PITTSBURGH -- Madison Bumgarner doesn't exactly jump at the chance to talk about his prowess in the batter's box. Some writers realize that, but most do not, and the locals here lined up to ask Bumgarner about how far and hard he hit his blast Friday night. The answers were short, with Bumgarner smiling and looking down, eager to talk instead about his teammates or the adjustment he made on the mound.
It's understandable, but there was something different about Bumgarner's homer -- something that surely brought him a little pride behind closed doors. He was far from his best in the early innings tonight, throwing 51 pitches in the first two innings and escaping with just two runs on his line. But thanks to Bumgarner's homer, the Giants had a 5-2 lead when that wild stretch was over.
The blast tonight wasn't part of some Paul Bunyan effort like we've seen some days, or part of a Giants blowout. It was a clutch, necessary homer that bought Bumgarner some time to get right on the mound. It also bought Bruce Bochy some much-needed breathing room late, when the Giants just barely held on against a relentless Pirates lineup.
Bumgarner bought some breathing room with his arm, too. He looked headed for a five-inning night, but took the Giants into the seventh by retiring 14 straight in the middle of the game.
"The command wasn't as good as we prefer, but it was good enough to compete with," Bumgarner said. "I tried to make pitches ... we were getting some quick outs and that always helps make up for long innings. We got in a little bit of a rhythm."
Bumgarner went deep enough on an off night that Bochy was able to turn the ball over to Sergio Romo. When Romo ran out of steam, Josh Osich got a big out. Santiago Casilla took care of the rest, getting his 30th save.
"They were fighting back," Bochy said. "But we held on."
Bumgarner's best work came in those middle innings. He missed a ton on Friday, especially to his arm side, but he found a way to get deep enough for his 15th win. Jake Arrieta of the Cubs is the only other 15-game winner in the big leagues. Of course, Arrieta doesn't have five homers -- no other pitcher is close, and Bumgarner made a good first impression on his new teammate.
"Oh my gosh," Marlon Byrd said. "That homer he hit was loud. I've seen it all year (on TV). It's nice to see it up close. He can swing it. It's like having nine hitters up there when he's pitching."
The longtime Giants have run out of ways to praise Bumgarner's hitting. Numbers do a pretty good job, though ...
- Bumgarner was slugging .554 after his homer, which temporarily ranked him third in the National League behind some guys named Bryce Harper and Paul Goldschmidt. Bumgarner doesn’t technically have enough at-bats to qualify for leaderboards, but that’s just an unimportant detail. Per Josh Dubow of the Associated Press, only four Giants have topped that mark in the last 20 seasons. Barry Bonds did it eight times, Jeff Kent three times and Pablo Sandoval and Rich Aurilia once each. By the end of the game, however, he was down to .525. That would still be good for seventh in the league.
- Bumgarner is the first pitcher to hit five homers in a season since Carlos Zambrano hit six in 2006. He’s two away from reaching Mike Hampton’s high for the last 20 years (7 in 2001). Bumgarner is also the first Giants pitcher with at least five homers in a season since Hal Schumacher hit six in 1934. He broke his own San Francisco-era Giants record from last season.
- Bumgarner has nine homers the past two seasons. Zack Greinke, Travis Wood and Mike Leake (three each) are the only other pitchers with multiple homers during that span. In all, there have been 34 homers hit by pitchers the last two years, and Bumgarner has 26 percent of them.
- The Pirates fans booed Bumgarner as he walked to the plate. And then they did this.
- Per Statcast, Bumgarner’s homer traveled 418 feet, which is a season-high. It had an exit velocity of 111 mph, which makes it one of the 10 hardest-hit homers of the year for the Giants (the exact data isn’t available yet and five Giants homers went out at 111.2 to 111.8).
--- Bochy turned to Osich in a huge spot and he delivered, throwing a series of cutters to get Pirates slugger Pedro Alvarez to ground out with two on in the eighth.
"We're picking each other up right now," Osich said. "I'm kind of privileged to be pitching with this team."
They're thrilled to have you, Josh. Believe me.
"He's got great stuff, he's electric," Bumgarner said. "That's a great matchup for him. I felt really good about it. He came in and did his job."
--- Shameless plug section! From before the game: Did Bumgarner ever go back and watch the Wild Card Game? From after the game: Marlon Byrd on his big debut. And finally, a look at the decision to option Chris Heston to Triple-A.
One last thing: I’ll make a rare Saturday appearance with my friend Marty Lurie tomorrow morning on KNBR at 9:15 back home.
--- The Dodgers got no-hit in Houston tonight, so the Giants are 1.5 games back and they're almost done with this rough stretch of road games. And yes, that game was on every single TV in the visiting clubhouse at PNC Park.