SAN FRANCISCO -- As Justin Morneau’s looping line drive to right field landed just inside the foul line, ending Madison Bumgarner’s bid for perfection in the eighth inning Tuesday night, it elicited a collective groan of dismay from the crowd at AT&T Park, 41,050 audibly upset seeing a shot at history fall short.
Bumgarner was not one of them. There remained a two-run lead to protect at the time, and the Colorado Rockies suddenly had the tying run at home plate with nobody out. So rather than lament the loss of his perfecto bid, Bumgarner responded in perhaps the most dominant way possible: He struck out the side on 11 pitches, throwing not a single ball.
"I felt like once he got through the seventh, he had a pretty good shot at it," said catcher Buster Posey. "But 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."
Bumgarner’s bid for the 24th perfect game in major-league history fell six outs short on Tuesday night. He settled for a complete-game one-hitter in the Giants’ 3-0 win over the Rockies, in what was an utterly dominating performance. Bumgarner matched his career high with 13 strikeouts, while needing just 103 pitches, and did not walk a batter. He got to an 0-2 count 15 times and reached a three-ball count only once.
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"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."
"When he’s throwing the ball like that," Posey said, "he makes my job pretty easy."
Characteristically, Bumgarner downplayed the outing afterward, saying that while it may have looked like he was in control, "I felt like I was working pretty hard."
"But I felt good," he said. "Making pitches, throwing strikes, getting ahead of people."
Maybe the Rockies’ hardest-hit balls outside of Morneau’s double came in the first. Drew Stubbs drove a ball to left field that Gregor Blanco caught leaping at the wall, preventing extra bases, and Nolan Arenado hit a liner to left that Blanco also tracked down. As the innings passed and the outs mounted, it looked like Blanco’s play on Stubbs might prove fateful, just as his diving catch in right-center had in Matt Cain’s perfect game in 2012.
Bumgarner struck out two batters his first time through the lineup, then five his second time. He struck out two more in the seventh inning, giving him nine at the time. He left the mound to a standing ovation from the crowd, which sensed that something historic was brewing. Then came Morneau leading off the eighth.
Bumgarner got ahead in the count, 0-2, before missing high and inside with a fastball. He followed with a breaking ball low and away, trying to change Morneau’s eye level, and it was so low that Morneau made contact with it just inches above the dirt. The ball hooked down the right-field line, hanging up for what seemed like a long time, but landed in fair territory with room to spare as Morneau cruised into second with a double.
"I was going to try to bounce a curveball, and I think it would’ve probably bounced if he hadn’t hit it," Bumgarner said. "But he’s a good hitter and he happened to hit it pretty good. So I felt good about it, and no regrets on throwing it."
"It wasn’t a bad pitch," Posey said. "Just a good piece of hitting."
Bumgarner received an ovation that only grew louder when he struck out the next three batters to end the inning. His manager was equally impressed.
"That can really be a little disheartening," Bochy said. "But it’s a 2-0 game, and he regrouped and made some great pitches after that and didn’t let that rattle him."
Bumgarner said he didn’t feel like he had to regain his composure, because, "I don’t feel like I lost it.”
"That wasn’t the ultimate goal today, to not let somebody on base. It was to win a game," he said.
While Posey said he began to sense by the fourth or fifth inning that Bumgarner had a chance at something historic, the left-hander said he never quite reached that point. "I mean, you know what’s going on," he said. "(But) being in the eighth, it still seems like you’ve got a lot of hitters to go through, especially with a team like that one. Just the fact that we won is more than enough. That’s all we’re trying to do anyway."
It was a point that Bumgarner made repeatedly, even as reporters lobbed questions at him about the brush with history, and the career-high strikeout total, and the fact he made his second strong start at home after struggling so much there for most of the season. Finally, Bumgarner was asked directly: With the pitching performances he’s witnessed in the past few years, including two Tim Lincecum no-hitters and Cain’s perfect game, and the way those performances have been received, wouldn’t Bumgarner like to experience that, too?
"I mean it’s a cool thing to do," Bumgarner said. "It’s a good individual accomplishment. But that’s not important to me.
"It’s definitely an amazing accomplishment, but 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."
* As this was Bumgarner’s night, there’s not too much more to cover. But Posey also had a good night with the bat, accounting for all the Giants’ scoring with a two-run home run off Jorge De La Rosa in the sixth inning and a solo shot off Brooks Brown in the eighth.
It’s the second multi-homer game of Posey’s career, and first since 2010. Oddly enough, while Posey has struggled far more hitting at home this season (.239 average, .663 OPS before Tuesday’s game) than on the road (.336, .916), that hasn’t extended to his power numbers. He has hit nine of his 17 home runs at AT&T Park.
The first on Tuesday broke a scoreless tie and, Posey acknowledged, came with a sense of relief given the trajectory Bumgarner was on at that point. "No question," Posey said. "Because I think at that point, you could sense that he had a shot, with the way he was throwing, to do it. And it definitely would’ve been getting a little bit stressful if we didn’t have any runs on the board in the ninth."
Still, the fact remains the Giants were mostly shut down by De La Rosa for the first five innings, managing just three singles, and didn’t mount much offense outside of the two big swings by Posey. Bochy touched on that point afterward.
"We finally go the big hit there from Buster, and the heart of the order, those are the guys you lean on," Bochy said. "But it’s going to take contributions from everybody, I think, the rest of the way. It’s going to be critical that all these guys keep the line moving a little bit better than what we’ve been doing."
* Along with Blanco’s plays in the first, Bumgarner got some early defensive help from shortstop Brandon Crawford, who made a nice backhand play in the fifth on a chopper by Matt McBride. His strong throw just beat McBride to first base, with an assist to Michael Morse for a nice stretch at the bag.
Crawford, of course, made two errors in Monday night’s loss, when the Giants committed four as a team in a game that Bochy called "sloppy." He said it looked Tuesday as though the Giants made a conscious effort to avoid a repeat performance.
"They looked very determined to straighten that out tonight, and we played aggressive baseball," Bochy said. "A lot of that goes with the pitching, too, but the defense really picked us up, especially early.
"It’s just good to see guys bounce back. You’ve got to be resilient after an ugly game like we had last night, and a tough loss."
* Before Bumgarner’s outing knocked it off the sports page, tomorrow’s print story was going to be Tim Lincecum’s reaction to his being skipped in the rotation and moved to the bullpen for the time being. That will still run Thursday, but here’s a portion of it:
"I’m for continuing forward," Lincecum said before the game. "If (Bochy is) making that decision, it’s up to him. He’s the one that sees it, he’s the one that makes that decision. In my mind, I’m going to go out there and battle any chance I get, whether that’s start day or in relief.
"I think they’re giving this time to get my stuff right and kind of clear my head, and just get away from the tedious nature of picking at things too much in between starts."
There has been plenty to pick at recently for Lincecum, who in seven starts since the All-Star Break has gone 1-4 with an 8.24 ERA and an opponents’ batting average of .341. It forced the hand of the Giants, who now plan to start Yusmeiro Petit on Thursday against Colorado instead of Lincecum.
In announcing that decision on Monday, Bochy left open how many starts Lincecum will miss, and reiterated Tuesday that Lincecum’s task at this point is "just trying to clean up the delivery a little bit." Lincecum affirmed that his recent problems have been mostly mechanical, though the results may have worked their way into his head as well.
"Mechanically I’ve been aloof here the last month or so," Lincecum said. "I think it’s just getting back to feeling those mechanics out and feeling what my bullet points are, and what I’m going to stick to. I feel within the rhythms of the game I lose track of that.
"I try to stick to my pitch plan, but I’m not remembering the foundation of what got me here, and those are my mechanics."
Lincecum said he studies video and pictures of his delivery trying to find the disparities between when he’s going well and when his mechanics slip. "It’s a real small difference, but if I can feel those effort points (in my delivery) and where I’m exerting too much energy, overworking myself in my motion, then I can find a way to simplify it," he said. "And I think this time off is going to allow me to do that."
The frustrating part, Lincecum acknowledged, is he doesn’t have to look too far back for the good film. Beginning with his no-hitter against the San Diego Padres on June 25, he had a stretch of five starts in which he recorded an 0.96 ERA in 37 1/3 innings and went 4-1. "Consistency was something I was looking so forward to finding, and I did, (so) that it was heartbreaking to kind of fall out of it," Lincecum said.
Now, Lincecum finds himself "just trying to get back to my head spinning in the right direction." That goes for his body, too. Describing his work with Righetti on Tuesday, Lincecum said he was emphasizing having a consistent "line" toward home plate.
When he turns his back too much in his windup, he said, he often doesn’t open up enough toward the plate by the time his right arm begins to come forward. As a result, "My arm starts to drag, and I don’t even have a line toward where I’m trying to throw. I’m trying to guess, trying to make it up, all while trying to make quality pitches."
It’s something Lincecum will work to address in side sessions, while remaining an option out of the bullpen. Lincecum has thrived in relief before: During the postseason in 2012, he pitched 13 relief innings, allowing one run with a 17-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He said Tuesday that in the condensed atmosphere of a relief outing, "I think it’s easier just to leave it out there."
Still, this is not where Lincecum or the Giants envisioned him being as the calendar turns to September, with the Giants fighting for their postseason hopes. And while the length of Lincecum’s move to the bullpen has been left undetermined, many have seized upon the news as the latest stage in the right-hander’s demise from his Cy Young days.
"It’s always difficult, just because you don’t want to be in this position," Lincecum said. "But now that I find myself in it, I’ll try to work out of it.
"It’d be bad to take this as a negative, because I’m still going to be able to pitch. So, try to steer it in that direction."
* The Giants, who won for just the sixth time in their last 20 games against left-handed starters Tuesday, face a Rockies lefty for the third game in a row Wednesday in Franklin Morales (5-7, 5.32). They counter with Tim Hudson (9-9, 2.99). First pitch at 7:15 p.m.