If tweets determined the winner, Madison Bumgarner probably sneaks onto the field tonight just ahead of the forever popular Tim Lincecum, with Tim Hudson finishing a distant third.
But Game 7 of the World Series is not a popularity contest. Bumgarner – his bionic left arm and otherworldly success this Giants postseason notwithstanding – can’t start on two days’ rest. He could and he would, but he shouldn’t. He is big and strong, but he’s not that big and strong. And Lincecum? The one-time ace has been mostly absent and anything but a good-luck charm; he wrenched his back last Wednesday in his only appearance in weeks.
That’s what brings the Giants to Hudson, and what brought Hudson to the Giants during the offseason. A seventh game. A chance for a title. A stage so large that, Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium, it opened up and swallowed veteran Jake Peavy in the second inning.
The young Royals looked like they were still kids, still swinging aluminum bats. Alex Gordon’s bloop single leading off the second inning was the kindest cut. Before manager Bruce Bochy went to the mound and replaced one of his favorite players – one of his favorite people, actually – Peavy within a few short minutes had been raked for six hits, including a scorching RBI double by Mike Moustakas, and was charged with five earned runs.
On a play that only furthered his postseason misery (7.98 ERA in nine starts) and fueled the Royals’ 10-0 rout, Peavy motioned toward home while the normally reliable Brandon Belt fielded Alcides Escobar’s grounder, and the first baseman hesitated just enough to get beat to the bag. With the bases loaded, Nori Aoki ripped a shot under Pablo Sandoval’s glove at third, prompting the lumbering Bochy into his version of a sprint to the mound.
So a seventh game it is, with Hudson getting the start against Royals journeyman Jeremy Guthrie, Bochy hovering on the top step of the dugout, and the overworked Bumgarner getting the call if Game 7 even remotely resembles Game 6. With the exception of Jean Machi, all the Giants’ relievers will be lined up. Vogelsong. Lincecum. Casilla. Romo. Affeldt. Lopez. Petit. Strickland. Especially Bumgarner.
“There a lot of managers out there,” Bochy said with a slight grin when told the campaign for a Bumgarner start burned up Twitter throughout the evening. “I understand that. But this guy would be going on two days’ rest. He just threw a complete game. This guy is human. You can’t push him that much. It’s not so much about Madison. Huddy’s our starter. We have all the confidence in the world in him. So when they tweet you, just tell them that.”
Better yet, tell them this: This is the right call because the alternatives are lousy and Bochy has a history of being right about these matters. Two titles in four years makes his case. While the image of the 25-year-old Bumgarner throwing a seventh game is almost irresistible, Hudson has been preparing for this moment for a long, impressive career.
The Columbus, Ga., native often jokes about being part of the Giants’ Southern brotherhood that includes Bumgarner and catcher Buster Posey, but his DNA includes a healthy dose of Greg Maddux/Tom Glavine/John Smoltz. He lived about 100 miles southwest of Atlanta and grew up mimicking the former Braves stars, particularly slightly built Hall of Famers Glavine and Maddux.
As Hudson has aged – and he cracks 40 next summer – the 6-foot-1, 175-pound right-hander expanded his repertoire and more aggressively attacks the corners. And while his famous sinker has lost velocity, he still thrives around the knees.
“You can see the end is near,” reflected Hudson, a member of the talented A’s staff that also featured a young Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. “That’s the big reason I came here. On paper, there were probably a lot of other teams people picked as favorites to get to the World Series. But I’ve seen this organization, how these players play, how they do things this time of the year, and it’s something special. It’s hard to put your finger on, but I saw it. I was in the other locker room when they (the Giants) beat us (the Braves) in 2010.”
That was the deal. When he signed his two-year contract last November, spurning overtures from other teams, his was a simple plan. Improve the odds of winning a title, and if the most daunting of challenges presents itself – say, pitching the finale in an opponent’s ballpark – take the plunge. Prove something to himself, as Hudson allowed the other day.
The one-time Auburn ace already has reached the National League Championship Series and World Series for the first time. And though he allowed a first-pitch double to Escobar in Game 3 at AT&T Park, he retired 10 consecutive hitters before Bochy turned to his bullpen in the sixth.
“I waited a long time for this,” Hudson said late Tuesday night, “but I’m looking forward to it. Not only am I here, but I’m pitching a Game 7. That’s pretty cool.”
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