San Francisco Giants

Bumgarner flirts with perfect game in Giants’ win

For much of this season, Madison Bumgarner has seemed nearly incapable of having a strong start at AT&T Park. For seven innings Tuesday night, though, it was the backdrop for what appeared to be shaping up as the biggest individual moment of the Giants left-hander’s career.

Bumgarner took a perfect game into the eighth against the Colorado Rockies before first baseman Justin Morneau broke it up with a leadoff double. Bumgarner settled for a one-hitter in the Giants’ 3-0 win, supported by two home runs from catcher Buster Posey.

It was the sixth career complete game and fourth this season for Bumgarner, who matched his career high with 13 strikeouts, all while throwing just 103 pitches.

“Really, that game was probably more impressive than a lot of no-hitters. That’s how well he threw tonight,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “You look at the strikeouts and the stuff he had, the command, it was just quite a job.”

Starting the eighth at 78 pitches, Bumgarner got ahead of Morneau 0-2 before missing high with a fastball. He then threw a low breaking ball, nearly in the dirt, that Morneau reached for and looped down the right-field line. It hung up for a long time, arcing into the corner, before landing inside the foul line amid groans from an announced crowd of 41,050.

“I think it would’ve probably bounced if he’d not hit it, but he’s a good hitter … and he happened to hit it pretty good,” Bumgarner (15-9) said. “So I felt good about (the pitch), and no regrets on throwing it.”

Watching Morneau’s hit land, Bumgarner said he felt little in the way of disappointment.

“It wasn’t the ultimate goal today, to not let somebody on base. It was to win the game,” he said.

Still needing to protect what was then a two-run lead, Bumgarner struck out the next three hitters on a combined 11 pitches to strand Morneau.

Bumgarner also retired Charlie Culberson swinging on a breaking ball to start the ninth for his 13th strikeout against an injury-depleted Rockies lineup, equaling his career high set on Sept. 5, 2011, against San Diego. It was his sixth double-digit strikeout game of the season and his sixth career game with 10 or more strikeouts and no walks – the most in franchise history.

“I felt like once he got through the seventh he had a pretty good shot at (a perfect game),” Posey said. “Probably most impressive to me was the fact that he gave up the hit and then struck out the next three batters. That shows you what type of poise he has.”

Posey accounted for all of the Giants’ offense with his second career multi-homer game. Until the sixth, the Giants had managed only three hits, all singles, against Jorge De La Rosa. But after Hunter Pence’s leadoff walk in the sixth, Posey got a 3-1 pitch on the middle of the plate and hit it several rows deep into the seats in left-center field.

Asked if that came with a sense of relief, given the trajectory Bumgarner’s night was on, Posey abruptly answered: “Yes. No question, because I think at that point, he had a shot the way he was throwing to do it, and it definitely would’ve been getting a little stressful if we didn’t have any runs on the board in the ninth.”

Posey added a solo shot off Brooks Brown in the eighth.

Eerily, Gregor Blanco, whose sparkling diving catch in right-center field preserved Matt Cain’s perfect game in 2012, again made a defensive play Tuesday that looked as if it might prove fateful. Two batters into the game, Drew Stubbs drove a ball to left field that Blanco caught on a leap at the wall, robbing Stubbs of extra bases.

It was the closest Colorado came to a hit until Matt McBride hit a chopper into the hole between shortstop and third base with two outs in the fifth. Brandon Crawford, who made two errors Monday, backhanded the ball and made a strong throw that just beat McBride to the bag.

For the moment, it preserved perfection for Bumgarner, who came in with a 4-6 record and a 5.17 ERA at home but has now allowed one run on five hits with 22 strikeouts over his last 16 innings at AT&T Park. That kind of history eluded him Tuesday, but afterward, Bumgarner shrugged at the idea of someday seizing it.

“I mean, it would be a cool thing to do. It’s a good individual accomplishment. But that’s not important to me,” he said.

“When it comes down to it, we’re trying to win games, and that’s it. It’s not about yourself, it’s about your teammates, and winning games and championships.”