PITTSBURGH – Bruce Bochy spun a story in the interview room here at PNC Park, one about Madison Bumgarner that ardent Giants fans already knew.
It involved a start at Triple-A Fresno, a disagreement with an umpire, an ejection – and a baseball angrily thrown from the dugout to, maybe, someone’s windshield. Nobody can say for sure. Nobody saw the ball land.
That’s when Bochy knew the Giants had something special in this teenage kid. That’s how he knew he selected the right man to fight for their postseason lives.
Sure enough, Bumgarner stood guard at a 45-degree angle on the rubber Wednesday night, smothering the Pittsburgh Pirates with his syrupy delivery and 100-proof stuff while throwing a four-hitter and striking out 10 in an overwhelming, 8-0 victory at PNC Park.
The Giants might have entered through the servant’s door into this postseason, but they sheared off wrought iron in the Steel City while advancing to an NL Division Series against the Washington Nationals that begins Friday at Nationals Park.
Bumgarner might have kept his eyes extra narrow because he saw the Oakland A’s blow a four-run lead in the AL Wild Card game a night earlier. Or me might have been royally hacked that Brandon Crawford hit that grand slam before he could get in a lick with the bases loaded.
Crawford collected the hit of his baseball life, smacking the mute button along with a 1-2 knuckle curve from Edinson Volquez to instantly silence a roaring crowd in the fourth inning. It was the 54th postseason grand slam in baseball history, and the first by a shortstop.
No, St. Derek never did it, either.
Brandon Belt added a pair of RBI singles, driving in three altogether, as the Brandons had themselves a day.
All of them earned another day, and another game. Three, actually.
Starting pitching report
Bumgarner unleashed pitches as if every Pirates batter were wearing a Puig mask.
He used his slingshot delivery to pound right-handed batters inside, jamming them into pop-ups and strikeouts. He neutralized reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen, who is now 2 for 15 against him.
He didn’t allow a Pirate to reach third base until the eighth inning, and that was only due to a couple errors on the infield.
Bumgarner also extended a streak to 16 consecutive scoreless innings in the postseason, counting the seven zeroes he threw against the Detroit Tigers in Game 2 of the 2012 World Series.
It appears Bumgarner’s next assignment might be a rematch of that World Series game, back at AT&T Park, and once again against Doug Fister, who could start Game 3 for the Washington Nationals.
Bumgarner and Volquez each needed just eight pitches to record three outs in the first inning. The Pirates nearly got to him in the second inning, when Russell Martin slipped a single under Crawford’s glove and Starling Marte drove a pitch to the warning track. But one called strikeout and a pop-up later, Bumgarner was out of the inning.
He showed the Pirates no quarter the rest of the way. Even when the Giants added to their lead, Bumgarner showed no letup. He struck a dear-God pose when he took a called strike from John Holdzkom on the eighth inning.
And afterward, the 25-year-old left-hander took part in his 10th bubbly and suds bath.
The Giants had nine other pitchers on the roster, including Jake Peavy. They did not use them.
Hunter Strickland got the closest. He warmed up in the ninth.
At the plate
Volquez allowed a total of one home run and four runs over his five September starts. Crawford accounted for that with one swing.
It was one of many smart, patient at-bats the Giants took against a pitcher they knew from last season in San Diego, when he gave up the most earned runs in the NL. The year before that, Volquez led the league in walks.
He got his changeup over the first time through the lineup, and Crawford lined out with two on base in the second inning. But the Giants didn’t bite on many of his chase pitches, and they forced him into the strike zone after loading the bases in the fourth. Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence singled, Belt checked his swing on a 2-2 curve before working a walk, and then Crawford did not miss his pitch.
It came after Volquez missed with a changeup, got a called strike with a two-seamer and had Crawford out in front of a curveball. Volquez doubled up on the pitch, and Crawford, who hit just .213 against right-handed pitching this season, turned it around. A roaring crowd fell into silent prayer the moment the ball left the bat. The ball rose higher than the intercessions.
It was the fourth postseason slam by a Giant, and the second in an elimination game, and surely you haven’t forgotten Buster Posey off Mat Latos in Cincinnati two years ago, or Will Clark at Wrigley Field off Greg Maddux in the 1989 NLCS. Chuck Hiller hit a slam in the 1962 World Series as well.
It was Crawford’s first postseason home run and his third career grand slam – and as you might recall, his first major league hit back in May, 2011, was a grand slam, at Milwaukee.
Crawford had no special wandoo against Volquez. He entered 3 for 20 with seven strikeouts and no walks against him. Yet Bochy moved his shortstop up from eighth to seventh in the lineup, and Crawford stepped into the moment with precise timing.
The Giants had a 4-0 lead, they shone a flood light into the Pirates’ ballpark blackout and they kept on hitting.
Volquez was replaced after walking Pence to start the sixth inning, and after a wild pitch advanced the runner, Belt singled to right field off lefty Justin Wilson to make it 5-0.
Joe Panik led off the seventh with the second of his three singles, Buster Posey followed with another single and Sandoval walked before Pence grounded into a forceout at the plate. But Belt made something out of the inning, hitting a two-run single off right-hander Jared Hughes.
Posey’s single in the eighth scored Gregor Blanco, breaking up what had been an all-Brandon RBI affair.
Sandoval got on base three times, scored twice and played a sensational game at third base. He expertly fielded Martin’s attempt at a bunt single and threw him out by a half-step in the fourth inning.
Then Sandoval tumbled over the rail and into the Pirates dugout, landing on his feet like a tabby, after catching Martin’s pop-up to start the seventh.
Hunter Pence and Joe Panik bumped shoulders while Panik caught a pop-up to end the second inning as well.
The Pirates announced 40,629 paid, and no amount of scoreboard prompting could resuscitate a once-rocking crowd after Crawford’s punch to the trachea.
The Giants advance to play the Washington Nationals in an NL Division Series. Game 1 is scheduled for Friday at Nationals Park. Jake Peavy is the presumed starter, presumably opposing right-hander Stephen Strasburg. No need to presume the Giants will be there. They will.