It appears the Giants have found a solution for their Clayton Kershaw problem. Their ace, Madison Bumgarner, outdueled his left-handed counterpart for the third time this season Thursday afternoon in the Giants’ 4-0 win over the Dodgers at AT&T Park.
Bumgarner also hit his first home run of the season off Kershaw in the third inning to provide all the offense the Giants needed while recording their third consecutive shutout.
“We kind of kid around with the pitchers sometimes: ‘You want to win the game, throw a shutout and hit a homer,’” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “He was trying to do that.”
Bumgarner needed a little help from the bullpen, which recorded the final eight outs of the Giants’ eighth shutout this season. Seven have come in May – all at home and a San Francisco-era record for the most in a month – and the Giants shut out the Dodgers over a three-game series for just the second time since 1914, the first occurring three years ago in a late-June series at AT&T Park.
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The Giants also have won all three of their run-ins this season with Kershaw, their nemesis, largely because of Bumgarner, who has allowed three runs in 202/3 innings in those games. Going back to 2012, the Giants have won five consecutive matchups of the aces, in which Bumgarner has a 1.30 ERA in 34 2/3 innings. Their only previous meeting came April 11, 2011 – a game the Dodgers won 6-1.
“You can’t try to do anything different because of who you’re facing,” Bumgarner said. “I try to downplay that as much as I can. I know it’s fun for people to watch, but at the same time I’ve got to get past that and worry about getting guys out.”
Kershaw had been especially good at that at AT&T Park, where his career ERA in 13 games before Thursday was 0.97. The Giants scored four runs off Kershaw for just the third time in his career and the first time at their home stadium, though as it turned out, all they needed was one big swing from Bumgarner.
With two outs in the third inning, Bumgarner attacked the first pitch he got from Kershaw – a 91-mph fastball that, according to MLB’s Statcast feature, left Bumgarner’s bat at 105 mph and soared an estimated 415 feet into the bleachers in left field. It was the first home run Kershaw had allowed to an opposing pitcher over 411 plate appearances in his major-league career.
Bumgarner hit four homers last year while winning the Silver Slugger Award for major-league pitchers, but before Thursday was 1 for 17 this season. Bochy said he thought Bumgarner had been “a little pull-conscious.” Bumgarner acknowledged he has been working on hitting the ball to the opposite field in batting practice but added: “I’m not trying to talk like I’m some kind of hitter.”
Still, Bumgarner said, his seventh career homer meant a little more, given whom it came against.
“I mean, he’s the best pitcher in baseball, for sure,” Bumgarner said. “So to be able to do that, run into one, that’s pretty special.”
Only one current Giant had homered off Kershaw (Buster Posey, twice), and Kershaw had given up just one home run at AT&T Park, to Melky Cabrera in 2012.
“(Bumgarner) is swinging for the fence every time he goes up there,” cracked Brandon Belt, who is 3 for 34 lifetime against Kershaw. “He’s going to connect every now and then. I don’t give him too much credit.”
Bumgarner made the run stand up, though it was not easy. The Dodgers made him work hard for outs in the early innings, driving up his pitch count while putting men in scoring position in five of the first six innings. But Bumgarner wriggled out of trouble each time.
Bumgarner’s strikeout of Justin Turner to end the fifth inning came on his 94th pitch of the afternoon and stranded runners on first and third. He allowed back-to-back singles in the sixth, but Alex Guerrero was thrown out trying for third base on A.J. Ellis’ single to left, and Bumgarner struck out Kershaw on his 105th pitch to end the inning.
“Great series for us,” Bochy said. “The pitching, what our starters did the whole series, Bum had a couple of tough acts to follow.”
There was no curtain call after his home run. But as Bumgarner left the mound after the sixth, the crowd stood and applauded. And as Bumgarner reached the Giants’ dugout, he reached up and, very slightly, tipped the bill of his cap.
The Giants’ Madison Bumgarner vs. the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw this season: