There have been some luminous October evenings in this stadium since 2010, when the San Francisco Giants began improbably winning championships, but Sunday evening was as close to perfect as it could have been.
The Giants defeated the Kansas City Royals in every phase of the game, a 5-0 triumph on a still and warm night where the Giants pushed to within a win of another title and the legend of starter Madison Bumgarner grew.
Only 25, the lefthander from Hickory, N.C., posted the first World Series complete game shutout in 11 years as he shut down a dangerous Royals team without a hitch.
The last Giants pitcher to claim a complete-game shutout was Jack Sanford in Game 2 of the 1962 World Series – 52 years ago.
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It is not an exaggeration to state that Bumgarner is already one of the great World Series pitchers in the history of baseball. With nine scoreless innings on Sunday, Bumgarner has allowed only one earned run in 31 World Series innings where he has struck out 27 batters. That means a microscopic 0.29 average of earned runs allowed, the lowest in history for a pitcher with at least 25 World Series innings pitched.
No one in baseball history ever pitched a complete game shutout in the World Series without walking a batter and while striking out at least eight hitters.
The numbers go on and on.
There was a feeling of reverence for Bumgarner as the evening wore on and it became apparent that he would not leave the game or give up a run.
“M-V-P! M-V-P!” chanted the capacity crowd here as the game wound down, a chorus that intensified after the final out and a bashful Bumgarner doffed his cap several times in appreciation.
Bumgarner actually seems uncomfortable when his numbers are recited back to him.
“Obviously, that’s pretty special,” he said, fidgeting in his chair after the game when questioned by awestruck reporters. “But that’s surprising. I wouldn’t have thought that.”
His attitude is a huge benefit to the Giants. The narrative of the Giants is one of hardscrabble players rising above themselves to grind out unlikely wins.
It’s part of the story, but not the whole story. Bumgarner – and his catcher Buster Posey – were elite prospects highly sought by many teams. He was the 10th player selected in the 2007 draft of amateur players, meaning that nine teams had a chance to land him before the Giants made their move.
One of those players selected ahead of Bumgarner was Mike Moustakas, the Royals third baseman whom Bumgarner retired three times on Sunday – once on a strikeout.
But the numbers and on-field accomplishments tell only part of the story here. Bumgarner and Posey have brought a fierce, no-nonsense, team-first mentality that has driven the Giants to within a win of a third World Series crown in five years.
Bumgarner is only 25. Posey, a Georgia native, is only 27. The prime of these two careers is at the heart of why the Giants are where they are now.
On Sunday, Posey and Bumgarner were in perfect synch with Posey calling the pitches and Bumgarner executing them. With each zero to mark each Royals inning of futility, the Giants grew in confidence.
The Giants scored their first run when outfielder Hunter Pence was aggressive on the base paths and shortstop Brandon Crawford got Pence home with intelligent hitting. Belt and third baseman Pablo Sandoval made athletic plays to preserve Bumgarner’s excellence.
Meanwhile, the Royals’ terrific defense could not match the Giants’ as Alcides Escobar, the excellent shortstop, let some plays get past him that he had to make in a game like this.
Giant’s manager Bruce Bochy was vindicated as strategist when he inserted light-hitting Juan Perez into left field late in the game. An excellent defender, Perez immediately made a fantastic running catch that kept the Royals from gaining any confidence. And Perez crushed a pitch to left center field that drove in two late runs to put the game on ice. Perez’s blast came off vaunted Royals reliever Wade Davis, who had decimated the Giants earlier in the series. That the Giants roughed up Davis and Kelvin Herrera, another unhittable Royals reliever, only added to the comprehensive luster of the win.
It all happened on what seemed like a late summer evening that followed a glorious afternoon. No matter the outcome, this was to be the last home game of the Giants’ season before this series shifted back to Kansas City, and the buildup was idyllic and festive.
Robin Williams, the late, great comic and Giants fan, was remembered fondly in a video tribute. It was like Mardi Gras in the galleries.
Bumgarner threw a first-pitch strike to 25 of the 31 batters he faced. His teammates were elevated by his laconic excellence.
And when the final out was recorded, an orange-clad crowd left feeling the Giants would win one more game in Kansas City to complete a picture of joy that played out here on a near-perfect evening.
Call The Bee’s Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096.