OAKLAND -- Bruce Bochy wanted to make two things clear Thursday. One, he had approached Madison Bumgarner about forgoing the designated hitter and letting Bumgarner hit against the A’s at the Coliseum, not the other way around. And two, it wasn’t a decision made for fun.
The Giants were facing a left-handed pitcher, are light on right-handed hitters, and in Bumgarner had a pitcher whose ability with the bat had generated serious discussion about his participating in the Home Run Derby. Still, all talk before the game centered around Bochy becoming the first manager in 40 years to intentionally give up his DH in an A.L. stadium in favor of letting his pitcher hit.
"It was pretty special that we got a chance to do that," Bumgarner said afterward. "I’m glad I didn’t make him look stupid."
The opposite, in fact. In his first at-bat, Bumgarner led off the third inning with a double that ignited a six-run rally, propelling the Giants to a 12-6 win as they salvaged the final game of their four-game series against the A’s. The Giants improved to 50-31, halfway to 100 wins at the numerical halfway point of their season.
Overshadowed was the fact that Bumgarner allowed a season-high-tying four runs, and that he failed to reach in his final three plate appearances. By then, the Giants’ lead was commanding and the narrative was set.
As Bumgarner came to the plate in the third inning, he became the first starting pitcher since Ken Brett of the Chicago White Sox in 1976 to intentionally hit for himself in an A.L. game. A’s starter Dillon Overton fell behind Bumgarner, 3-1, and threw a fastball clocked at 88 miles per hour.
Bumgarner swung, and the result was a line drive that left his bat at 103 mph, according to MLB.com. It glanced off the glove of A’s center fielder Billy Burns, who was chasing it at full speed, and Bumgarner slid into second base with a double.
"He smoked that ball," Bochy said. "We needed something to ignite this offense. And he did it."
The inning escalated quickly. The Giants loaded the bases with no outs for Brandon Belt, who hit a ground-rule double over Burns’ head. Buster Posey followed with a three-run home run into the camera well in center field. And Brandon Crawford lined a pitch just over the out-of-town scoreboard on the right-field wall, the third time the Giants have hit back-to-back home runs this season.
Within six batters, the Giants had scored six runs, taking a 6-1 lead.
"I guess hitting can be contagious," Belt said. "Guess we figured if the pitcher can do it, the rest of us can do it, too."
Bumgarner downplayed his contribution with the bat, pointing out his being in the lineup was partly a product of the Giants’ injuries and saying, "I’m not trying to prove anything to anybody; we’re trying to win ballgames." He was aware, however, that some baseball analysts had criticized the Giants for having him in the lineup over a position player.
"I was just happy to get a hit," Bumgarner said. "A lot of people had a lot to say about what we did today. And I was just glad it worked out for us."
On the mound, Bumgarner lasted until the seventh inning, when Yonder Alonso hit a full-count pitch for a two-run homer that made it an 8-4 game. Bumgarner exited having thrown 104 pitches, while his ERA crept upward from 1.99 to 2.20.
That and his 9-4 record should get him invited to the All-Star Game -- even though his role in the festivities will not include the derby. Bochy made that clear before Thursday’s game, saying the idea of Bumgarner in the home run contest has "been nixed," citing reluctance from the players’ union about having a pitcher in the derby.
"That kind of got blown out of proportion," Bumgarner said. "I got asked if I would do it if I was asked, and I said of course, I’d love to, who wouldn’t? And that kind of took off.
"It would be fun to do. But at the same time you don’t want to take away a guy’s chance who hit 15,20 homers in the first half. Yeah, I would’ve enjoyed doing it given the chance to do it. But there’s a lot of other guys that are quite a bit more deserving than a pitcher, I would say."
Of course, as Thursday illustrated, Bumgarner is no ordinary pitcher when it comes to hitting. Bochy repeatedly referred to Bumgarner’s "presence" in the lineup, describing him with adjectives like "imposing" and "dangerous." Yet none spoke as loudly as his simple writing of "Bumgarner" into the ninth spot on the lineup card.
"It don’t happen very often anymore," Bumgarner said. "It definitely has a lot to do with the shape our team’s in right now. But at the same time, it was a really cool experience."