Programming note: For the most comprehensive World Series coverage, watch "SportsNet Central: October Quest" Monday at 6:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area
SAN FRANCISCO – The perfect moment happens after Madison Bumgarner lifts, lowers and prepares to plant his right leg. It happens after his hands separate and his arms begin to take rapidly divergent paths: the gloved hand pointed stiffly forward, his throwing hand slung all the way back.
In this moment, Bumgarner is a masterwork of human architecture. He is Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, a paragon of proportion. With a baseball in that left hand, of course.
Juan Marichal’s statue near the Lefty O’Doul Bridge shows him forever frozen in time just as he should be, kicking high into his delivery with his left shoe near his ear.
Bumgarner’s statue will be a big, bronzed torso and those divergent arms, the left one loaded so far behind his body that the unnerved hitter sees the recoil before he feels the rubber bullet.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Bumgarner puts Giants on doorstep of World Series crown]
A statue wasn’t what Tim Hudson meant when he spoke after the Giants’ 5-0 victory in Game 5 of the World Series Sunday night, saying that Bumgarner had “a set of brass balls that are bigger than anybody I’ve played with.”
But you get the meaning. A sellout crowd of 43,087 surely understood. They chanted “MVP! MVP!” when Bumgarner hit for himself in the eighth, they picked up the audible referendum again when he threw 10 more pitches in the ninth, and the sound had shoulders broad enough to lift the 6-foot-5, 240-pounder off the mound to someplace higher.
The simplest way to describe Bumgarner’s four-hit, no-walk, eight-strikeout complete blanking of the Kansas City Royals is to say no pitcher had ever before met those criteria in a World Series game.
Or you could borrow Buster Posey’s perspective as he caught all 117 pitches.
“He just … he did what he wanted with the baseball,” Posey said. “That’s the simplest way I can describe it.”
No, Bumgarner did not demand the ball in Game 4 of the World Series. He merely refused to give it up in Game 5. And now, nine scoreless innings deeper into one of the greatest single postseason runs of pitching in history, the 25-year-old from a North Carolina furniture factory town has the Giants one victory away from their third championship in five seasons.
They hold a 3-2 edge as the series shifts back to Kauffman Stadium for Game 6 on Tuesday. If the Royals can extend this series to one winner-take-all night, then Bumgarner would be available, presumably for multiple innings, in relief. He’ll probably volunteer to help in Game 6 with just one day of rest, too, although Giants manager Bruce Bochy was a discretionary man upon last check.
“In the history of the game there have been some great efforts, guys that have (thrown) three games and things like that,” Bochy said. “But I haven’t seen a better pitcher over the course of this postseason and it’s been a pretty long one. To do what he’s done is pretty historic, I think.”
Forgive the bullet points, but there’s really no other way to do this:
--Bumgarner threw the first World Series shutout since 2003, when Florida’s Josh Beckett won at Yankee Stadium, and the first by a Giant since Jack Sanford threw a three-hitter against the Yanks in Game 3 of the 1962 Fall Classic.
--He threw the first no-walk shutout in the World Series since 1985, when Bret Saberhagen did it in Game 7 for the Royals. (This is Kansas City’s first trip to the postseason since that celebrated year. They had losing seasons in 21 of 27 seasons after that. And now, after such a long wait, they run into a Saberhagen redux.)
--He became the first pitcher to win his first four World Series starts since Lew Burdette in 1957-58, and it would be hard to lose based on what he’s done: 31 innings, one run, 12 hits, five walks and 27 strikeouts.
--His 0.29 ERA in his four World Series starts is the lowest all-time among pitchers with a minimum of 25 innings, edging out Jack Billingham (0.36), Harry Breechen (0.83) and the one and only Babe Ruth (0.87).
--Combined with the four-hit, 10-strikeout game in the wild card elimination round at Pittsburgh that began this long October march, Bumgarner joined Beckett, Orel Hershiser and Randy Johnson as the only pitchers in history to throw two shutouts in one postseason.
--He has a 1.13 ERA in his six playoff starts this October and has thrown 47 2/3 innings – just two-thirds of an inning behind Schilling for the most in a single postseason. (“Oh really?” said Bumgarner, fully intrigued, when told of that one.)
--His 265 innings since opening day are the most by a Giant in a season since Ron Bryant threw 270 in 1973.
Marichal, of course, threw many more than that.
“When I watch him, I know we’re going to win,” said Marichal, shaking two electrified fists as he stood in the Giants clubhouse. “I know we have a chance to win with that man on the mound. He’s so good, he has so much power. I told my son he’d go nine today.”
When did he make that prediction?
“Before the game,” said Marichal, “and during the game, and when Casilla came to the bullpen. I told my son, 'Don’t worry. Casilla won’t be pitching in this game.’”
By the rulebook, it was not a save situation in the ninth. Brandon Crawford contributed an RBI single in the second inning, then an RBI ground out in the fourth, and late-inning replacement Juan Perez, playing with a sick heart after learning his friend and winter ball teammate, 22-year-old Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras, had died in a car crash in the Dominican Republic, somehow wiped away tears and smeared a two-run double off the center field wall in the eighth.
But it is always a save opportunity of sorts when it’s the last inning of the last game of the season at Third and King. And Bumgarner made it a memory for posterity. Bochy would allow his left-handed ace one chance at a clean inning, and after two quick outs, Eric Hosmer worked Bumgarner for six pitches. The last one was cutter that steered off the barrel and onto the end of the bat. Pablo Sandoval picked up the flawed contact and threw across the diamond, Posey came out for the businesslike, one-armed bro-hug, Brandon Belt flipped the baseball to Bumgarner and the pitcher shoved it in his back pocket.
He was not giving up the ball.
“Nope,” he said. “This one was my own day.”
Hell. Bumgarner might be the series MVP even if the Royals win the next two.
“I felt great. I felt great all night,” Bumgarner said. “Really, this time of year, it’s not to hard to go out there and feel good. That’s usually not the problem.”
Not for a beast of burden, anyway. But it is more than innings that are piled up in a groaning pallet on Bumgarner’s arm. There is also the burden of expectations, and that’s the part that makes even a media-savvy player like Posey marvel.
“All the attention he’s received this postseason, everybody talking about what a weapon he is, he’s still just going out and doing it,” Posey said. “I mean, we’re listening to all of it. It’s on in here. For him to go out and throw a shutout, it just speaks to his character. I don’t know if all (the attention) adds to the fire or if he just blocks it out. I really don’t know which one it is.”
Neither does Bumgarner.
“I don’t really feel like I know,” he said. “It’s nice to hear all the good stuff, but you know, as soon as you’re not pitching good, it’ll be the opposite. So as soon as I get ready to get ready, I forget about all that. You never want to add extra pressure to yourself, even if you have to trick yourself.
“There was a time I’d be saying, 'Shoot, this is the World Series.’ But when I get out there, all I want to be thinking about is making pitches.”
The first inning is when he makes the most mistakes. This time, mixing his slider like cocoa in the brownie batter, he threw strikes on 10 of 11 pitches. The Royals knew they had to attack him before he could settle down. He stood on bedrock from the moment he left the bullpen mound.
Bumgarner shaped his slider and cutter at will the first time through the lineup, letting out more slack when necessary. It was not the traveling exhibit on fastball pointillism he showed the Royals in Game 1. He adjusted to them before they could adjust to him. And he could afford to do that early because of a curveball that acted like a snag in a rug runner the next time through the order.
ESPN’s Buster Olney determined that Bumgarner recorded 52 of his 219 regular-season strikeouts (23.7 percent) on curveballs. He has recorded 22 of 42 strikeouts on curves (52.3 percent) in this postseason. It was not a show-me pitch, either. He bounced it to Alex Gordon for a chase strikeout. Facing pinch hitter Billy Butler with two strikes, he backdoored one for a burst of Freon. He even threw one of his Highway Patrol-friendly 65 mph curves to Lorenzo Cain, the one Royals batter whom Bumgarner never seemed able to get on the front foot.
“Fastball to both sides of the plate, breaking ball to both sides of the plate, expanded with fastballs, expanded with breaking balls – it was everything, all night,” Posey said.
Bumgarner was MVP of the NLCS. It’s even more obvious he’s the most valuable presence in this World Series. In this era of accelerating bullpen specialization, and in this series between two teams that are masterful at shortening a game, Bumgarner kicked it old school. Royals manager Ned Yost said his three-closer bullpen allows him to turn his brain off. On Bumgarner’s day, Bochy could spend the game glued to Candy Crush.
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“I mean, you have to say, 'Is there anybody I have to put in this game better than what I’ve got out there?’” Hudson said. “And there ain’t. He’s the best player on the field any time he’s on the mound.”
Said Bumgarner: “You want to finish the game. That is the ultimate goal, to go out and give them innings. I feel like if you throw a lot of innings, all the other stuff will take care of itself.”
Is there any way Bumgarner could keep improving?
“Yeah,” said first baseman Brandon Belt, failing at a deadpan. “He can get some postseason hits. … This is embarrassing. He doesn’t have a hit in the postseason? I mean, he needs to do a better job.”
Well, now, that’s something for the sculptor to consider. Bumgarner loves hitting so much, he might prefer his grand slam swing frozen in time.