PITTSBURGH -- A superstar was born here last Oct. 1, when Madison Bumgarner shut out the Pirates in the Wild Card Game and kicked off a historic run that would lead to Sportsman of the Year honors. Bumgarner was in complete command that night, striking out 10 in a four-hit shutout. What stands out when he watches what transpired on one of the biggest nights of his career?
“I haven’t watched it,” Bumgarner said this week. “I haven’t watched any of those games from last year, only some of the highlights. I don’t go back and watch any of my games.”
Yes, that includes his historic relief outing in Game 7 of the World Series. Players get a DVD of the postseason games, but Bumgarner has never felt the urge to pop the disc in and relive some of those tense moments.
Bruce Bochy likes to tell his players to “focus forward” and Bumgarner does so naturally. The Giants, in the midst of their toughest stretch of the season, couldn’t be happier with Bumgarner’s current direction. Since losing to the Rangers on July 31, the staff's ace has won all three of his starts, giving up just two runs in 25 1/3 innings and throwing two complete games. He has 35 strikeouts this month and just one walk.
“He’s amazing with how he can change himself to playoff mode,” said Gregor Blanco, who has watched this run from center field. “He seems like he’s getting stronger.”
Players say Bumgarner has picked it up behind the scenes, too, preaching a message of urgency and telling guys it’s that time of the season to leave everything else behind and focus on getting back into title contention.
Bumgarner is always intense, but he seems to have turned the focus up a notch since the season hit the final third. The transformation is nothing new. He has a career 3.05 ERA, but the number drops to 2.71 in August and 2.56 in September. Then, of course, there’s his October success.
“That’s what you look for from your No. 1,” manager Bruce Bochy said of the uptick. “And we have a good one.”
Like Blanco, shortstop Brandon Crawford has had a prime seat during this run. He said the main difference is that Bumgarner is locating his pitches better.
“In Texas he was missing his spots,” Crawford said. “He looked like the same guy with his stuff, but he wasn’t locating. The past few starts he’s been doing that, hitting his spots, and he’s been almost unhittable.”
Opponents have a .391 OPS against Bumgarner in the last three outings, but the Pirates are a tough test. You can be sure they’ve pulled up the Wild Card film, eager to find some way to get to the man who sent them home. Bumgarner has no plans to do so, and he said this start doesn’t feel any different than any other. It’s that attitude that allowed Bumgarner to shake off the pressure of October and do things we might never see again, and it turns out he’s not alone. Bumgarner responded to the question about watching his games with a query of his own.
“Is that unusual?” he said. “Do a lot of guys go back and watch?”
It turns out they don’t. An informal poll of the clubhouse didn’t turn up a player who would admit to sinking into the couch and hitting play. Crawford was the other star that October night, hitting a grand slam that broke the game open, but he said he has never seen the game start to finish, or even watched for more than a few seconds at a time.
“I’ve watched one part a time or two,” he said, smiling. “Or a hundred.”