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Madison Bumgarner stymies Royals' hitters, makes case for Series MVP

SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants must lead the league in signature songs. “When The Lights Go Down in the City,” “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” are all on the nightly playlist at AT&T Park. They are such a musical franchise that if they win this World Series, instead of a highlight video, they should release a soundtrack album.

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Their ace, Madison Bumgarner, has a song of his own. He takes the mound to the strains of one of his favorite songs, “Fire on the Mountain” by the Marshall Tucker Band, playing on the stadium sound system. Bumgarner chose it largely because these lyrics are especially appropriate for the 25-year-old left-hander from Hickory, N.C.: Took my family from my Carolina home/Had dreams about the West and started to roam. Bumgarner continued pursuing those dreams by the bay on Saturday night, which helped the Giants move one step away from making their dreams come true. His four-hit shutout in the 5-0 victory gave San Francisco a 3-2 Series lead, with a chance to win the franchise’s third championship in five years on Tuesday night.

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It was just more of the same for Bumgarner, who has now beaten the Royals twice in the Series, pitching 16 innings and allowing only one run. “He was fantastic again,” said Royals manager Ned Yost. It was that simple. If the Royals lose this series, it will be largely because they couldn’t make a dent in Bumgarner’s dominance. The home crowd began chanting “MVP, MVP!” when he came to bat late in the game, and you couldn’t blame them. If the Giants close things out in Kansas City, that trophy will surely be his.

Winning the award is about the only thing Bumgarner hasn’t accomplished in his postseason career. He already was named NLCS MVP for his performance against the Cardinals. “I haven’t seen a better pitcher over the course of this postseason,” said manager Bruce Bochy. That’s an understatement; the case can be made that no one has seen a better pitcher in any postseason. Bumgarner has allowed only one run in his four career World Series starts. Over 31 innings, he has an ERA of 0.29, the lowest of any pitcher with that many innings in Series history. He has thrown 47 2/3 innings this October, a postseason record, and has struck out 41, walked six and given up six earned runs. His ERA this October: 1.13.

None of that — his historically great postseason, his nearly flawless performance on Sunday, his role in carrying the Giants to the brink of another title — seemed to get a rise out of Bumgarner afterward. He spoke matter-of-factly about the mechanical parts — keeping the ball down, throwing strikes, saying ahead of hitters — instead of the emotional ones.

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“He’s a big cowboy,” said Giants pitcher Tim Hudson, which is true. When he was a rookie, Bumgarner and his wife Ali stayed with teammate Jeremy Affeldt before they found their own place, and Bumgarner would practice his lassoing skills by wrangling Affeldt’s furniture. “He’s the strong, silent type,” Hudson said. “You’re not going to get him to show a lot of excitement over this. In his mind, he’s just doing what he’s paid to do.”

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The Giants don’t pay Bumgarner to pitch on short rest, but he’s prepared to do that if they need him in a potential Game 7. He was noncommittal when asked how many pitches he would feel capable of throwing in that situation, but he’s clearly preparing for it. He won’t throw his normal side session between starts, just in case. The Royals can only hope that the short rest will make him more hittable if they have to face him again because they suddenly have no margin for error.

Bumgarner’s performance completed a strange 24 hours for the Royals in which the Series turned completely. On Saturday night, Yost had uttered these words: “I thought we had the situation right in the palm of our hand.” He was talking about a sequence in Game 4, but he could have been referring to the World Series in general. In the third inning on Saturday, the Royals held a 4-1 lead, and with their extraordinary set of relievers waiting in the wings, it looked like they were about to take a 3-1 lead in the Series and move within one victory of their first championship since 1985. Yost wasn’t the only one who thought they had it all, everything, in the palm of their hand.

And then they didn’t.

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That early lead disappeared in a deluge of Giants runs and turned into an 11-4 loss. Now here Yost was again, on Sunday night, trying to put a positive spin on the way Kansas City has gone from having it in the palm of their hand to having their fingertips gripping the ledge.

“We’re going back to our home crowd,” Yost said. “The place is going to be absolutely crazy. Our guys aren’t afraid of walking the tightrope without a net. We fall off and we’re dead. But if we win on Tuesday, nobody’s got a net.”

All true. The Royals don’t intend to stop believin’, either. But when the Giants get this close to clinching, they usually finish the job. And they have Bumgarner, if necessary, to help them do it.

The refrain in that Marshall Tucker song goes like this: There’s fire on the mountain, lightnin’ in the air/Gold in them hills and it’s waitin’ for me there. If the Series goes to a Game 7, don’t be surprised to see Bumgarner take the mound at some point. There’s gold on that hill in Kansas City, and it’s waiting for him there.