SAN FRANCISCO -- Madison Bumgarner didn’t even try to deny the fact that facing the Minnesota Twins on Sunday meant a little extra something. The left-hander had pitched against the Twins just once before -- a disaster of a start on June 21, 2011, in which he faced 10 batters, retired just one and gave up eight runs.
It was easily Bumgarner’s worst start in the majors. And was it on his mind Sunday?
"Yeah, definitely," Bumgarner said. "I for sure didn’t forget about that. It don’t matter who was there and who’s not there now, it’s the same team. And it sticks with you."
The lone lineup holdover from that game for the Twins on Sunday was three-time A.L. batting champion Joe Mauer. Bumgarner struck Mauer out all three times he faced him. In all, Bumgarner struck out 10, walked none and allowed one run on a sacrifice fly by Brian Dozier in the fifth inning as the Giants won handily, 8-1.
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"That’s something you don’t forget, to get beat on like that," manager Bruce Bochy said after the Giants improved their majors-best record to 32-18. "Different club, but still -- I think he wanted to even things out a little bit."
Bumgarner notched his team-leading sixth win and is now 4-0 with a 2.53 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 32 innings over five starts in May. He became just the fourth pitcher ever to strike Mauer out three or more times in a game, joining Ryan Dempster, John Lackey and C.C. Sabathia, who has done it twice.
"He’s one of the guys that you can’t really say, ‘This is how we’re going to get him out,’ because he’s that good of a hitter," Bumgarner said of Mauer. "So you’ve just got to mix it up and then make pitches and try to keep him off-balance.
"I think the difference today was just making pitches and command to both sides of the plate instead of one or the other. That was the biggest thing for me."
Gregor Blanco said he could tell just watching from center field that Mauer "didn’t feel comfortable at all," and that, "against the righties it was the same." It was the fifth time Bumgarner has struck out at least 10 and walked none in his career. This time, it upped his K/9 rate to 10.28, which as of Sunday afternoon ranked sixth in the majors.
Bochy said the fact that rate has risen pretty steadily for Bumgarner over the past four seasons is a natural outcome "with his equipment and his command, and his gaining more knowledge with experience on how to attack hitters." Bumgarner mostly shrugged it off.
"I’m just trying to make pitches," Bumgarner said. "If you get a guy 0-2 or something, you might go for (the strikeout) with one pitch. But just trying to make pitches and get them out of there as quick as you can, and it’s just happened to work out that way so far."
Bumgarner was a little more effusive, though, when asked about the Giants’ record after 50 games:
"I mean, we’ve got a good team," he said. "Better than a lot of people realized starting the year. We play together. On paper it might not be the best team, but I’d put us up against anybody. We don’t have anybody that’s selfish on this team. Everybody plays for everyone else, and it’s a complete team game when we get out there."
* Tomorrow’s print story gets more into the factors behind the Giants’ 32-18 start. But it leads with the moment Michael Morse experienced after pulling into second base in the fifth inning Sunday with a bases-clearing double that put the Giants up 7-1.
The Twins made a pitching change immediately thereafter, and as Ricky Nolasco left the mound, the center-field scoreboard continued to show Morse on second. The AT&T Park crowd, already applauding, swelled into a sustained standing ovation while the speakers played Morse’s walk-up song "Take On Me." Morse, meanwhile, stood on second base with a little smile playing across his face, shaking his head.
"I don’t know, man, it’s awesome," Morse said when asked about it after the game. "The fans here are the best fans in baseball. … Moments like that, they just make you feel so humble and happy that you’re here, or that I’m here, and I can’t thank them enough."
The Giants are happy Morse is here, too. He collected three doubles Sunday and drove in four runs to increase his team-leading total to 33, tied for fifth in the National League. He has 10 home runs and has supplied a small contingent of the clubhouse with warrior-type helmets. And the fans have clearly embraced the new left-fielder-turned-first-baseman. During the ovation, several behind home plate were mimicking the "Yes-Yes-Yes!" celebration that Morse and Hunter Pence helped popularize in the Giants clubhouse.
"He’s awesome," Bumgarner said of Morse. "He’s one of the best teammates I’ve had, I think. He’s excited to help out however he can do it. He’s been a lot of fun to be around this year."
And that’s coming from Bumgarner, whom Morse has apparently reminded a few times about the home run he hit off Bumgarner on July 4, 2012 while playing for the Nationals.
"Me and him talk about that every day," Morse said with a smile.
Bumgarner’s version: "We’ve talked about it a few times."
"Looking back, I probably had the wrong game plan against him," Bumgarner said. "But he’s a good hitter, a good power hitter."
Bumgarner pointed out that he could make a few excuses for the home run -- for one, he was starting a game that began at 11 a.m. local time, or 8 a.m. on the west coast. Also, their head-to-head meetings have equaled out: Morse is 2-for-8 against Bumgarner with a walk in nine plate appearances.
Then again, Bumgarner said, he could just call the homer an investment for the future.
"I had an idea he was going to end up here," Bumgarner said. "So I wanted to get a good friendship going."
* A sign of how things are going for the Giants right now: Gregor Blanco hadn’t had a multi-hit game all season entering Sunday. Bochy then opts to give Angel Pagan a day off, sticks Blanco in the leadoff spot, and Blanco responds with three singles off Nolasco.
Granted, Blanco is now 11-for-22 lifetime against the Twins right-hander so there’s some precedent there. Still, on a day the Giants rested their offensive sparkplug, Blanco simply provided a spark of his own.
His leadoff single in the first was not hit hard -- actually, none of the Giants’ three hits in the inning were. The hardest-hit ball was Morse’s sacrifice fly, which he scorched to left field on a line. But the Giants still came out of the inning with a 2-0 lead.
"That’s baseball," Blanco said. "You can have a really good swing sometimes and get it caught, and you can hit a blooper and start everything. Whatever it takes to win games, that’s what we do."
Right now, whatever seems to be working.
* One of those first-inning hits belonged to Buster Posey, who got sawed off by the pitch and then went hitless in his next three at-bats. Posey exited on a double-switch after the seventh inning, but Bochy said Posey wasn’t dealing with anything physically.
"He was fine," Bochy said.
Still, Posey is in a bit of a funk at the plate. He’s 4-for-35 since May 13, and his average is down to .265.
"They all have their little things they go through at times, and he’s going through his right now," Bochy said. "He’s not hurt, he’s healthy. His timing’s just a little bit off."
* George Kontos, called up after Santiago Casilla strained his hamstring in Colorado, relieved Bumgarner for the last two innings and struck out three of the seven batters he faced. The 13 total strikeouts by Bumgarner and Kontos were the most the Giants have had in a game this season.
* Pablo Sandoval singled in a run in the first and has now driven in at least one run in each of his last five games. According to the Giants, that matches the longest streak of Sandoval’s career -- also done from April 6-11, 2012.
* The Giants now bid farewell -- somewhat sadly, probably -- to the Twins and welcome in the Cubs for a three-game series starting with a 1:05 p.m. first pitch Monday. Here are the pitching probables:
Monday: RHP Jeff Samardzija (0-4, 1.46) vs. RHP Yusmeiro Petit (3-1, 4.76)
Tuesday: RHP Jake Arrieta (1-0, 2.33) vs. RHP Tim Hudson (4-2, 2.13)
Wednesday: RHP Edwin Jackson (3-4, 4.94) vs. RHP Tim Lincecum (4-3, 4.55)