San Francisco Giants

Madison Bumgarner saddles up for Giants’ flag-raising

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner (40) rides a horse as he carries the World Series peanut to his teammates during opening day at AT&T Park Monday April 13, 2015 in San Francisco.
San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner (40) rides a horse as he carries the World Series peanut to his teammates during opening day at AT&T Park Monday April 13, 2015 in San Francisco. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

-- Madison Bumgarner finally got his wish to ride a horse at an event honoring the World Series champion Giants. Bumgarner had expressed his desire to do so during last October’s parade down Market Street, but the World Series hero had to settle for a double-decker bus.

Not so Monday, when the Giants held a ceremony to hoist their championship banner and honor the 2014 title team before their home opener against the Colorado Rockies. When it came time to actually raise the flag, Bumgarner walked out to the warning track in left-center field, where he climbed onto a brown horse -- with the "SF" logo painted in orange on its hindquarters -- and rode along the warning track holding the banner above his head.

"I saw the horses right when they walked in (from the left-field corner)," infielder Matt Duffy said. "One of them looked kinda spooked. I was just hoping he didn’t get on that one."

Bumgarner rode to right-center, where he handed the banner to a group of six Giants who have been present for championships in 2010, 2012 and 2014 (the eighth, Buster Posey, was warming up pitcher Chris Heston in the bullpen). Up went the flag, and then down went the Giants, 2-0, in a clunker of a game that somewhat dimmed the happy feelings of the early afternoon at AT&T Park.

Posey was among those who said it was a little abrupt going from the pomp of the pre-game ceremony -- which lasted almost 45 minutes -- into a regular-season game. The Giants’ offense squandered myriad scoring chances in the loss. But the team didn’t miss its opportunity to fete the latest team to bring a title to San Francisco -- or to honor the equestrian leanings of its ace starting pitcher.

"Madison, he did ask me (about it). He was, I think, a little concerned how it may look," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "But he’s a guy who’s grown up on a horse. So he’s comfortable getting on a horse. I was fine with it."

Bumgarner’s warning track ride came as the Marshall Tucker Band performed its song "Fire on the Mountain" on a stage in left field -- the folksy tune Bumgarner used as his warm-up music last fall. It was one aspect of a carefully thought-out ceremony. A video tribute honored former broadcaster Lon Simmons, who died earlier this month at the age of 91. Simmons’ four daughters threw out the ceremonial first pitches.

Members of the Giants’ clubhouse and coaching staffs were introduced along with all the players, including Nori Aoki -- who played for the Royals team that lost to the Giants in the World Series -- and Travis Ishikawa -- who wasn’t at the park because he’s rehabbing from injury at Triple-A Sacramento.

Aoki, who was beaming as the Giants lined up along the third-base line, said teammates jokingly asked him during the festivities, "What are you doing here?"

"It was a weird experience," Aoki said. "But it was a good experience."

Bochy hinted before the game that the eight returning players who have been part of all three title teams would play a different role this year. The only one not directly involved in the flag-raising was Posey, who was warming up Heston for his start. Posey said he was fine with that.

The Giants did put Posey front and center to start the ceremony. The Giants entered as a team from beyond the center-field wall, led by Bochy, Posey and Tim Lincecum, each of whom carried one of the three World Series trophies.

"It was something I’ll always remember," Posey said.

Bochy said he was excited for the players who would be experiencing their first banner-raising ceremony, such as Duffy and second baseman Joe Panik, both midseason callups last year who played key roles in the postseason. Duffy said his favorite part of Monday was "walking out of the wall in center field, everybody going nuts. That was a really cool moment."

"It was special," Panik said of the ceremony. "The fan support, the crowd, it was fantastic and that’s something you’ll always remember about this day."

Even if the outcome of the game was forgettable. The Giants lost a home opener for the first time since 2008 and just the fourth time in their 16th season at AT&T Park.

"You want to win every game, but it’d especially be nice to win this one," Posey said. "But that’s the way it goes, and we’ll come out ready to go tomorrow."

* The game story covers all the missed scoring chances for the Giants, who left 12 men on base and went hitless in seven at-bats with men in scoring position. Bochy afterward said clutch hitting can be "streaky," and the Giants are experiencing a bad one early. Players emphasized that word: Early.

"Sometimes you just need that one two-out hit or double in the gap with guys on first and second, whatever it may be, to get it rolling," Posey said.

"We’re going to get that hit, and I think once we do, floodgates hopefully will open up and everybody will kidn of relax a little bit," Duffy said. "It’s encouraging we’re giving them a lot of traffic on the bases. We just need to break through."

* The Giants did waste a strong outing from Heston, the 27-year-old who became just the second San Francisco Giants rookie to start a home opener. Heston gave up two runs, one earned, in seven innings against a very potent Rockies lineup. He was very efficient early while facing the minimum through three innings on 34 pitches, and may have limited the Rockies to one run but for dropping a Buster Posey flip on a play at the plate.

"Chris threw great," Bochy said. "Really nice job that kid did."

Heston, who was pitching with his family in the stands for the first time in the majors, is in the rotation while Matt Cain is on the disabled list. But he showed good stuff from a slinging three-quarters angle Monday, including a cutting fastball and a breaking ball he used -- notably -- to freeze Troy Tulowitzki in the sixth inning after Tulowitzki had hit an RBI single in the fourth.

"That one kind of backed up on me a little bit, that probably had a lot to do with him freezing," Heston demurred. "Didn’t really go where it was supposed to go. But it worked out."

Heston did allow that Monday’s outing was a confidence builder. "Anytime you can go out there and keep your team in the ballgame, I think you’ve done your job and that helps with the confidence going into the next one.

"And having Buster back there is huge," Heston said, "just trusting what he puts down, and knowing if I can make my pitch I’ll probably work out for the best."

* Aoki has been a bright spot for the Giants early. He reached base in his first three plate appearances Monday and extended his hitting streak to 16 games going back to last year. He has a .474 on-base percentage in eight games -- but has only scored four runs, which indicates the struggles of the lineup behind him.

The Giants will have to decide whether to move Angel Pagan back to the leadoff spot when Hunter Pence returns. Bochy said he could also see Aoki helping the Giants from the sixth or seventh lineup spot.

"But right now," Bochy said, "I don’t have any plans of moving him."

* It’s Tim Hudson (0-0, 0.00) facing Rockies right-hander Christian Bergman (1-0, 0.00) in game two of the series Tuesday. First pitch at 7:15 p.m.

Call The Bee’s Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. See his baseball coverage at sacbee.com/mlb. Follow him on Twitter at @matthewkawahara.

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