Raucous PNC Park crowd won't bother Bumgarner
Starting NL Wild Card Game, Giants' ace has been dominant on the road
PITTSBURGH -- The constellations and the pitching schedule aligned perfectly, allowing Giants ace left-hander Madison Bumgarner -- with his 11-4 record and 2.22 ERA in 18 road starts this season -- to start Wednesday's National League Wild Card Game (5 p.m. PT, ESPN) against the Pirates at PNC Park.
But the truth is, any big game anywhere is Bumgarner time. As a 20-year-old in 2010, he made four postseason appearances and won all three of his starts -- including a scoreless eight innings against the Rangers in Game 4 of the World Series. Bumgarner is 3-2 with a 3.79 ERA in seven postseason games, including six starts. His most recent start being a scoreless seven-inning, eight-strikeout domination of the Tigers in Game 2 of the 2012 World Series.
Bumgarner, 25, admits feeling the pregame nerves that could go along with a game like Wednesday's, which will send the winner into the NL Division Series against the Nationals and the loser home. He just deals with them expertly.
"There's always a little anxiety, I'll say, to get here and get started," said Bumgarner, who said he can't explain his home numbers, but felt his home and road performances evened out as the season progressed. "But at least me, anyway, I work so hard to push all that stuff aside to treat it like any other game, and just worry about pitching and making pitches."
The push to qualify for the postseason was grueling for the Giants, who went into their final regular-season series with a chance to host the NL Wild Card Game. Two days off no doubt helped replenish the batteries, but the biggest pick-me-up is the ability to hand the ball to Bumgarner, who finished 18-10 with a 2.98 ERA and finished fourth in the NL with 219 strikeouts.
"He has that mentality of a front-line starter," said San Francisco right-hander Tim Hudson, who lockered beside Bumgarner and has become a close friend. "He believes he's the best out there, and that's the type of guy you want on the mound."
Bumgarner will have to deal with a raucous crowd at PNC Park.
Last year, when the Pirates faced the Reds in the NL Wild Card Game, the crowd made its presence felt in the second inning. Fans went into a deafening sing-song of the last name of Cincinnati pitcher Johnny Cueto. With the stadium shaking, Cueto set up for a pitch against Pittsburgh catcher Russell Martin, but dropped the ball on the mound. It was almost as if the stadium turned Cueto's fingers buttery. Martin swatted the next pitch for a home run, and the Bucs cruised to a 6-2 victory.
Most likely, Cueto's drop was coincidence. Regardless, the noise is stuff of legend, and the fans will try to add to it with Bumgarner on the mound. But he pitches the way he talks -- unhurried while making his point clear.
"That just makes it fun," Bumgarner said. "Whether you're at home and they're cheering for you or you're on the road and everybody's against you. It's not like football, where you can't hear the plays being called out.
"I expect it to be electric. I'll be prepared for it."
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle may welcome the noise, but realizes it'll take more than crowd noise to beat Bumgarner.
"He's a pro, he's a no-nonsense guy, it seems to me," Hurdle said. "On the mound, he knows his strengths, he pitches to them, doesn't rattle easily. He's a great competitor. He's one of those guys you expect to see in the playoffs."
Interestingly, the Giants' confidence in Bumgarner is in part because of a couple of starts during which many pitchers could have become unhinged.
On Aug. 21, Bumgarner gave up two first-inning homers and fell behind the Cubs, 3-1, at Wrigley Field. But Bumgarner pitched through the seventh without another run scoring, struck out 12 and pocketed a 5-3 victory. On Sept. 23 at Dodger Stadium, he again gave up two first-inning homers and three first-inning runs, but held the NL West champion Dodgers to just one additional run while pitching 7 1/3. San Francisco lost that one, but left knowing that Bumgarner can reverse a negative spin.
"He doesn't let a first inning affect him and he keeps us in the ballgame," said left-handed reliever Jeremy Affeldt. "If we're not winning, we feel we have a chance to win, because he keeps it close."
In the Wild Card Game, with a one-day roster, manager Bruce Bochy is considering carrying two starters. Bochy is protecting himself from a lengthy game. He's certainly not hedging his Bumgarner bet.
"I'll call him a kid still ... he's accomplished quite a bit -- a couple All-Star Games and pitched well into the postseason," Bochy said. "The makeup goes with the talent."