Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he took a moment to check on Madison Bumgarner in the bottom of the eighth inning Tuesday as the left-hander, who had thrown 97 pitches up to that point, was making his way to the on-deck circle.
"He looked at me like, ‘Why are you asking?’" Bochy said.
Bumgarner was coming off of a start in which he threw 116 pitches in sweltering Atlanta heat. The Giants were coming off of a four-game sereis in Chicago in which only one of their starters, Jake Peavy, recorded an out in the fifth inning.
Yet any question about whether Bumgarner would return for the ninth inning on Tuesday against the Houston Astros, with a 3-1 lead and a complete game within reach, dissipated as quickly as he gave Bochy that look. It’s said the best way to snap a losing streak is via a shutdown pitching performance, and in a five-hit, 12-strikeout complete game Tuesday night, Bumgarner was a most effective stopper.
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"I think we’ve seen how he seems to pitch his best in big games," catcher Buster Posey said. "And tonight was a big game."
Swept in four games by the Cubs to see their lead in the second wild-card race become a deficit, Giants players and Bochy acknowledged the importance of responding Tuesday in the opener of a six-game homestand against the Astros and the Washington Nationals. The Cubs series began a stretch of 26 consecutive games against teams with winning records -- and it had not gone well.
"Huge lift," Bochy said. "You get in a tough deal like we got in losing four straight there, it’s usually a well-pitched game that gets you out of it. (Bumgarner) threw a beautiful game."
The first two batters Bumgarner faced, Jose Altuve and Carlos Gomez, singled. After that Bumgarner struck out his next seven hitters, tying a San Francisco Giants record set by Juan Marichal in 1964 and matched by Jonathan Sanchez in 2010 in Colorado. Altuve snapped the streak with a one-out single in the third.
Bumgarner said he didn’t know about the streak until after the game. But he was aware that in previous games in which he’s recorded a lot of strikeouts -- Tuesday was his 23rd career double-digit strikeout game and fourth this season -- it has driven his pitch count up. And though the Giants were off Monday, their bullpen had been taxed heavily while in Chicago, making it all the more important for Bumgarner to go deep into his start.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Bumgarner’s outing, then, was that he recorded 12 strikeouts -- two shy of his career high -- while keeping his pitch count manageable.
"It was up there, after especially the first inning," Bumgarner said. "After that, we did have a lot of strikeouts, but most of them were fairly quick. When they weren’t, we were able to get some quick outs early. It’s something I’m always conscious of when it’s going that way -- you want to start getting some quick outs, whether it’s a strikeout or a ground ball or whatever."
After Altuve’s third-inning single, Bumgarner retired 11 consecutive batters before Evan Gattis tripled with one out in the seventh, later scoring on Chris Carter’s two-out single.
Bumgarrner began the eighth by falling behind Jake Marisnick, leading Bochy to get Sergio Romo up in the bullpen, but he came back to strike Marisnick out. Romo was the only Giants reliever to stir.
"He did save the bullpen," Bochy said. "I think anytime we can rest them, they’re going to benefit from it
Bochy said he was cognizant of Bumgarner’s workload in his last start, but also that the off-day Monday had given Bumgarner an extra day of rest. Aside from that, Bochy said, he regards Bumgarner differently than other pitchers when it comes to his pitch count. Game Seven of last year’s World Series proved as much.
The Giants now have four complete games this season -- two from rookie Chris Heston, and two from Bumgarner (his first was an eight-inning outing in a 2-0 loss in Seattle). It was Bumgarner’s eighth career complete game, and for him pitching deep into starts -- and not strikeouts -- is the main goal.
"I think your good pitchers, your starters I’m talking about, they’re really good closers, too," Bochy said. "They have that, whatever you want to call it, eye of the tiger look.
"He’s just a big strong guy with great stuff. Those guys, we call ’em horses. You can ride them."
* Bumgarner received all the support he needed on two swings from Brandon Belt, who recorded his third career multi-homer game -- and second this month. Seven of Belt’s last 10 hits have been home runs, and Tuesday he connected twice against left-hander Scott Kazmir, equaling his previous season total for homers off of lefties.
"I really think his at-bats this last two, three weeks, if not longer, have been better," said Bochy. "He’s really shown some determination to have better at-bats (against lefties). He wants to stay out there against lefties, takes it personal when he’s not out there."
Belt’s first home run, on a full-count fastball, went to dead center field, and his second to left-center, which he said happens when he’s trusting his approach.
"I think I’m kind of staying out of my own way and having a solid approach when I’m going to the plate that just allows my ability to come through a little bit more," Belt said. "And as a result, I think we’re seeing a lot more of those hard-hit balls to left field and center field. When I’m doing that, I feel like I can do just about anything up there."
Belt’s second homer matched his career high -- he has 17 with 50 games to go. He termed that "pretty cool," but said his focus is on "just trying to hit the ball hard -- those balls are going to go out sometimes."
"When he gets hot, he can get rolling as good as anybody I’ve ever seen," Posey said. "Hopefully he can sustain this."
* Belt had more fun talking about his leaping catch of Carlos Correa’s line drive in the ninth. Cameras showed him immediately grinning toward the dugout, and later he said why.
"I thought the ball was probably hit a little harder than it was, so I got turned around almost and just had to jump off one foot," Belt said. "I kinda felt like a ballerina out there. I don’t know, I just thought it was hilarious. I felt like I looked so stupid doing it. But I don’t really care -- I caught it."
Teammates were not so impressed by Belt’s vertical.
"It was a deceiving jump," Bumgarner said.
* Nori Aoki was on the top step with a helmet on during the bottom of the eighth. Bochy said after the game Aoki came out of pregame work fine, and he’ll start Wednesday.
* A couple notes from pregame:
Both Tim Lincecum and Tim Hudson threw bullpen sessions before Tuesday’s game. Bochy said Lincecum will likely throw another in two or three days, after which the Giants might start ramping up his workload, while Hudson is "doing well." It doesn’t sound, though, like either right-hander’s return is imminent.
Catcher Andrew Susac (thumb) started a rehab assignment Tuesday night with High-A San Jose as their designated hitter and went 1-for-4. Susac did not catch because he just had a root canal and is still a little weak. Bochy said the Giants think Susac could be ready to return after 20 to 30 at-bats in the minors.
* This quick two-game interleague series ends Wednesday with Chris Heston (11-6, 3.48) facing Astros right-hander Scott Feldman (4-5, 4.46). First pitch at 12:45 p.m.
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