When it was over, when he was finally able to tell the true tale of this magical night and this historic World Series, Madison Bumgarner shed the mask and made a full confession. Yes, he was nervous. Yes, he was tired. Yes, he is human.
But who believes him?
What the Giants left-hander accomplished did to the Royals is the stuff of legends, of superheroes, of superstars. Two days after throwing a complete-game shutout – tossing a whopping 117 innings – he rescued Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson, rewarded his teammates for cobbling together enough offense for a 3-2 Game7 victory, pitched his franchise to its third World Series title in five years.
Bumgarner not only saved the series Wednesday night, he stole the show. It was all about him. His big arm, his funky, deceptive motion, his almost freakish stamina. He was the unanimous Most Valuable Player because, frankly, his numbers were so remarkable they were almost unbelievable. He compiled the lowest earned run average (0.43) since Sandy Koufax (0.38) in 1965 and, in the process, shook up the baseball world.
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For the longest time, for weeks and months this past summer, this didn’t appear to be the Giants’ year. There were season-ending injuries, aging and aching starting pitchers, struggles to score runs, troubles winning games in that beautiful ballpark by the bay.
But don’t turn away yet. Bumgarner emerged as an ace, then a savior, and on this memorable evening inside Kauffman Stadium, he morphed into one of the best relievers on the planet. Later, manager Bruce Bochy said that this all part of the plan, and assuming the Giants had a lead, that Bumgarner was on the clock from the fifth inning to the final three outs.
And it happened, in fact, mostly according to script. While Hudson became the oldest pitcher to start Game 7 of a World Series and the earliest too leave, the middle of the order helped generate two runs in the second, and then in the fourth, pushed across the run that mattered most.
Pablo Sandoval, who contributed three hits and later squeezed Salvador Perez’s pop-up in foul territory for the final out, legged out an infield grounder for a single. Hunter Pence, who produced a tremendous series of his own, followed with a single to left-center.
Two outs later, after Sandoval advanced to third on Brandon Belt’s fly ball to center, the free agent-to-be scored on Michael Morse’s single to right.
As the game progressed, other Giants contributed, in ways big and small. Reliever Jeremy Affeldt earned the win with his 21/3 innings of one-hit ball. Joe Panik stabbed a sharp grounder while moving to his right, and while still on the ground, shoveled the ball with his glove to Brandon Crawford for a clean, crisp, timely double play.
But like his teammates, Panik was merely setting the scene for Bumgarner and his grand finale. Bottom of the fifth inning, Giants ahead 3-2. There he was between innings, jogging in from the bullpen in right, slowing down only when he touched the dirt near second, the Royals already doomed.
He baffled the Royals with his deceptive three-quarters motion and his sharp change of speeds. He had them swinging at shoulder-high fastballs and chasing pitches wide of the plate. He allowed just two hits – a blooper into center by Omar Infante, the first batter he faced, and a sinking line drive by Alex Gordon with two outs in the ninth that eluded Gregor Blanco and was bobbled by Juan Perez.
Gordon made it all the way to third, forcing Bumgarner into a staredown against Perez.
“Right when he first hit it,” he said, “I didn’t know if it was going to go foul or stay in. You see Pablo under it … a little bit of relief, a little bit of excitement combined. You’re just sitting there, trying to figure out if it really just happened or not, for me.”
Oh, it happened all right. Sandoval clenched the ball and collapsed backward, players and coaches spilled onto the field, and the stoic, cautious Bumgarner turned truth-teller.
“I can’t lie to you any more,” he added, in his droll wit. “I’m tired.”
But he is only 25. Imagine that. What is he going to do tomorrow and the rest of his career? The rest of his life? I have a few suggestions, anyway, a few thoughts to keep him from getting bored. He can take that bionic arm of his and peck away for world peace, come up with the solution for the drought on the West Coast, devise a plan to end gridlock on interstates everywhere and, just for the fun of it, take a shot at the NBA.
At 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, he’s already taller than either of Northern California’s starting point guards.
Or perhaps he will simply come back season and do it all over again. Lead his team to another World Series, shatter what’s left of the Giants record book, overwhelm whatever American League team wants to take a run at him, at the Giants.
“We’ve kept our core players,” Bochy noted. “(Angel) Pagan will be back. (Matt) Cain will be back. We’ve got some good young players. (Madison) Bumgarner. (Joe) Panik with what he’s done. The thing I love about what’s happening in San Francisco is the continuity that we have, so that allows you to hopefully compete and contend every year.”
But it starts with the lefty, the one with the rubber arm, the one coming off a performance for the generations.