-card base­ball game against the San Fran­cisco Gi­ants, Tues­day in New York.

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