Programming note: For complete World Series Victory Parade coverage on Friday, tune in to Comcast SportsNet Bay Area at 11:30 a.m.
KANSAS CITY – Buster Posey threw off his mask, revealing an expression of pure awe and delight. He stole a glance at Madison Bumgarner on the mound, then looked back to make sure the final out of Game 7 of the 110th World Series really and truly would land in Pablo Sandoval’s glove.
It did, Sandoval splashed flat on his back in foul ground, the Giants were champions for the third time in five years, and Posey prepared to tackle an onrushing steer.
Fire on the mountain can be a good thing. It can be a beacon of hope through the wilderness.
The Giants won in 2010 with a band of misfits and a gold standard pitching staff. They snuck up on another title in 2012 by dancing in the rain, scoffing at elimination and once more outperforming three opponents on the mound.
The even-year phenomenon held Wednesday night, against all odds and through all the bramble, and with a trail map that made no sense.
No sense, anyway, to anyone who underestimated the brawn, bravado and burning heart of a 25-year-old left-hander with a back wide and strong enough to carry an entire team to the summit.
“I’m pretty sure he’s not human,” said shortstop Brandon Crawford, after Bumgarner inherited a 3-2 lead over the Kansas City Royals to start the fifth inning and protected it all the way to a clubhouse soaking at Kauffman Stadium.
“Sometimes you wonder if he’s got a pulse,” said Matt Cain, the starting pitcher in all three of the Giants’ series clinching wins two years ago, who had elbow surgery in July.
The Giants weren’t supposed to do this without Cain. All through October, they received one quality outing in 11 games when Bumgarner didn’t start.
They got just four outs from Jake Peavy on Tuesday, and five from Tim Hudson on Wednesday.
It did not matter.
The Giants had to play Game 7 of the World Series on the road, a set of circumstances where no team has succeeded since 1979, and they found themselves in Johnny Wholestaff mode in the second inning. Yet Jeremy Affeldt stabilized the game through the fifth and Bumgarner, recording the final 15 outs on two days of rest, funneled the celebration into the visiting clubhouse and straight down the gullet.
“At one point I looked at the pitch count and thought to myself, 'Why are you even worried about it?’” Giants GM Brian Sabean said. “With each inning, he was getting stronger. He was getting more and more into their heads.”
And why wouldn’t he? Bumgarner was coming off a four-hit, 117-pitch shutout in Game 5. His 0.25 ERA is the lowest in World Series history for pitchers with a minimum of 25 innings. He became the first pitcher ever to record two wins and a save in one Fall Classic, striking out 17 and walking one while yielding one run in 21 innings. And in 52 2/3 innings this October, the most ever thrown in one postseason, he finished with a 1.03 ERA. That includes the shutout he threw an eternity ago in the wild card game at Pittsburgh – the only other time the Giants faced elimination before walking into Kauffman Stadium for Game 7.
The plan wasn’t for Bumgarner to throw five innings against the Royals. But he kept recording outs, staying in his delivery and throwing strikes. So Bruce Bochy let him go. On 68 pitches, 50 for strikes, he took them further than anyone thought possible.
“I was thinking maybe if he could get through the eighth, that would be amazing,” Posey said. “But he got stronger. He got locked in. I asked him during that first inning, he wasn’t too crisp, so it’s, 'Hey, are you OK?’ And he goes '(grunt) Yeah, man, I just gotta get loose.’”
Said Bochy: “In fact, I was staying away from him every inning because I was hoping he wouldn’t go, 'I’m starting to get a little tired.' Because there’s no way I would have taken him out unless he would have told me that. We just got on his horse and rode it.”
The Giants have dispatched 10 postseason opponents in a row since 2010, and for emphasis, here is the litany: Braves, Phillies, Rangers, Reds, Cardinals, Tigers, Pirates, Nationals, Cardinals again and now the Royals. They are the first NL team to win three World Series titles in five years since the Cardinals in 1942-46.
Bochy matched John McGraw for the most World Series titles in franchise history, and became the 10th manager in major league annals to win a third title. The other nine are in the Hall of Fame.
“You know, I’m numb, really, all through this,” Bochy said. “To look at this and see we’ve won three times, I mean, I’m amazed with what these guys did and the fact we’ve won three times in five years. It’s not that easy. But when you have a group of warriors like we have, I mean, they continue to just amaze you. They were relentless.”
It was a partnership of trust: a manager unafraid to win by straying from convention, and a pitcher who kept donating more and more and more of that champion’s blood without ever appearing faint.
It should be mentioned that the Giants also won their 100th and final game of the season because they received a three-hit night from Pablo Sandoval, who set a postseason record with 26.
Hunter Pence contributed to two rallies with hits and finished with a .444 average in the World Series, behind only Roberto Alomar and Lou Brock for the highest in a Fall Classic.
Michael Morse, hand picked by Bochy this winter to be his left fielder and then trusted to return from an oblique injury that cost him nearly all of September, contributed a sacrifice fly and the tiebreaking single in the fourth.
Juan Perez, inserted into the starting lineup for his defense, flagged down two balls that might have flummoxed Travis Ishikawa.
Joe Panik started a belly flopping, belt busting, glove flipping double play that will be replayed for ages and Affeldt’s 2 1/3 innings marked his 22nd consecutive scoreless outing in the postseason – one behind Mariano Rivera for the all-time record.
But all of it only worked because Bumgarner made it so. He added a World Series MVP to his NLCS trophy, and finished with 270 innings this year. The last time a Giant threw more, you have to go back to 1971, and Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry.
It was ridiculous, really. No pitcher had ever recorded a five-inning save in the World Series. It hasn’t been done in the regular season in 12 years. Bumgarner gave up a leadoff single in the fifth, and there was a dicey line drive that Perez flagged down, then the batters succumbed like lambs.
Bumgarner retired 14 consecutive after two quick outs in the ninth. Yet there was one final test. As Santiago Casilla warmed up in the bullpen, Alex Gordon laced a line drive to center field. Gregor Blanco contemplated a dive, thought the better of it, then got caught in between and failed to knock it down. It shot past him to the wall, where left fielder Juan Perez frantically tried to pick it up. Gordon appeared to stumble briefly around second base. He stopped at third.
[STIGLICH: Gordon nearly spoils Giants' celebration plans]
The crowd thundered. Salvador Perez was next. And Bumgarner, despite the heaviest workload in postseason history, knew what he had to do.
“I knew he was an aggressive hitter. I mean, anyone would be in that situation,” he said. “I was going to throw fastball or curve in the dirt, and when you throw it in the dirt with a man on third, you’re taking a chance. I don’t care how good your catcher is. We talked about it and Buster kept calling it and I had faith. We were going with high fastballs.”
The sixth and final one jammed Perez. Sandoval camped under it. Then he let gravity, and ecstasy, take him.
The celebration raged on and on, backed for a time by The Marshall Tucker Band over the speakers, of course, and as it began to quiet, Cain stood in a corner of the clubhouse and reflected on the first time he’d seen Bumgarner pitch. It was a spring training game against the Dodgers, and Bumgarner had been called up from minor league camp. Manny Ramirez was in the lineup. Bumgarner, all of 19 years old, asked Cain how he should pitch him.
“I said hey, try to bust him in,” said Cain, curious whether he'd be bold enough to take the advice. “Why not? He goes out there, three pitches, and busts him in, strikes him out, and he’s 19 years old. When you see that, when you see him able to keep calm in any situation, you know that’s the guy you want out there.”
Opening day is April 6 at Arizona. Bumgarner, certainly, will be out there. Club CEO Larry Baer joked that next season, they debunk this every-even-year thing.
But for now, there is a parade. And rest.
“I’m gassed, just gassed, and I’m ready to sleep for a day,” said Posey, who didn’t have an extra-base hit in the postseason. “Physically, obviously, it’s a grind but when you go all the way to the seventh game of the World Series, you’re waking up in the middle of the night thinking about who you’re facing, who you’ve got on the mound, how are we going to get this guy out … It’s not just when you’re at the park, you know what I’m saying?
“But it’s worth it. It’s worth it for all this.”
It is one thing to collect rings. It is another to forge a legend. And sometimes, even legends with no pulse have something to confess.
“You know what? I can’t lie to you anymore,” Bumgarner said. “I’m a little tired now.”