San Francisco Giants

Not 1, not 2, NOW 3

Giants right fielder Hunter Pence, middle, and his teammates celebrate in their clubhouse. Pence went 2 for 4 and scored a run in Game 7 and batted .444 (12 for 27) in the World Series.
Giants right fielder Hunter Pence, middle, and his teammates celebrate in their clubhouse. Pence went 2 for 4 and scored a run in Game 7 and batted .444 (12 for 27) in the World Series. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Four weeks before, when their latest run through October began under do-or-die circumstances in the wild-card game, the Giants had handed the ball to Madison Bumgarner and watched him hurl nine scoreless innings in Pittsburgh. When it ended Wednesday in Kansas City, under those same circumstances, with Bumgarner throwing the final pitch of the season, it bookended the postseason with appropriate symmetry.

Salvador Perez’s pop-up settled into the glove of Pablo Sandoval in foul ground near the Giants’ dugout for the last out of a 3-2 win over the Kansas City Royals, bringing the 2014 season to the same conclusion as the one two years before – and the one two years before that. The Giants, for the third time in five seasons, are World Series champions.

“I’m numb, really through all of this,” said manager Bruce Bochy, the guiding hand behind this budding dynasty, before he retreated to the visiting clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium and hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy above his head while players doused him with champagne.

“When you have a group of warriors like we have, I mean, they continue to just amaze you. They were relentless.”

The Giants ousted the feisty Royals in seven games, taking a lead in Game 7 on Michael Morse’s one-out single in the fourth inning and turning it over in the fifth to Bumgarner, who took them the rest of the way. The Giants are 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 took a circuitous route to their third. The Giants were the best team in baseball for the first two months of the season, one of the worst for the next three, and one of the last to get into the playoffs. But they still have never lost in 10 postseason series under Bochy, who is the 10th manager in major-league history to win three World Series. The previous nine are all in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

“At the All-Star break, we didn’t even know if we were a wild-card-caliber team, let alone a playoff -aliber team,” said reliever Jeremy Affeldt, who bridged the gap Wednesday from starter Tim Hudson to Bumgarner with 21/3 scoreless innings. “We lost a lot of pieces to our puzzle and had to piece stuff together.

“I think Bochy said it right, we’re just like cockroaches. We just come in groups, and we never go away. This team scrapped it out. This team’s done a lot of things that no one expected us to do.”

Many expected Bumgarner to get into Game 7 Wednesday. But maybe nobody expected the performance he gave, pitching 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 pitched the final five innings, allowing two hits, striking out four and lowering his career World Series ERA to 0.25.

Pitching coach Dave Righetti said he thought Bumgarner would be good for 50 to 70 pitches after he entered in the fifth and did not consider the possibility of the left-hander pitching the rest of the game.

“Wonderful dreams that we want him to do it,” Righetti said. “But we’re hoping that he bridges the gap to our three other relievers that we trust.

“Once it builds, you just go with it.”

Bumgarner ended up throwing 68 pitches. 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. It brought up Perez, the only player to drive in a run against Bumgarner in the World Series.

Bumgarner got Perez to pop out to Sandoval, who 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 a 15-out save and Series MVP honors.

“I think you’re going to be hard-pressed to ever find a postseason performance like this again,” Posey said of Bumgarner. “I really believe that. If you do, it’s going to be few and far between.”

This postseason, Bumgarner threw 522/3 innings – exactly a third of the 158 innings pitched by the Giants’ staff. He allowed just six earned runs, a 1.03 ERA. He finished the 2014 season with 270 total innings and set a major-league record for innings in a postseason, breaking Curt Schilling’s mark of 48 1/3 set in 2001 with Arizona.

“You know what? I can’t lie to you anymore,” Bumgarner said later. “I’m a little tired now.”

Sandoval also set a postseason record with 26 hits, including his single to lead off the decisive fourth inning. Sandoval moved to third base on Hunter Pence’s single and scored when Morse fought off a 99-mph fastball from Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera into right field.

Both teams had gone to their bullpens by the fourth inning. Giants starter Tim Hudson recorded just five outs after becoming the oldest pitcher to start a winner-take-all World Series game (39 years, 107 days), but he had a premonition after Sandoval scored.

“Once we got that lead and I saw Bumgarner down there in the bullpen warming up,” Hudson said, “I knew it was over.”

Call The Bee’s Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. See his baseball coverage at sacbee.com/mlb.

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