A twilight matchup of arguably the National League’s hottest team against the owner of its best record, the presence of a national television crew and the back-and-forth between pockets of fans in both orange and blue conspired to create a tone at AT&T Park this weekend that did not escape Madison Bumgarner.
“It’s a fun series,” the Giants’ left-hander said. “It was kind of a little bit of the playoff atmosphere, I guess, with all the hype and talk leading up to these games.”
That, of course, is an atmosphere in which Bumgarner has thrived. Sunday, Bumgarner ditched the song he has warmed up to before home games this season – “Cowboy,” by Kid Rock – for the Marshall Tucker Band’s “Fire on the Mountain,” the song that played during his memorable run through the 2014 postseason.
Then, in front of an announced crowd of 41,539 and a national ESPN broadcast, Bumgarner delivered an outing evocative of that October, holding the Cubs scoreless into the eighth inning and hitting an RBI double to lift the Giants to a 1-0 win and series victory over a Chicago team that so far this season has been the class of the N.L.
“That’s not a bad day for Bum, to pitch like that, shut ’em out and drive in the only run,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “That’s a pretty good day.”
Bumgarner allowed just three hits before departing with two outs in the eighth following a walk to Anthony Rizzo on his 115th pitch. Reliever Cory Gearrin threw one pitch to Kris Bryant, who lined out, and Santiago Casilla notched the save with an assist from center fielder Denard Span, who robbed Ben Zobrist of extra bases to open the ninth with a running, twisting catch on the warning track.
It added to an excellent defensive game for the Giants and preserved the win for their ace, who in his last six starts is 5-0 with a 1.25 ERA, 48 strikeouts and 12 walks. Bochy later said he couldn’t think of a game he had managed in which his team played better defense.
“That’s how well we played tonight,” Bochy said. “Everybody seemed like they made a great play.”
Joe Panik and Matt Duffy made diving plays at second and third base to take away hits. Shortstop Brandon Crawford displayed his range with a backhand play in the hole to rob Ben Zobrist of a single in the third.
Brandon Belt deftly scooped Bumgarner’s low throw to first on a Dexter Fowler ground ball leading off the game. And catcher Buster Posey made a difficult catch of a Jorge Soler pop-up in foul ground, reaching over the railing of the Cubs’ dugout in the seventh.
It culminated with Span’s catch in the ninth, which he made while backpedaling onto the warning track as Zobrist’s drive continued to carry.
“As soon as I squared my hips it felt like the ball blew back the same way I had opened up,” Span said. “So I had to kind of do a little shimmy, a little karaoke, and try to get my body back to the other side. I just made a play, a reaction.”
Span said several people told him afterward that, “That’s kinda Candlestick right there, that’s how the ball used to move around there.”
“That ball was moving quite a bit on him and it created quite a bit of drama there,” Bochy said. “But he made the play.”
Bumgarner pitched into the eighth despite having to navigate a 28-pitch first inning that built after he hit Bryant with two outs. Zobrist singled and Soler walked, but Bumgarner struck out Addison Russell looking on a full-count cutter to leave the bases loaded.
“I don’t know if you can make a bigger pitch than he did with the bases loaded and a 3-2 count,” Bochy said. “Just a beautiful pitch there to stop things.”
Bumgarner described working out of the early jam as, “Kind of go ahead and get slapped in the face in the first inning and get going, more or less.
“You never want to walk out there thinking it’s going to be easy. So it’s good to have a little bit of that competition going.”
Over the next five innings, Bumgarner threw just 49 more pitches. After David Ross’ one-out single in the second, he retired 16 straight Cubs before Matt Szczur bounced a single up the middle with two outs in the seventh. Ross then went down swinging on a slider to end the inning.
“I ain’t gonna complain, I felt good,” Bumgarner said. “Body feels good, command is good for the most part, movement on all the pitches is good. That’s all you can ask for going out there.”
Run support helps, as well, and Bumgarner provided his own, breaking a scoreless duel with Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks in the fifth. Gregor Blanco led off the inning drawing a walk, and Bumgarner attempted to bunt him over in a 1-1 count but bunted foul.
On the next pitch Bumgarner again showed bunt, but pulled his bat back and roped a line drive over the head of Soler in left field that one-hopped the wall. Blanco, running on the pitch, scored easily from first, and Bumgarner cruised into second with a double and his second RBI of the season.
“We knew after the third or fourth (inning) we just needed to get him one run,” Duffy said. “Turns out he got it for himself.”
It was enough to give the Giants their 10th win in 11 games, including two of three this weekend against the Cubs, who lost consecutive games for just the second time in 2016. Bochy was asked afterward how he would explain the Giants’ recent hot streak and gave a candid answer.
“I think we’re a talented club, that’s how I would explain it,” he said. “We have a good lineup – not just offensively, they’re good defenders. The pitching’s gotten on a roll here – and that’s been the key to our success here the last 10, 11, 12 games.”
In the past two, Giants pitchers helped themselves with the bat. Matt Cain had his first hit since 2014 on Saturday with a two-run double in a 5-3 win. According to STATS, LLC, it’s the first time two pitchers had the game-winning RBI in consecutive games for the Giants since May 29-30, 1978, when Ed Halicki and Bob Knepper accomplished the feat.
“I think anytime you play the top teams in the league you want to play well, you want to show them that you can compete,” Duffy said. “And our pitching was outstanding the last two days. It was really – you can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Bochy tempered the enthusiasm a bit by pointing out it’s still mid-May and including the Giants’ next opponent, the last-place Padres, while saying: “They’re all big series.” Still, he praised his players for their response to being beaten soundly in the series opener by the Cubs and reigning Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta.
“These guys elevated their game,” Bochy said. “You had two good teams going at it, two teams that play the game hard, play it right, two talented clubs. Fun series. We got shut down, and it was a good bounce-back for us after getting beaten up pretty good the first game.”
The Giants’ starter in that game, Jake Peavy, couldn’t escape the second inning. Before Sunday’s finale, though, Bochy threw his support behind the struggling right-hander, who is 1-5 with an 8.21 ERA in nine starts this season.
Asked how long a leash he’s giving Peavy, Bochy said: “I don’t have a leash on him right now, so I don’t know how long. … Jake, he’s going to be fine. I think he’s close.”
Bochy classified Peavy’s outing Friday, in which he allowed five runs in 1 2/3 innings, as a “hiccup,” while citing Peavy’s 19 strikeouts in 17 innings in three outings before that as evidence that Peavy’s “stuff is fine. He’s healthy and he’s close, he’s just got to be a little more consistent with the executive of the pitches.”
Even with Cain pitching better, Bochy said the Giants have no plans to alter the order of their rotation before the All-Star break.