SAN FRANCISCO -- Does anything happen in October anymore that makes any sense?
We've seen four Cy Young winners go 0-3, with a 6.67 ERA. We've seen the most power-challenged playoff team since the '70s (your 95-homer Kansas City Royals) turn into the '61 Yankees. And now this:
The winning run of a win-or-go-fishing postseason game scores on a bunt. With two strikes. By a guy who hadn't laid down a sacrifice bunt in more than three years. And it ends a 22-inning October scoreless streak by a pitcher who, by fielding that bunt and then throwing it halfway to Sausalito, allows a postseason run to score against him for the first time in two years, four series and a span of 81 hitters.
Uh, yeah, sure. Of course it did.
"If you'd told me before the game that that was going to happen, I'd have called you crazy," said Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard, after one of the wildest, nuttiest October bunt plays ever had turned this National League Division Series into a whole different animal. "But that's what makes postseason baseball so much fun."
Well, right he is. And now, the fun in this NLDS might just be beginning, after the Nationals' 4-1 Game 3 win over the Giants on Monday, at turbocharged AT&T Park.
All of a sudden, the Nationals are now down two games to one, and find themselves a game away from evening up this series. And they'll have one of their hottest pitchers (Gio Gonzalez) starting Tuesday, against a guy (Ryan Vogelsong) who went 0-4, with a 5.53 ERA, in September.
So it's possible that when Madison Bumgarner heaved Wilson Ramos' shocking seventh-inning bunt past third base Monday afternoon, he might have done more than change one baseball game. He might have changed this whole series.
"That," said the Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman, "is why this game is so great. You never know. Of all the scenarios of how this series could have come out, us being down 0-2 and coming out here to face Madison Bumgarner is not the best. But that's how it went. So guess what? Just when it looked like we didn't have a chance, now we have a chance."
Yeah, that's the way it works in October, all right. As long as you're still playing, as long as you're still breathing, you have a chance. So if the Nationals climb back from the endangered-species list to win this series, they can thank their favorite bunt artist, Wilson Ramos.
It was a 0-0 game, with runners on first and second, and nobody out in the seventh, when Ramos stepped in to face Bumgarner. And we'll set the rest of this scene in a moment. But first, here's a bunch of stuff you have to know:
• Ramos hadn't even attempted a sacrifice bunt since Aug. 19, 2011. That was 1,144 days ago. It was so long ago, Bryce Harper was still just the most famous member of the Harrisburg Senators. It was so long ago, Elvis Andrus has successfully laid down 43 sacrifice bunts since then.
• But not only that. Wilson Ramos had never, ever attempted any sacrifice bunt with two strikes -- in any of his 1,301 trips to the plate in the big leagues, counting the regular season and postseason.
• And, finally, you should know that only three times in postseason history, before that moment, had any team ever taken the lead in any game, on an error by the pitcher in the seventh inning or later. More on that momentarily.
But in this particular October, when logic and precedent have apparently sought asylum on Saturn or something, does any of that matter? Obviously not.
So here came Wilson Ramos. His team hadn't scored a run in 21 innings. For that matter, it hadn't even gotten a runner to third base in 21 innings. So Ramos was determined to change all that, even if it took a skill he wasn't exactly world-famous for:
Dropping down a bunt.
Asked how often he even practices bunting, Ramos confessed: "Every day in BP, I lay down a bunt two times. So pretty much not at all. I don't do that too much."
But with Bumgarner spinning zeroes, these were desperate times. So Nationals third-base coach Bob Henley not only flashed his catcher the bunt sign, he strolled down the third-base line toward home plate to make sure Ramos got it.
Except that the count quickly reached 1-and-2, because, while Ramos did, in fact, square to bunt -- he instead, mysteriously, took two strikes "right down the middle," he said. So after the second strike went whizzing by him, Ramos stepped out of the box, called himself a few words you won't be hearing on the evening news and then decided he had to get this bunt down. Even with two strikes.
"At that moment, I said, 'You have to sacrifice your at-bat. You have to do this for the team,'" Ramos said. "They never put down the sign. So I said, 'You have to do it.'"
Well, he did it, ladies and gentlemen. The man who never bunts pushed a bunt down the third-base line so perfectly, they could show it on a highlight reel down at the local youth bunting clinic.
Bumgarner bounced off the mound to field it. So far, so good, right? But then, according to earwitnesses, he heard his catcher, Buster Posey, shouting, "Third base, third base." So, shockingly, he turned and fired it into the Land of the Lost.
It soared past a diving Pablo Sandoval. It ricocheted off a fence behind third base and caromed toward the Giants' warm-up mounds down the line, where two catchers, a bullpen coach and two relievers in frantic heat-up mode found themselves playing dodgeball.
And by the time the left fielder, Travis Ishikawa, had located the baseball on this dance floor, two huge runs had scored, giving the Nationals the lead. On a two-strike bunt. And a throwing error by a pitcher who does nothing but throw strikes. Right.
In the history of postseason baseball, according to ESPN Stats & Info, the only previous times when a go-ahead run scored that late in a game, on an error by the pitcher, came in the 1914 World Series (on a walk-off error by Bullet Joe Bush), in the 1918 World Series (on an error by Phil Douglas) and in the 1969 World Series (when J.C. Martin raced home on an error by Pete Richert).
And now this.
"It sucks," a clearly disgusted Bumgarner would say later. "I shouldn't have done it. Regardless of whether I should have thrown it over there or not, I can't throw the ball away there. ... I just screwed it up for us. We've got to come out tomorrow, ready to play. And I know we will. I'm not worried about it. It's just unfortunate we had to lose a game like that."
But meanwhile, in the other clubhouse, Wilson Ramos, a man who had just caught seven shutout innings from Doug Fister and dropped a bunt that threw this whole series into havoc, found himself in what could best be described as a euphoric, post-sacrificial state.
Asked if he could even recall his last sacrifice bunt, Ramos responded with an entertaining tale about a game in 2011, when his team gave him the squeeze sign with Michael Morse on third base -- and he missed the sign.
So with Morse sprinting toward the plate, he swung away and smoked a foul ball right past him. Then, on the next pitch, Ramos got the squeeze sign again, laid it down and was pretty pleased with himself -- until "I get to the dugout," he reminisced, "and Michael Morse told me, 'Wilson, you almost killed me.'"
Now in the interest of accuracy, we have to report that, as it turned out, that wasn't actually his last sacrifice bunt before this one. But it did happen a few weeks earlier, at least. So Ramos was asked Monday which of those two bunts was his favorite of all time -- that squeeze or his October bunt heard round the world?
"Oh, this one," he said. "This one was a perfect bunt. It paid off. We win. So it's better."
And there you go. Might have been the most logical statement we've heard all month -- in a postseason that was beginning to make us think we'd never see the words "logic" and "October" in the same sentence again.