Down by two runs in the eighth inning Sunday, Royals manager Ned Yost fired his best right-handed bullet off the bench at Madison Bumgarner, sending Billy Butler up to pinch hit.
Butler took a fastball for strike one, fouled off a changeup for strike two, and watched as Bumgarner broke a curveball over the outer corner of the plate for strike three. For a long moment, Butler remained standing in the batter’s box, his bat on his shoulder, a blank stare on his face.
This was Bumgarner on Sunday evening. In Game 5 of the World Series, the left-hander simply overmatched the American League champion Royals, hurling a four-hit shutout in a 5-0 win to bring the Giants within one victory of their third World Series championship in five years.
Bumgarner threw his second complete-game shutout of the postseason and the first by a Giants pitcher in the World Series since Jack Sanford in 1962. It was the first shutout in the World Series since Josh Beckett threw one for the Florida Marlins against the New York Yankees in 2003.
Bumgarner is the first pitcher ever to throw a World Series shutout while walking none and striking out at least eight. His career World Series ERA is 0.29, the lowest of any pitcher with at least 25 innings. In four World Series starts, the 25-year-old left-hander has thrown 31 innings, given up 12 hits with 27 strikeouts, and allowed one run.
“You can tell when he’s got his good stuff going, and that’s usually pretty much every night,” said first baseman Brandon Belt. “But it seems like he steps up even more in big games, and tonight was no different.”
It is safe to say the Giants would not be in this position, just 27 outs from a title, without Bumgarner. He has started six of the Giants’ 15 games this postseason and gone 4-1 with a 1.13 ERA in 47 2/3 innings. That is the second-most innings ever thrown by a pitcher in a single postseason, trailing only Curt Schilling’s 48 1/3 in 2001.
It also put Bumgarner at 265 innings for the regular season and playoffs combined -- and yet he seemed not be tiring at all in the late innings Sunday, striding out to start the ninth inning at 107 pitches and with the Giants’ bullpen quiet. Bumgarner set down the Royals’ 2-3-4 hitters in quick succession, getting Alex Gordon to fly out to right, Lorenzo Cain to ground out to shortstop and Eric Hosmer bouncing out to third.
As he conducted an on-field interview afterward, a crowd of 43,087 on hand for the final game of 2014 at AT&T Park showered Bumgarner with chants of “M-V-P!” Bumgarner took off his cap and waved it to the crowd.
“That was pretty cool, actually,” Bumgarner said of the chants, which had already begun in the ninth. “It was really neat to hear.”
At times Sunday, Bumgarner seemed nearly untouchable. After Salvador Perez singled to lead off the second inning, Bumgarner retired 10 hitters in a row before Omar Infante hit a one-out double in the fifth. Bumgarner responded by striking out Jarrod Dyson and his opposing starter, James Shields, to strand the only Royal to reach scoring position.
Still, said shortstop Brandon Crawford, “It was just another start, it seemed like, for him. If you looked at him in the middle of the game, you wouldn’t be able to tell if this was some game in the middle of the year or a World Series game.
“He’s such a great competitor. It’s fun to watch.”
Crawford may have had that luxury on defense much of the night. But he was busy with the bat, driving in three runs, including two in the first four innings. Crawford gave the Giants a lead when he came up with runners on second and third in the second inning and grounded Shields’ full-count pitch to the second baseman Infante, who was playing back. Hunter Pence, who had led off the inning with a single, scored on the play.
“The infield was back and you can kind of afford to play for just one run with Madison on the mound,” Crawford said. “So in that spot with two strikes, I’m just trying to put a ball in play.”
Two innings later, Crawford lofted a two-strike single to center to score Pablo Sandoval from second. Sandoval appeared to hit the brakes rounding third base, but picked back up when Dyson mishandled the ball in center. The score held until the Giants tacked on what proved to be unnecessary cushion with a three-run eighth, Juan Perez doubling off the center-field wall to score two runs and scoring on Crawford’s single to left.
At that point, it was only a question of whether Bumgarner would return for the ninth -- a question all but answered when he took his turn at bat in the bottom of the eighth. Bochy said afterward the Giants had Bumgarner covered, with closer Santiago Casilla warming, had he gotten into trouble in the ninth.
“But this guy was right on tonight,” Bochy said. “He was strong all night.”
All night and all of October, with the Giants one win away as a result.
“This time of year,” Bumgarner said, “it’s not too hard to go out there and feel good.”