MadBum seals MVP with outing, postseason for the ages
After tossing two shutouts this October, Giants' ace saves Game 7 with five scoreless frames
KANSAS CITY -- The volume rose here in those fleeting moments before the final out. Alex Gordon had hustled three-quarters of the way around the bases on the ball that skipped away from Giants center fielder Gregor Blanco. So he was standing on third, and the Royals' faithful were standing on their feet at Kauffman Stadium. A Royals team that has sometimes seemed made of October magic was 90 feet from a tie in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series.
But Big Country, Madison Bumgarner, was on the mound. And those 90 feet were a country mile.
We have never seen anything quite like Bumgarner on this postseason stage and in this Fall Classic. The Giants claimed their third title in five seasons in a 3-2 Game 7 victory in which Bumgarner cemented his obvious, unanimous claim to the Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. Starter, reliever. Four days' rest, two days' rest. The situation didn't matter, because the outcome was always the same. Bumgarner, all scraggly hair and backwoods beard and effortless efficiency, mowed down everything that crossed his path, including the Royals' perceived destiny.
"He put that team on his back and carried them," a flustered Billy Butler said in a quiet Royals clubhouse. "You've got to appreciate that. Right now, I don't. But you've got to tip your hat to him."
Before we go any further, let's start with this: You can make an argument that this was the greatest postseason pitching performance the game has ever seen.
And a relatively easy argument at that.
Bumgarner made seven appearances this postseason and amassed 52 2/3 innings -- the most innings by anyone ever, surpassing Curt Schilling (48 1/3 for the D-backs in 2001). The Giants lefty's 1.03 ERA is "only" the third lowest all-time among those with at least 30 innings of postseason work, but the two guys he trails -- Burt Hooten of the Dodgers (0.82 over 33 innings in 1981) and John Smoltz of the Braves (0.95 over 38 innings in 1996) -- had a significantly lesser workload.
Video: WS2014 Gm7: MadBum on innings pitched in relief "To me, you'd be hard pressed to find a performance like this ever," Giants catcher Buster Posey said. "It's got to be one of a very few in the history of baseball. What he did tonight was incredible."
Five innings of relief on two days' rest. No runs, two hits, no walks, four strikeouts. Sixty-eight pitches, 50 for strikes.
Maybe the Royals and their fans had hope in that moment in the ninth, but hope gave way to weak contact (a harmless Salvador Perez popup into Pablo Sandoval's waiting glove), as has often been the case against Bumgarner.
In an evenly matched World Series, the Giants had the cheat code. The last pitcher to throw four-plus scoreless innings in a World Series Game 7 on two days' rest was some guy named Sandy Koufax, in 1965, in what some consider to be the greatest game ever pitched.
Maybe Bumgarner isn't Koufax. But being Bumgarner is good enough.
"It hasn't sunk in yet," he said afterward. "There's not been near enough time to think about it. This is as good as it gets -- World Series Game 7. It's pretty stressful at the same time. So we're just thankful for the opportunity, and we're blessed to have the success that we've had."
Is Bumgarner, at just 25 years old, the most successful pitcher in World Series history?
Go ahead and entertain that argument as well.
The lefty has pitched 36 innings over three Fall Classics. Bumgarner has given up a single run on 14 hits with five walks and 31 strikeouts. His 0.25 ERA is the best all-time among those with 25 innings in the Series, ahead of Jack Billingham (0.36 ERA in 25 1/3 innings for the Reds between 1972-76).
So we've witnessed history here, from an understated country-bred kid from Caldwell County, N.C., who spends his winters feeding animals, eating and playing catch. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Bumgarner keeps things simple, but there's nothing simple about facing a guy with a deceptive delivery that is murder on left-handers and a deep repertoire in which he can unleash anything from a 94-mph fastball to an 85-mph changeup to a 75-mph curveball to a 68-mph slow curve that ought to be outlawed.
"Sometimes you wonder," said Matt Cain, the Giants' erstwhile ace, "if he has a pulse."
Bumgarner pulverized a Pirates team that had been one of the best in baseball down the stretch in the one-and-done National League Wild Card Game.
He actually -- if you can believe this -- took a loss to the Nationals in Game 3 of the NL Division Series, when he got just one run of support.
Bumgarner was the NL Championship Series MVP Award winner against the Cardinals, allowing three runs on nine hits over 15 2/3 innings in Games 1 and 5.
And here in the Series, he was the separator. A Royals lineup reliant on lefties did not match up well against him in Game 1, and it was completely quelled in that Game 5 shutout in San Francisco.
Nothing, though, quite compared to what Bumgarner did in the winner-take-all contest. Game 7 effectively ended the moment these words were uttered in the press box:
"Madison Bumgarner now warming in the Giants' bullpen."
That's it. That's when the lights went out in Kauffman. Certainly, there were questions that had to be answered here. How many innings could Bumgarner, sent out to protect the 3-2 lead in the fifth, be reasonably counted upon to provide on what was basically his "throw" day (his guess had been 200 [pitches] ... and maybe he wasn't joking, after all)? How sharp would his stuff -- most notably that sinful, sweeping curveball -- be on short, short rest? Could the Royals at least work up Bumgarner's pitch count and get to the rest of the Giants' bullpen?
Bumgarner's command wasn't instantly intact. In fact, he served up a base hit to Omar Infante, the first batter he faced. It felt like that moment in "Rocky IV," when the Russian was cut. But between that moment and the Gordon hit in the ninth, Bumgarner sent down 14 straight Royals.
"I wasn't thinking about finishing the game or how many innings I was going to go or pitch count," he said. "I was just wanting to get outs, and we were able to do that, for the most part."
Again, understated. But Butler, who popped out to make the second out of the ninth, stated the obvious about Bumgarner's stuff on short rest.
"It was as sharp as it had ever been," Butler said. "I saw all four pitches. He threw all four pitches for strikes to me. I was sitting on his fastball and felt like I was taking good swings on his fastball, and I was underneath it. With this motion and stuff, I'm not the only guy through the season that did that. With that deception, he got me."
Don't worry, Billy. Bumgarner got everybody. This was Bumtober, and unless you bleed Royal blue, you were lucky to witness it.