KANSAS CITY – Fire on the mountain can be a good thing. It can be a beacon of hope through the wilderness.
The Giants entered this postseason as the wild card team, they limped through this World Series with one effective starting pitcher and had to overcome so many injuries and so many flaws. They came through every bit of bramble to win their third championship in five seasons Wednesday night.
They sheltered themselves behind the left arm, strong body and unyielding will of Madison Bumgarner, who somehow turned a Johnny Wholestaff game into an advantage in Game 7 of the World Series.
Bumgarner ambled from the bullpen and turned in an October performance for the ages, shutting down the Kansas City Royals for five innings on two days of rest as the Giants kept out the rain, survived a heart-stopping ninth inning and protected a 3-2 victory at Kauffman Stadium.
Pablo Sandoval reached base four times, scored the tiebreaking run on Michael Morse’s single in the fourth inning and set a major league postseason record with 26 hits this October. Second baseman Joe Panik created a frieze for the ages by starting one of the most acrobatic, dirt-flying double plays in Fall Classic history.
But this was Bumgarner’s month, his series and his night – with Jeremy Affeldt riding in the hero’s sidecar. After Tim Hudson recorded just five outs and gave back a two-run lead, Giants manager Bruce Bochy used Affeldt for 2 1/3 innings. Then he called on his broad shouldered 25-year-old from North Carolina, who walked into a hostile stadium and demanded peace.
With just two days of rest since his 117-pitch shutout in Game 5, Bumgarner simply smothered the Royals while holding them to two hits in five innings while throwing 50 of 68 pitches for strikes.
With 269 2/3 innings already on his left arm this year, and a record total for a single postseason, Bumgarner came through one last fire. Alex Gordon hit a two-out single in the ninth and raced to third when the ball skipped past Gregor Blanco for an error. But Bumgarner came back with high heat on Salvador Perez, finally getting him to pop up in foul ground.
Sandoval camped under the ball, secured it, raised both arms in triumph and splashed flat on his back in a legendary pose. The Giants rushed the field and made a line for Bumgarner, the undoubted MVP, who allowed one run in 21 innings while walking one and striking out 17 in this World Series over two starts and the one epic relief appearance.
The only thing missing was the Marshall Tucker Band. But the fire burned hot enough to warm a city.
Starting pitching report
At 39 years and 107 days, Hudson became the oldest pitcher to start a World Series Game 7. He dreamed his entire career for a start like this. He didn’t envision lasting just 28 pitches.
One day after Jake Peavy recorded just four outs, Hudson did him only one better. He lasted just two outs into the second inning, giving up two runs on three hits and a couple of outs that rang just as loud.
It was clear from the outset that Hudson wouldn’t approach this like any other start. He didn’t try to establish his fastball the first time through the lineup, knowing he had plenty in the bullpen to back him up. He showed everything to the Royals in the first inning, mixing offspeed upon offspeed to pitch around a walk.
By the second inning, the Royals could tell which cards were bent, and there was no tricking them. Billy Butler hit a hard single through the left side, Alex Gordon followed with a double that split the gap in right-center and the race was on. You pretty much have to hit it to Lee’s Summit to score Butler from first base, and Gordon’s double was close enough as the Royals’ gravy-and-grits DH rumbled home just ahead of the tag.
Hudson, who pitched with a slow tempo from the windup, just wasn’t the same from the stretch. His first pitch to Salvador Perez missed badly and plunked the Royals catcher just above the left knee. He stayed down for several moments, limped to first base and appeared very compromised but remained in the game. He caught 146 games in the regular season, plus 15 in the postseason. You don’t do that without a high pain threshold.
At that point, the bullpen got busy. Jeremy Affeldt got loose, Tim Lincecum joined him and Hudson couldn’t bail himself out. Mike Moustakas hit a laser to left field that turned around Juan Perez before he made the catch. Gordon took a chance, and despite a good throw from Perez and an effort to block third base by Pablo Sandoval, he tagged up safely. Those extra 90 feet led to a run, because Omar Infante followed with a hard-hit sacrifice fly to center field.
Hudson was down to his last batter and he couldn’t put away Alcides Escobar, who punched a two-strike single. That was the end of the night for Hudson as an active participant and the beginning of his night as a spectator. He yielded to Affeldt, marking the shortest start in a World Series Game 7 since the Yankees’ Bob Turley in 1960.
Everyone knew Bumgarner would play a role in Game 7, but Affeldt lurked in the background as one of Bochy’s most reliable options.
He came through again, first getting out of the second inning when Norichika Aoki hit a chopper that shortstop Brandon Crawford caught while standing on second base for a close forceout on Escobar.
Affeldt faced the minimum in the next two innings, twice relying on double plays – including one of the most spectacular turns in World Series history. Eric Hosmer hit a hard shot up the middle and Panik reacted instantly, making a full-extension dive to glove the ball and then flipping with his glove to second base. Crawford stayed with the high feed and fired to first base, where Hosmer used a headfirst slide. Umpire Eric Cooper called him safe, and although it was extremely close even on the slowest replay, the Giants used their replay challenge to its full benefit. After a delay of nearly three minutes, Hosmer was called out. Panik didn’t mind the delay, since it allowed him a chance to replace a broken belt buckle.
Affeldt hit Gordon in the back with a curve to start the fourth, but Perez swung at the first pitch and grounded into two. Then Mike Moustakas grounded into an infield shift.
Affeldt’s 2 1/3 innings was the longest postseason outing of his career and extended his streak to 22 consecutive scoreless outings in the playoffs – one behind Mariano Rivera for the all-time record. Since giving up a run in Game 1 of the 2010 World Series, this is what Affeldt has done in 22 gams: 23 1/3 innings, 11 hits, no runs, six double-play grounders, five walks, 12 strikeouts and a .147 opponent’s average.
Bumgarner entered for the fifth with a supposed limit of 40 to 50 pitches, or what he usually throws in his side session. But in truth, the Giants would stay with him as long as his stuff and delivery held firm.
He gave up a leadoff single to Infante and the Royals gave up an out with a sacrifice bunt. Then Aoki sent a hard liner down the left field line that Travis Ishikawa wouldn’t have caught with a prayer and a butterfly net. Perez got an exceptional jump and flagged it down while nearly standing on the chalk.
Bumgarner got a low strike call on Cain, who had been a tough out for him all series. When he struck out Cain on a high fastball, it signaled a shift. He was in a groove.
He got three fly outs in the sixth; a fly ball, a grounder and a strikeout in the seventh; a strikeout, a grounder and a pop-up in the eighth. He took the mound in the ninth having logged 52 pitches with Santiago Casilla warming in the bullpen.
Gordon’s hit and scamper had the stadium reverberating with hope. Bumgarner faced Perez and did not try to trick him. It was six fastballs, working the ladder with each one, and a final fireball that jammed the Royals’ catcher to end it.
At the plate
The Giants were facing a pitcher who shut them out in Game 3. But Jeremy Guthrie didn’t strike out a batter in his five innings. They were confident they could get to him for some early runs.
They came in the second inning. Sandoval was nicked on the elbow by a pitch, Pence singled to left and Belt stayed on a two-strike breaking ball for a line single to right that loaded the bases. Michael Morse followed with a lineout sacrifice fly to right field, with Pence also hustling to tag up and take third. Pence scored without a throw on Crawford’s sacrifice fly to center, sprinting across the plate like Bo Jackson going up the tunnel.
The Giants’ 2-0 lead didn’t last long, but they pushed ahead in the fourth. Sandoval, who led off innings and got on base in each of his first three trips, hit a dribbler and Infante slipped on the cut of the outfield grass as he fielded it. Sandoval had an infield single, Pence followed by punching another single to center and then Sandoval used a bit of daring while tagging up on Brandon Belt’s lineout to left field.
Royals manager Ned Yost went to his bullpen after Guthrie had recorded 10 outs on 49 pitches. Both starting pitchers combined for just 15 outs and threw just 77 pitches. Kelvin Herrera entered but it was a good matchup for Morse, who can be late on a fastball and still sting it to right field. He did just that on a hard sinker, scoring Sandoval to put the Giants ahead 3-2.
Herrera proved tough after that, stranding runners at the corners and then maneuvering through two more innings. Wade Davis and Greg Holland yielded nothing in the next three. The Giants did not need to score again.
Panik’s play will go down as one of the greatest in World Series history. Crawford’s play on Aoki in the second inning required a slow heartbeat. And Bochy’s one lineup change, putting in Perez for Ishikawa, paid off for the Giants at least twice.
[RELATED: Panik starts sensational Game 7 double play]
The Royals announced 40,535 paid. The crowd was loud when Bumgarner walked to the mound in the fifth inning. They were even louder in the ninth. They could not unnerve him.
The Giants open the 2015 season on Monday, April 6 at Arizona. We’re guessing it’ll be Bumgarner.