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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It turns out there is a big leaguer who can knock Madison Bumgarner’s pitches all over the yard.
The good news for Bumgarner is that the player is his own catcher. The bad news for Bumgarner is that the player is his own catcher.
Bumgarner and Buster Posey faced off for the first time Saturday during a live batting practice session at Scottsdale Stadium, and the MVP catcher was the clear winner, lining two of Bumgarner’s fastballs into the outfield, crushing a good curveball off the center field wall, and winning bragging rights for at least a year. It was the rare humbling moment on the mound for Bumgarner, and his trusted catcher was all too happy to talk about it. Posey was waiting at his locker when the clubhouse opened, a mischievous grin on his face.
“There’s been a lot of trash talk leading up to that, on both sides,” he said. “I wanted to face him.”
Posey was originally scheduled to catch Bumgarner, not step in against him, but he snuck into the hitting group consisting of Brandon Belt, Hunter Pence and Casey McGehee. Andrew Susac was behind the plate for Posey-Bumgarner I. As Posey took warm-up swings behind the cage, it appeared the pitcher would have the advantage. Susac called for a fastball when Belt stepped into the cage first, but Bumgarner shook his catcher off four times and waited on the mound for 15 seconds before dropping a nasty curve on Belt, who didn’t swing.
Bumgarner said he’s “letting it eat” on the mound right now, and he was going full-bore against today’s group. He did, in fact, look as sharp as ever while facing the other three starters, but Posey had Bumgarner's number from the start.
Bumgarner threw an inside fastball on the first pitch to Posey and it was smoked down the left-field line. As both players smiled, Susac started rolling through pitch signs, figuring Bumgarner would opt for a different offering.
“I could see it in Bum,” Susac said. “He’s going to throw (the fastball in) again. Then he hit another one in the gap and I was like, ‘Oh, god.’”
Posey’s second swing smoked a ball into the left-center field gap. The 2012 batting champ had a “single” and a “double” and serious bragging rights as he walked slowly out of the cage and waited for Round 2.
“I think he knew what I was going to do, and I know that he knew,” Bumgarner said. “But I couldn’t help it. We had to go at each other.”
The two have been teammates since their minor league days and have three World Series titles together. When the Giants won the third one last October, Bumgarner dragging them to the finish line, it was Posey who ran out to the mound and exhaustedly dropped his head into his friend's chest as they celebrated Bumgarner’s historic run. Months later, Posey spent much of his morning talking about the upcoming matchup.
“He said, ‘I’m going to get him today, just watch,’” Susac said.
Bumgarner and Posey sailed through October by relying on an unhittable fastball-cutter combination, and Bumgarner went back to his bread-and-butter when Posey stepped back into the box, mixing in a touch of the moxie he showed so often last season. Posey had yelled “Cain threw harder” when he walked out after the first two “hits,” so Bumgarner let it rip when Posey stepped back into the box. A fastball cut in at Posey’s knees, leading to smiles all around.
The next pitch was a curve — a beauty, Bumgarner thought. Posey lined it off the base of the wall in dead center, 10 feet under the “430 feet” sign.
“The curve made me scratch my head,” Bumgarner said. “I was like, you look pretty dang sharp for the second or third day. I thought (the curveball) was really good. I was surprised, especially after all the fastballs. That’s completely uncalled for, him doing that like he did.”
Pitchers are generally far ahead of hitters early in camp, and Bumgarner hasn’t given up any real contact to others through two live BP sessions. (Belt gleefully noted that he topped a ball that rolled 30 feet down the third-base line for what would have been an infield hit in a game.) After hitting the ball off the wall, Posey stepped out of the cage. Bumgarner laughed and gestured at him to stay in the box. Posey yelled back that he didn’t want to hurt Bumgarner’s confidence any more than he already had.
“It’s not going to get much better, so I might as well end on a high note,” Posey said later. “Let that one rest in his mind a little.”
“I wasn’t quite done with him yet,” Bumgarner said. “He’s my catcher. I like throwing to him and I want him to feel good. I’m going to try to give him something he can hit before I get him out. At least, that’s what I’m saying. That’s my side of the story.”
Posey was eager to hear it. After his interview, he fired one last shot as he headed to the showers, crowing, “I guarantee you he was giving everything he’s got. I GUARANTEE you.” Posey doesn’t often linger in the clubhouse because few around the game get besieged with more interview requests, but he brought a salad back from the lunch room and ate it slowly at a table in the middle of the room, seemingly eager to still be around when Bumgarner returned from a workout and tried to explain himself.
At the end of a tough day to swallow, Bumgarner, the Giants’ ace and Opening Day starter, found a silver lining when he joked he’ll give Posey his best stuff next spring during Bumgarner-Posey II. The first showdown with baseball's best catcher left the sport's best big-game pitcher no option but to shake his head and laugh it off.
“That’s why he’s the Face of MLB, I guess,” Bumgarner said.