Programming note: Padres-Giants coverage starts tonight at 6:30 p.m. with Giants Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area
SAN FRANCISCO –- When the Giants were the toast of baseball in April and May, they could count on Madison Bumgarner every fifth day.
When it all turned flat and stale June and July, they still could count on Madison Bumgarner every fifth day.
They showed faith in his ability when they named him to start Wednesday’s wild card elimination game, and they showed admiration for his character by voting him this year’s recipient of the Willie Mac Award.
Flanked by more than a dozen former recipients, but sadly not the award’s namesake, Bumgarner thanked his teammates and coaches before sending a message to McCovey.
“Willie, if you re watching, I wish you a speedy recovery,” Bumgarner said. “And we all look forward to seeing you at the ballpark soon.”
Bumgarner becomes the fifth current Giant to win the award, which honors the club’s most inspirational player. Hunter Pence, Buster Posey, Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain also have received the award. That’s the best possible comment on the club’s continuity and character.
Bumgarner received a plaque honoring him for best exemplifying McCovey’s “competitive spirit, ability and leadership.”
Bumgarner didn’t only show that competitive spirit against the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig. He went 18-10 with a 2.98 ERA and a career-best 219 strikeouts in 33 starts while making another NL All-Star team.
His 219 strikeouts set a San Francisco-era franchise record for a left-hander, and he also became the Giants’ first pitcher since Hal Schumacher in 1936 to hit four home runs in a season. He’s the first major league pitcher with two grand slams in a season since the Braves’ Tony Cloninger hit two in one game in 1966.
It took a remarkable season and a lot of admiration to win the balloting over Pence, who has missed just 11 defensive innings this season after missing just 16 last year. Pence has started every game since coming to the Giants in July, 2012.
Bumgarner kept his scripted remarks brief.
“I want to thank my teammates, my coaches, the training staff, the clubhouse staff, my wife, Ali, and you the fans,” Bumgarner said. “I’d also like to thank past recipients for making the trip to be here. It’s such a great honor because it’s voted on by the players and you the fans.
“It’s humbling to win an award named after a great ambassador to the game, Willie McCovey, and again I thank you so much.”
This was the first time in the award’s 35-year history that McCovey was not on hand to present it. He remains hospitalized with an infection in his legs, but assured emcee and two-time winner Mike Krukow that he’d be watching.
McCovey told Krukow, “I’m sorry I can’t be there tonight.”
Replied Krukow: “Willie, you’re always here.”
The Giants have encouraged fans to send McCovey well wishes at firstname.lastname@example.org or post mail to Willie McCovey c/o San Francisco Giants 24 Willie Mays Plaza, San Francisco CA 94107.