Giants' Game 4 heroes Bumgarner, Posey aren't acting like rookies
ARLINGTON, Texas -- As time passes, pitching performances slowly separate into two categories: memories and statistics.
The memories are the dominant performances that transcend the result of the game. For example, Tim Lincecum's 14-strikeout, two-hit shutout in the first round of the playoffs -- that's a memory. The four runs he gave up in 5 2/3 innings to win World Series Game 1? That's a statistic. Years from now, when Lincecum's résumé as a pitcher is considered, the latter will be merely a number in his postseason record, while the former will be remembered as an example of his temporal greatness.
The two previous starts of the Giants' big left-handed rookie, Madison Bumgarner, were merely statistics -- starts made by a kid barely more past his 21st birthday who on Sunday night would become the fifth-youngest pitcher ever to start a World Series game.
In many ways Game 4 was the pivot of this World Series. The Giants held a 2-1 lead on the Rangers, but the home team had won every game and, while Game 7 would be in San Francisco, the recent struggles of Jonathan Sanchez made the proposition of that do-or-die finale a bit dicey. If the Giants could steal a mid-series road win, they'd be in great shape.
That's when Bumgarner threw a memory. He dominated a potent Rangers lineup in their home run-happy ballpark for eight innings, allowing just three hits and two walks. He struck out six and threw 21 first-pitch strikes to 27 hitters, often daring Texas' power hitters with inside fastballs, en route to becoming the second-youngest pitcher in World Series history to string together eight scoreless innings.
And when asked about the game plan, Bumgarner deflected credit to his catcher Buster Posey, who just so happens to be another rookie, the other half of the first all-rookie battery to start a World Series game since 1947.
"I've got 100 percent confidence in Buster and whatever he puts down," said Bumgarner. "I think you've got to all the credit to him. I just threw the ball where he wanted it most of the time, and it worked out."
No, you read that correctly, Bumgarner was trying to give not just some of the credit but ALL of the credit for the game plan to his catcher. Bumgarner didn't recall shaking off Posey even once, but Posey's game plan only worked because his pitcher has future ace stuff, a fastball that reaches 93 or 94 miles per hour in the right spots, along with a devastating slider and a good-enough changeup. He used each of those pitches for strike three in Rangers designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero's three at-bats.
Oh, and Posey also hit a home run from the clean-up spot, the rare rookie -- and the rare catcher -- to bat No. 4 in any lineup.
Bumgarner and Posey -- first-round picks from 2007 and '08, respectively -- are unflappable. Both made late-season cameos to the majors in 2009, Posey carrying the tag of future franchise player and Bumgarner as the next in a long line of aces, even making his first start in place of an injured future Hall of Famer, Randy Johnson.
Posey wasn't called up until June but will merit serious consideration for NL Rookie of the Year up against Atlanta's Jason Heyward not just for his .305 average and 18 home runs, but also his bat's importance to this team and his deftness with the talented pitching staff.
Bumgarner, meanwhile, went 7-6 with a 3.00 ERA, finishing strong with a 1.18 ERA over his final six starts. And entering enemy territory doesn't bother the 6-foot-4 lefty with a soft Southern drawl and the whiskers of a 21-year-old: Including the postseason, Bumgarner is now 8-3 with a 1.76 ERA in road games this year.
"Everyone here accepts him as a mature pitcher," reliever Jeremy Affeldt said. "He's not a rookie to us anymore."
There is still one more game to win to claim this year's World Series title, but it is impossible not to start looking ahead at what kind of run this could be for the Giants. Their starting pitching has propelled them this far, and the oldest of their four homegrown starters is Sanchez, who's only 27.
Though Barry Zito is much maligned for his large contract and failings down the stretch, there's probably not a team in baseball that wouldn't welcome him as a fifth starter. All five starters are signed through 2012.
Bumgarner is but the latest revelation of a rotation that already includes two-time NL Cy Young winner in Lincecum and an All-Star in Matt Cain.
"He's fearless, man," first baseman Aubrey Huff said. "He came to the yard today and you could see he was just chilling. Nothing really bothers him. Put on some David Allen Coe on the playlist and let him go to town. He's just a big 21-year-old kid out there with a funky delivery and attacks the zone.
"With the young pitching this team has and Buster behind the plate, this team has a chance to do something special for quite some time."
It's a far cry from how they started the season, as members of San Francisco's Triple A affiliate, the Fresno Grizzlies. In their first game as battery-mates this season, Bumgarner allowed 11 hits and four runs in three innings to the Reno Aces.
"We both wanted to make the team out of spring training, but I definitely wasn't where I needed to be," Bumgarner said. "He was as good as he ever was. I just think they wanted to give him a little more time to catch."
This season had a tumultuous start for Bumgarner, who was plagued by a loss of velocity at the end of last season and again during spring training -- rather than sitting 91 to 93 mph with his fastball, he was topping out in the upper 80s. He blamed it first on throwing too many pitches between starts last summer and, when it didn't return this spring, on a mechanical issue.
"I got out of whack a little bit mechanically," Bumgarner said. "I worked hard this offseason and it just wasn't there. Just one little flaw can make a big difference. It was just a little timing issue. And I was throwing across my body and falling toward the first-base dugout, rather than coming through to home plate."
There seems to be little doubt that he worked hard this offseason, but maybe not all of it was baseball-focused. Bumgarner had a lot going on this winter -- he got married and bought a 38-acre farm in North Carolina, where he co-owns 11 horses and 15 head of cattle with his in-laws.
"I'd say more than anything he's in much better condition," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of the difference in Bumgarner since spring. "You know, he came into the spring, I think, with the idea he'll get in shape there. He was a guy that we were strongly considering being our fifth pitcher in the rotation. We didn't think he was quite ready.
"And so to his credit, he went down, worked hard in Fresno, and he got himself in better pitching shape, and I think that's the biggest difference."
The Giants' pitching coach, Dave Righetti, didn't have any concern at all.
"Zero," he said. "You're not supposed to throw 95 in spring. Everybody made a big deal out of it because they wanted him to make the team. If you throw 95 in spring, you'll be done in June."
Instead, the pair was just getting started then, with Posey making his season debut on May 29 and Bumgarner on June 26.
Posey whacked three hits in each of his first two games, with seemingly pent-up emotion from the long wait to return to the majors. During that September call-up last year, Posey, like all rookies, had to dress up in wig, dress and high heels for a team flight. In 2010, he's still a rookie but he is now exempt from hazing.
"I don't remember the last time I thought about Buster being a rookie," Cain said. "Maybe I thought about it when we thought about dressing him up, but then we were thinking it's not a good idea -- he's kind of our big guy."
Bumgarner, however, isn't so lucky.
"Among the starters, we'll always think of him as that rookie guy," Cain said. "We'll haze him as long as we can."
When Bumgarner returned to the Giants' locker room after his postgame news conference, he stopped to answer a few more questions but perched himself in the threshold of the entryway, creating a locker-room bottleneck comparable to the one outside the stadium, where more than 50,000 Rangers fans headed home one game away
"Nice spot, Bum," Cain shouted.
It was Bumgarner's only rookie mistake on a day sure to be remembered.