LAST ACE STANDING

October 20, 2014

He's never pitched in the All-Star Game or received many Cy Young votes, but make no mistake, Madison Bumgarner is a star—whether he likes it or not

YOU KNOW just how country the best pitcher never to come close to winning a Cy Young Award is when that pitcher is asked to describe his perfect off-season day. He begins with this: "At daylight or before, feed all the animals." San Francisco Giants lefthander Madison Bumgarner, owner of 125 acres, 20 horses and 50 cows in rural North Carolina as well as one of the most lethal arms in baseball, just might be obliterating his quiet, overlooked life with a postseason résumé unlike anything seen before.

"He's more country than I am," said his batterymate, Giants catcher Buster Posey, the pride of remote Leesburg, Ga.

"Buster probably likes to talk about himself even less than I do," Bumgarner countered.

Bumgarner opened the NLCS by blanking the Cardinals for 72/3 innings in a 3--0 San Francisco win last Saturday. The outing stretched Bumgarner's string of consecutive scoreless postseason innings on the road to 262/3, smashing a record by another Giants lefthander, Art Nehf, that had stood for 90 years. "Wish I had a reason for you," he said of his road brilliance, "but I don't."

Bumgarner, 25, has never pitched in an All-Star Game (he has been selected twice) and received only three Cy Young Award votes in his career—though he might fare better this year behind presumed winner Clayton Kershaw after a career-high 18 wins with a 2.98 ERA. Including his 8--0 wild-card shutout of Pittsburgh, Bumgarner has more wins this postseason than the nine pitchers in this postseason with top four Cy finishes: Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, David Price, Jon Lester, James Shields, Jered Weaver and Adam Wainwright went 1--5 with a 5.33 ERA in 13 starts. With teammates Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum hurt and demoted to the bullpen, respectively, Bumgarner is at last getting recognized as an ace—October included.

The Giants took Bumgarner, a grad of South Caldwell High in Hudson, N.C., with the 10th overall pick of the 2007 draft. In his first minor league spring training camp, in '08, instructors changed his mechanics after telling him he couldn't make it with his odd delivery, in which Bumgarner turns his back to the hitter and, after a long sweep of his arm behind him, slingshots the ball across his body as if throwing around the corner of a building. Then they assigned him to Class A Augusta.

"After three starts there—I was terrible—I said, 'That's it. No more,' " he said. "And I went back to the way I always threw."

The next year he was in the big leagues at 20, and the year after that he was shutting out the Rangers over eight innings in Game 4 of the 2010 World Series—on the road, of course. Since then, he has never missed a start, has matched Dwight Gooden for the most 200-inning seasons (four) through his age-24 season over the past 30 years, posted the lowest career ERA on the road (3.01) among active pitchers other than Kershaw and stayed undefeated (4--0) in postseason road games with an 0.55 ERA.

When St. Louis won an instant classic in Game 2, 5--4, Bumgarner was guaranteed his start in the fifth game scheduled for Thursday in San Francisco.

"He goes out there," Bochy said, "like one of those bulls he has."

PHOTOROBERT BECK/SPORTS ILLUSTRATEDCOUNTRY STRONG In an October when almost every other ace has faltered, Bumgarner has been almost unhittable, especially on the road. ILLUSTRATION

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)