MadBum's Series performance will stand the test of time
When Joe Maddon was being introduced as the Cubs' manager, he told a room full of reporters and team officials how he had been struck by the timeless beauty of Wrigley Field when the Rays played there in August.
He said he was making a pitching change when the grandeur of the ballpark struck him, and he had to tell himself to slow down and take it all in.
"There are times I tell myself to just shut up and watch what's going on and observe what's going on, and really appreciate the moment," Maddon said. "We have a tendency in our lives to go through moments quickly."
He's right. We do blow through life like we're trying to beat rush-hour traffic. It's human nature. But some moments, some performances, simply command reflection. Madison Bumgarner's World Series was one of those.
It's been a little more than a week since Game 7, and not a day has gone by without those of us who witnessed Bumgarner's five shutout innings thinking about that outing.
We hear about instant classics all the time. But this was an instant epic.
Working on two days' rest after throwing a four-hit shutout in Game 5, the ceiling for Bumgarner had been set by Walter Johnson, a mere 90 years ago.
The Big Train entered Game 7 of the 1924 World Series for the Washington Senators in the ninth inning, with the game against the New York Giants tied at 3. Johnson had lost Game 5 two days earlier, but this time threw four scoreless innings before Earl McNeely's game-winning double in the bottom of the 12th.
Bumgarner topped Johnson. That's a sentence that takes my breath away.
In Bumgarner's five innings against Kansas City, he allowed two hits -- singles by the first man he faced, Alcides Escobar, and the next-to-last man he faced, Alex Gordon. He struck out four and walked none. Johnson hadn't been nearly as clean in his legendary outing, giving up three hits and walking three. He pitched out of trouble; Bumgarner essentially made the Royals look feeble.
It marked his seventh outing of a great postseason run. He was 4-1 with a 1.03 ERA in 52 2/3 innings, delivering a championship to the Giants. His workload was 4 1/3 innings heavier than Curt Schilling's in 2001, which had been the record.
Bumgarner threw 68 pitches in earning a save in Game 7. Fifty of those were strikes, including 12 swinging strikes. His fastball averaged 92.99 mph, according to Brooks Baseball, which was the lowest average in his last 10 starts. His cutter was also slower than normal, at 85.8 mph.
But Bumgarner threw his Clayton Kershaw-like curveball -- it's a little flatter than Kershaw's but gets as much horizontal movement -- 10 times, which had hitters hacking at fastballs and cutters. They expanded the strike zone to chase his pitches, especially swinging at pitches up in the zone.
Escobar looked foolish striking out on a pitch that was nose-high, but the recurring theme came on hitters getting themselves out on pitches that were just a few inches above or a few inches outside the strike zone.
"He's a tough guy to crack," said Eric Hosmer, who popped up to shortstop and struck out in his two Game 7 at-bats against Bumgarner. "[He] works both sides of the plate, really hits his spots well, just really doesn't give you too many pitches to hit. He was really elevating with two strikes. That was what he was using -- that high heater with two strikes."
As great as Bumgarner's outing seemed on the night of Game 7, it looks even greater now. A year from now, it will look greater still and it will just keep looking better and better as the years, and decades, go on. We will pause to appreciate it over and over again. Also worth recalling from a great postseason:
• Bruce Bochy refused to concede the late innings to the Royals' three-headed bullpen monster, and the Giants rewarded him for his optimism.
One of the best observations of the World Series came before Game 4, when Bochy was asked if he felt like the Giants had to do their damage in the first five innings.
"We don't think like that," he said. "I mean, it's a nine-inning game, and we know what a great bullpen they have. But you can't think like that. Now you're defeated if you don't have the lead going into six, seven."
That night the Giants fell behind, 4-1, but won 11-4, pounding lesser relievers Brandon Finnegan and Tim Collins. They scored three runs against Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis in Game 5.
• Bochy's decision not to use Bumgarner on short rest in Game 4 when trailing the series 2-1 was brilliant. Yusmeiro Petit's three scoreless innings of relief behind starter Ryan Vogelsong in Game 4 was the most crucial non-Bumgarner outing of the Series for the Giants.
• The Royals might not have advanced past the Wild Card Game had Hosmer not gotten thrown out trying to steal home. A's catcher Geovany Soto hurt his thumb tagging Hosmer on that crazy double steal that was triggered by Billy Butler. The Royals' comeback to beat the A's was built around them running wild on Soto's replacement, Derek Norris, whose trouble throwing out runners was exposed.
• The Orioles beat three straight Cy Young Award winners -- Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and David Price -- to sweep the Tigers in the American League Division Series.
• Matt Williams' decision to pull Jordan Zimmermann with a shutout in the ninth inning of Game 2 led to the favored Nationals losing to the Giants in four games in the National League Division Series. Zimmermann had the potential to deliver a Bumgarner-like run. In his last four starts, Zimmermann allowed 14 hits and two earned runs in 30 1/3 innings.