KANSAS CITY -- Before this season began, the Giants’ starting pitcher on Wednesday night had never thrown a pitch in a San Francisco uniform. Their center fielder and leadoff hitter was the fourth outfielder on Opening Day. Their closer started out their set-up man, and vice versa.
Their starting left fielder Wednesday spent half the year in Triple-A. The player he replaced in the lineup, whose dramatic homer sent the Giants into this World Series, was the first baseman in Pittsburgh in April. The pitcher who for years has been perhaps the Giants’ most popular player and face of their franchise as a starter sat in the bullpen Wednesday, a bit player in these playoffs.
The cast has undergone some changes, but when Madison Bumgarner got Salvador Perez to pop out to Pablo Sandoval for the final out of the Giants’ 3-2 win at Kauffman Stadium on Wednesday night, the closing act of the 2014 season had a familiar ring to it:
The Giants, for the third time in five seasons, are World Series champions.
The Giants become the first team to win three titles in five years since the 1996-2000 New York Yankees (who won four) and the first National League team to do so since the 1942-46 St. Louis Cardinals. They ousted the feisty Kansas City Royals in seven games, riding the sturdy left arm of ace Madison Bumgarner, who pitched himself into franchise and October lore.
Three days after throwing 117 pitches in a complete-game shutout in Game 5, which brought the Giants within one win of the title, Bumgarner entered a 3-2 game the fifth inning and shut the Royals down. Bumgarner pitched the final five innings, allowing two hits and striking out four. His career World Series ERA stands at 0.25.
The first batter Bumgarner faced, Omar Infante, singled. He retired the next 14 before, with two outs in the ninth, Alex Gordon hit a line drive to left-center that got past Gregor Blanco to the wall, allowing Gordon to reach third on a single and two-base error. It brought up Perez, the only player to drive in a run against Bumgarner ever in the World Series.
On his 68th pitch of the night, Bumgarner got Perez to pop out to Sandoval in foul ground. Sandoval fell on his back with his arms raised. Catcher Buster Posey wrapped Bumgarner in a hug near the mound. The Giants were champions again. Bumgarner earned the save, with Jeremy Affeldt getting the win.
Amid the turnover, there have been several constants in the Giants’ run -- Bumgarner, the calm presence of Posey behind the plate and anchoring the lineup, the stoic leadership of Bruce Bochy. Bochy is now one of 10 managers in major-league history to win three World Series titles. Each of the previous nine is in the Hall of Fame.
The route he skippered in 2014 was a tumultuous one. The Giants were the best team in baseball for the first two months of the season, then one of the worst for the next three. They were one of the last to get into the playoffs, and sailed through the one-game wild-card game in Pittsburgh on Bumgarner’s first of two complete-game shutouts in the postseason.
A playoff run that began with a do-or-die game ended in another Wednesday.
Tim Hudson became the oldest pitcher ever to start a winner-take-all game in the World Series, at 39 years and 107 days, and the Giants staked him to a 2-0 lead in the second inning with the kind of manufactured rally that had guided them through this postseason.
Pablo Sandoval was hit by a pitch and Hunter Pence shot a single into left field off Royals right-hander Jeremy Guthrie. Brandon Belt singled to load the bases, and Michael Morse and Brandon Crawford both drove in runs with sacrifice flies.
But the Royals got to Hudson in the bottom of the inning. Billy Butler led off with a single and Alex Gordon drove a ball to the right-center field gap for a double, scoring Butler. Hudson then hit catcher Salvador Perez on the left leg with a pitch, and while Perez was checked by trainers, the Giants’ bullpen began to work, with Jeremy Affeldt and Tim Lincecum warming in a hurry.
Gordon tagged up on Mike Moustakas’ fly ball to left field, taking third on a headfirst dive, and scored on Omar Infante’s flyout to center to tie the game. Alcides Escobar lined a single to left field, and that was it for Hudson, who threw 28 pitches, faced 10 hitters and retired five of them.
It was, according to ESPN Stats and Info, the shortest outing by a starter in Game 7 of the World Series in 54 years. Bochy summoned Affeldt, who got Nori Aoki to hit a chopper up the middle that Crawford gloved coming across second base for the third out.
More sterling defense benefited Affeldt in the third. Lorenzo Cain hit a leadoff single and Eric Hosmer shot a grounder up the middle. Second baseman Joe Panik made a backhand dive and glove-flipped the ball to Crawford, who relayed to first. Hosmer was originally ruled safe, but the Giants challenged and after a 2:57 review -- during which Panik got a new belt to replace the one he’d broken on the dive -- the call was overturned for a double play.
Guthrie recorded five more outs than Hudson before the Giants chased him in the fourth inning. Sandoval and Pence hit back-to-back singles, and after Belt flew out to left, moving Sandoval to third, Royals manager Ned Yost brought in seventh-inning specialist Kelvin Herrera to pitch to Morse.
Morse fell behind 0-2 before fighting off a 99 mph fastball to right field for an RBI single. Pence took third on the play, but was stranded there as Herrera struck Crawford out looking at a fastball and got Juan Perez to ground out to the shortstop Escobar.
Affeldt got the Giants through the fourth, extending his streak of scoreless postseason outings to 22, one shy of the major-league record held by former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. Then, in jogged Madison Bumgarner from the bullpen, three days removed from throwing 117 pitches in a four-hit shutout in Game 5.
It marked Bumgarner’s first relief appearance since Game 6 of the 2010 NLCS, and Infante lined his third pitch for a single to right field, moving to second on a bunt by Escobar. Aoki then sliced a line drive to left field that appeared headed for the corner, but Perez -- whom Bochy had started instead of Travis Ishikawa for defensive purposes -- ran it down near the line, and Lorenzo Cain struck out swinging to end the inning.
By retiring Cain, Bumgarner set a new major-league record for most innings thrown by a pitcher in a single postseason. It gave him 48 2/3 innings, passing Curt Schilling, who’d set the previous record of 48 1/3 in 2001 for the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was only the beginning of his night.
Days removed from his four-hit shutout in Game 5, Bumgarner was the center of talk leading up to Game 7: Would he be available? How many pitches could he throw? Bochy, before the game, said the left-hander would be good for 40-50. At least.
Bumgarner needed just 36 to get through his first three innings. After Infante’s single, he retired nine batters in a row, completing the seventh on nine pitches by getting Infante to swing through strike three. While the Giants batted in the eighth, TV cameras showed Bumgarner sitting on the bench in the Giants’ dugout, a black jacket pulled over his jersey, his face expressionless.
The Royals, meanwhile, trotted out their full bullpen complement. Herrera pitched 2 2/3 shutout innings and turned the ball over to set-up man Wade Davis, who held the Giants scoreless in the seventh and the eighth, despite Sandoval shooting a two-out double to left in the eighth. It gave Sandoval three hits on the night and 26 in the playoffs -- a new major-league record for a single postseason.
Pence grounded out to end the eighth, and Bumgarner was first out of the dugout, striding slowly to the Kauffman Stadium mound. He needed 16 pitches to complete a 1-2-3 inning, retiring Cain on a pop-up to end it and bringing the Giants within three outs of the title. The question was who would attempt to get them. It did not remain a question for long.