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Bumgarner too much for Pittsburgh bats

PITTSBURGH – Pun intended, the performance of San Francisco Giants ace left-hander Madison Bumgarner was expected to be the wild-card factor in the National League wild-card play-in game Wednesday night at PNC Park.

And Bumgarner, a playoff and World Series veteran at the age of 25, more than lived up to his share of the bargain, shackling the Pirates’ potent offense in a complete-game, four-hit shutout in which he struck out 10 batters.

But it was shortstop Brandon Crawford who proved to be the Giants’ ace in the hole, crushing a tide-turning grand slam home run into the right-field bleachers in the top of the fourth inning that took the raucous PNC Park-record crowd of 40, 629 out of the game early, and provided the springboard to an 8-0 San Francisco victory.

The Giants, who lost home-field advantage to the Pirates for this game in the final weeks of the regular season, will advance to the National League Division Series against the National League East Division champion Washington Nationals this weekend in Washington.

The Pirates, making their second consecutive playoff appearance after winning last season’s wild-card game at home over the Cincinnati Reds and extending the St. Louis Cardinals to a full five games in the division series, saw their 2014 postseason aspirations end with one swing of Crawford’s bat.

Crawford drove a 1-2 breaking ball from Pirates’ right-handed starter Edinson Volquez into the short-porch bleachers in right field with the bases loaded in the fourth inning to give the Giants a 4-0 cushion and take the wind out of the Pirates’ sails.

“I actually got jammed a little bit, but I got enough of it that I got it over the fence,” said Crawford as champagne flowed freely in the Giants’ postgame locker-room celebration. “I was able to square it up and still hit it pretty good.”

The Giants broke open a scoreless game in matter of minutes. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval – a free agent at season’s end who likely played his last game in a San Francisco uniform – started the uprising with a single to right field, and advanced to second when Hunter Pence bounced a single through the hole and into left.

After Brandon Belt walked to load the bases, Crawford – who also hit a grand-slam homer in his major-league debut back in 2011 against the Milwaukee Brewers – launched his torpedo shot that helped give Bumgarner and the Giants, winners of World Series championships in both 2010 and 2012, a strong leg up on the win.

“Madison is consistent, and we’re confident when he’s out there,” Crawford said of Bumgarner. “He’s a bulldog, and we know that he’s going to give 110 percent.”

Bumgarner, who will be a Cy Young Award candidate this offseason, posted an 18-10 record with a 2.98 earned run average during the regular season.

The Pirates, whose .259 team batting average and 682 runs scored ranked them fourth in the National League during the regular season, could never get untracked offensively against Bumgarner.

“Me and [catcher] Buster Posey had to be on the same page, and we had a good game plan and felt good about it tonight,” Bumgarner said. “My command was good.”

Giants manager Bruce Bochy realizes the gem that he has in Bumgarner.

“It’s a tough place to play here in Pittsburgh, but we all feel that he’s one of the best left-handers in the game,” Bochy said of Bumgarner. “He was battle-tested at an early age. He just looked very determined tonight.”

The Pirates’ biggest threat came in the eighth inning, after the Giants had built an 8-0 lead against the Pirates’ bullpen.

The Pirates put runners on first and second with one out, courtesy of two San Francisco errors and Josh Harrison’s second hit of the night, a bunt single. But Bumgarner struck out Jordy Mercer and got Andrew McCutchen to ground into a forceout to keep the Pirates off the board.

Pirates catcher Russell Martin, who was the heart of the Bucs’ playoff teams in each of the past two seasons, saluted Bumgarner’s effort.

“It definitely wasn’t the way I wanted it to end, but you have to give credit where credit is due,” said Martin, who will be a free agent this offseason and may or may not re-sign with the Pirates. “Bumgarner was fantastic. He never took his foot off the pedal.”

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, wrapping up his fourth season with the club, also congratulated the Giants.

“I want to congratulate them – they’re a good ballclub,” Hurdle said. “They were a better ballclub than we were tonight. We finished short, but we emptied the bucket for our fans every night that we played.”

The Pirates made the playoffs for the second straight season, but the postseaon ended all too soon.

“In one game, it’s all magnified,” Pirates second baseman Neil Walker said. “We had one of the best records in baseball after May, but the end of the season is never fun.”

Game notes: Brandon Belt’s RBI single in the sixth inning and two-run single in the seventh inning cushioned the Giants’ lead to 7-0, and San Francisco added another run in the eighth inning on Posey’s RBI single Sandoval and right-fielder Pence both made outstanding defensive catches on foul fly balls in a night that was all Giants.

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