SAN DIEGO — The long eighth inning, featuring three relievers and a blown lead, cost Madison Bumgarner a chance to win 19 games for the first time as a big leaguer. It also gave him plenty of time to prepare for a question he knew was coming.
What exactly was going on during that stare down with home plate umpire Joe West?
“Joe was behind the plate?” Bumgarner said, somehow keeping a straight face. “I don’t pay attention to the umpires. I didn’t realize he was up there.”
The acting performance was reminiscent of Bumgarner’s equally perfect response after a showdown with Yasiel Puig a year ago, when he pointed out that he doesn’t speak Spanish and deadpanned, “I was just congratulating him.”
At the end of a very long and ultimately disappointing season for the Giants, Bumgarner has kept his sense of humor. He has kept his focus, too. When asked if he wants to make two more starts and chase 20 wins, Bumgarner said he’s only worried about facing the Dodgers next week at AT&T Park. That game will almost certainly be meaningless, but as Bumgarner showed again on Thursday night, no outing gets anything but his best.
Bumgarner gave up a three-run homer to Derek Norris — on a pitch he had tried to bounce — but otherwise cruised through seven innings in a 5-4 loss to the Padres. A start after throwing a season-high 117 pitches, he tossed 120. The Giants aren’t going to make the postseason, but Bumgarner looks very much like a man who is still capable of putting this team on his back for a few weeks.
“I feel really close to the same,” he said when asked if he’s as fresh as he was in April. “The command is good, the stuff is good. I feel, all around, pretty solid out there.”
Manager Bruce Bochy said the training staff has a way of testing how quickly a pitcher bounces back physically from a start. Bumgarner, a religious worker in the four days between outings, blows others away.
“He’s off the charts,” Bochy said. “He’s special.”
For all that Bumgarner has done this season, he hasn’t been able to keep the Giants from finally succumbing to a string of poorly-timed injuries. They’re eight back with 10 to play after Alexi Amarista walked them off Thursday, and the tragic number is three. It now seems very likely that the West race will be over when the Dodgers come to AT&T Park on Monday, and Bochy said that at some point next week the staff will sit down and discuss whether Bumgarner should start the season finale as he’s currently scheduled to do.
“I expect (him to) but I’ll check with him,” he said. “We’ve got to be smart about it so we’ll see where he’s at and how he feels. He had a great year and this is disappointing that we couldn’t hold on and get the 19th win for him. There’s nothing he could do about it.”
Bumgarner handed a 4-3 lead to the bullpen but it should have been much bigger. The Giants had eight hits and a walk through three innings but scored just two runs, one coming on Brandon Crawford’s 20th homer.
“We squandered those early opportunities,” Bochy said. “It came back to haunt us. We couldn’t get those runs in. We didn’t execute.”
The biggest missed chance came when Angel Pagan got thrown out trying to score from second on Matt Duffy’s single.
“Well, he stopped,” Bochy said. “He took off and then he stopped because he thought he was going to catch it. It was a good relay and a bang-bang play. The report I got was that they got him by inches.”
That kept the game close, and the bullpen blew a lead for the second straight night. Bochy said he probably has a few relievers who need a break, and they weren’t fully ready to help Bumgarner get his 19th. Still, this has been a remarkable season for a man who shouldered a historic workload last fall. Bumgarner said he’s proud that he’s still going strong.
“That’s a big deal to me,” he said. “Personally, I want to be able to do that. The team has confidence in me doing that.”
--- Crawford lost a homer to Starling Marte’s glove a few weeks back, so it had to feel good to get it out of the way tonight. He won’t be chasing that number anymore.
“Once I got past 15, the next milestone you look at is 20,” he said. “It was nice to be able to get that. Unfortunately it wasn’t in a win.”
Crawford did his part. He scored the go-ahead run when he spooked Ian Kennedy into a balk. Tim Flannery used to say that Crawford was his best baserunner, and he showed his smarts there. He said that with two strikes and two outs, he wanted to try and get Kennedy to either balk or miss his pitch location. It worked out perfectly.
--- The Giants are out, but they haven’t forgotten how to have fun. The entire team dressed in cream-colored polo shirts and matching bald caps, pranking Tim Hudson. That, apparently, is his official uniform. Bumgarner, who had his long hair tucked back by a band while talking to reporters, was one of the first to pull a cap on.
Hudson, as popular a teammate as you’ll ever find, looked around after showering and started laughing.
"Glad this team finally found some style,” he said.
That man will be missed.