Three Strikes: Bumgarner takes his place in World Series lore
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Just when Madison Bumgarner seemed as good as back home on his North Carolina farm feeding his horses and cows, San Francisco centerfielder Gregor Blanco played matador to Alex Gordon's bull of a single, and suddenly, the Royals had the tying run at third base with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 2,462 of 2014, otherwise known as World Series Game 7, on Wednesday night. The Giants' closer, Santiago Casilla, warmed in the bullpen, essentially for his next Cactus League appearance for all the chance he had of displacing Bumgarner. Fittingly for a series that went the distance but was parsimonious with memorable moments, we finally got Hitchcock's definition of drama: life with the dull parts left out.
What happened next was the last thrilling chapter of one of the greatest pitching stories ever told, right up there with Mathewson, Koufax, Morris and the Big Unit. Pitching on two days' rest in his 40th game and 270th inning of the season, Bumgarner threw one more high fastball to Salvador Perez in a hailstorm of high fastballs, and Perez popped it up.
For a brief moment as the ball rose, exhausted its climb and then fell like the first leaf of fall, the entire sport was thrown back a hundred years or more, back when men with long antiquated names such as Mordecai and Orval and Deacon and Cy and the lot of them knew nothing about pitch counts, innings limits or short rest. When the ball landed in the glove of San Francisco third baseman Pablo Sandoval, Bumgarner officially joined the company of the game's greatest World Series legends, no matter how long dead some of them may be.
Bumgarner threw 68 pitches and five shutout innings on two days of rest after throwing 117 pitches and nine shutout innings in Sunday's Game 5. His age and his career World Series ERA are now the same: 25, though for official record-keeping purposes the ERA goes in the record book as 0.25.
Pitchers just don't pitch like this any more. Not even close. This year began with a torrent of Tommy John surgeries, with some of the best young pitchers in the game blowing out their elbows from too much work, too little work, too much travel ball, too much velocity, too much training, too much … well, too much of whatever theory was in vogue that particular week. Pitchers break down. Even Bumgarner's former rotation mates, Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, no longer started for the Giants by the time the postseason started.
But Bumgarner stepped out of the bullpen of manager Bruce Bochy in the fifth inning Wednesday night, like a gunslinger out of a lawless Dodge, and from that moment on, the game was going to be played on his terms, which is to say unlike the standard operating procedures in today's game. It was now a game without governors.
"At first I was concerned," said Dick Tidrow, the Giants' pitching guru and assistant to the general manager. "He didn't have that premium fastball at the top of the zone. The first hitter or two it was 91, 92, and I thought, 'Uh-oh.' But he quickly found it. And when he can throw that fastball upstairs at 93, then he's in business. When I saw that, I knew he was good.
"He has the kind of fastball that is made for October. Hitters want to be heroes this time of year. They want to get the hit. And when they see the fastball up they want to swing. But he gets it up enough and hard enough that they can't hit it. It plays well this time of year."
Pitchers just aren't trained to do what Bumgarner did, and managers, who have a patellar reflex to summon their closer "because that's the way we did it all year," aren't comfortable sticking with a starting pitcher in relief on two days' rest with the tying run at third. And yet you knew there was no other way — no way Bochy was pulling Bumgarner, and no way Bumgarner was giving in.
After Bumgarner threw the eighth inning, neither Bochy nor pitching coach Dave Righetti nor catcher Buster Posey bothered to ask him how he was feeling. This was Bumgarner's game. It was his game in the ninth, as much as it was his game in the eighth, as much as it will be his game in perpetuity.
One hundred five miles north from Kauffman Stadium, up Interstate 35, eternally rests the Father of Game 7, Babe Adams. On Oct. 19, 1909, in the first decisive World Series Game 7 ever played, Adams took the ball for Pittsburgh at Bennett Field in Detroit against the Tigers. He threw a six-hit shutout for his third complete game win of the series. A rookie at 27, Adams pitched that game on two days of rest.
Adams was buried in Mount Moriah, Mo., the town he grew up in starting as a teen. The locals from Mount Moriah (population from the most recent census: 87) renamed a portion of the local thoroughfare Babe Adams Highway.
Maybe someday they will name roads after Bumgarner or build statues in his honor. But no miles of asphalt or hunks of bronze or stone can match the honor he gained for himself in Game 7. Bumgarner is now a fixed part of the game's oral history. He is as much a part of the perpetual intrinsic drama of Game 7 as Mazeroski and Morris — or, for that matter, Babe Adams.
In 1962, Peanuts illustrator and Giants fan Charles Schulz sketched a classic daily comic. For three panels, Charlie Brown and Linus are seated on a curb with their chin in their hands, deep in apparent sorrow. In the fourth panel, Charlie Brown finally speaks, and when he does he is yelling at the heavens: "Why couldn't McCovey have hit the ball three feet higher!"
Game 7 stays with you like that. The 1962 World Series ended with the tying run at third base: San Francisco slugger Willie McCovey lining out to Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson. It is one of only three World Series Games 7 to end with the tying run on third. This was the third one, and the first win for the Giants in five tries in a World Series that went the distance. It was the antithesis of 1962. Instead of McCovey lining out, it was Bumgarner carrying the Giants to victory. It will live on forever.
2. A surprising October hero
Wait. Yost? The same guy the Brewers fired with two weeks left in the 2008 pennant race? Yes, that Yost, who made one of the more startling transformations ever known to the managerial business. The gruff man who caused his Brewers teams and first two Royals teams to play tight deserves credit for establishing one the most confident, loose group of players to be found anywhere in the big leagues.
"I don't think you could ever pan [a camera] in the dugout and not see our guys laughing and smiling," said Yost, who took over in Kansas City in 2010. "They enjoy playing the game. They play the game like they did when they were 12 years old. I think people appreciate that."
Yost's confidence inspired his team where his persnickety ways once dragged it down. Each day with our FOX broadcast crew, Yost gave us a glimpse into his easygoing manner by telling charming and touching stories, especially how he once served on the pit crew of friend Dale Earnhardt, Sr. in the final eight races of the season.
"Rehydration engineer," was how Yost described his title for the late NASCAR legend. Translation: water boy. It was his job to extend a cup of electrolyte fluid to Earnhardt when the driver pulled into the pits.
"I thought I knew how to compete," Yost said. "I learned more about what it means to compete from that man that I knew in my entire life. We spent so much time just talking. The crew would be working on the car and we would just sit and chat. I once asked him who his friends were on the racing circuit. He said, 'No one.' I said, 'Come on. All these hours at the track and around these guys, and no one?' He told me, 'Nope. And here's why: When they see me in their mirror coming up behind them, I never want them to think that's a friend behind them.'"
Yost is only the latest of many examples why a manager on his second job is a better bet than a manager on his first. He brought Kansas City to the playoffs, something none of its 11 managers over the previous 29 years could do. He projected confidence and calmness, which never was more apparent than after his team's Game 5 loss on Sunday, when he said he could not be disappointed because deep inside, as a fan, he was rooting for a Game 7.
Yost's game management wasn't an issue in the World Series, at least to anyone who wasn't a micro-managing second guesser. (Don't blame him for the curious Alcides Escobar bunt in the fifth inning Wednesday night with a runner at first; Escobar bunted on his own.) On the contrary, the Royals proved to be a worthy opponent to the more experienced Giants. They were fun to watch, what with their speed, defense and enthusiasm — and even their new-look manager.
3. News and notes
• The Giants somehow won the World Series despite their starting pitchers lasting a total of 16 1/3 innings in the five games not started by Bumgarner. Ryan Vogelsong was out before the third inning ended in Game 4, and both Jake Peavy, who has the worst postseason ERA in history, and Tim Hudson, who won just two of his last 22 starts, failed to survive the second inning in Games 6 and 7, respectively. All three were at least four games worse than .500 in the regular season. No other World Series team ever started more than one such pitcher.
• Here's a Giants scout on Lorenzo Cain: "That guy has only scratched the surface. There's something in his swing that makes him a little long in the back, but if he catches the ball out front better — just makes a slight adjustment — he's going to be a 30-home run guy. And I didn't know he was this good on defense."
• Here's another Giants scout on the Royals: "They were the better team. But it's like Tim Hudson said before we played Washington: It's not the better team on paper that counts, it's the [guts] of the guys doing the playing."
• Some numbers to ponder about Bochy's 2010-14 Giants, who have now won three world championships in five seasons: They went 34-14 overall in the postseason, won 10 straight postseason matchups and went 13-2 in one-run games, 34-7 when not allowing any unearned runs, 13-2 in games decided by their bullpen and 29-4 when scoring more than two runs. But no, it's not a dynasty. You can't take two of five years off and be a dynasty. But so what? They are the first NL team in seven decades to win three titles in five years. That's impressive enough; you don't need to force the label "dynasty" on them.
• What another masterful job of game management by Bochy. You just are not supposed to win a World Series game when your starting pitcher gets only five outs. Until Game 7, teams played .250 baseball in those dire straits (16-48, including 0-7 since 1984).
• Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens thanked catcher Buster Posey for grinding through a postseason in which Posey never managed an extra-base hit. Posey broke the record of David Eckstein of the 2002 Angels for the most at-bats in one postseason with no extra-base hits (69). "He was dead tired," Meulens said. "The same thing happened to [Royals catcher Salvador] Perez. These guys are just worn down. For that last out, I still felt good. Perez was worn down just like our guy. I told Buster, ‘You helped make us world champions. That matters most.'"