SAN FRANCISCO -- Clayton Kershaw fouled off pitch after Madison Bumgarner pitch in the fifth inning, seven in total, before finally grounding out on the 13th pitch of his at-bat against the Giants left-hander. Kershaw then took the mound in the bottom of the fifth and used 14 pitches to strike out the side.
A stubborn Giants team that raged against injuries and looming elimination to stay alive into the last week of the season finally encountered a force Tuesday night that it could not overcome. A determined Kershaw, the reigning N.L. MVP and longtime Giants nemesis, overpowered the Giants in a one-hit shutout in which he struck out 13, handed the Giants an 8-0 loss and effectively closed the door on their season.
The loss eliminated the Giants from playoff contention, as the Dodgers clinched the N.L. West for the third consecutive season, celebrating this time on their rivals’ turf at AT&T Park. Two days before the onset of October, in game 157, the reigning World Series champions officially accepted they will not have a chance to defend their title this fall.
"It’s always tough, it’s never a fun feeling," manager Bruce Bochy said. "I just talked to the guys briefly and just told them how proud I was of them, with all they had to go through. You look at, what, four concussions, three oblique (injuries), yet here we are on September 29 and finally got knocked out.
"I mean, they fought. They fought hard. It’s never a good time, but we had an uphill climb and of course faced a great pitcher today. But they never stopped, I feel good about that, the kids, how they played. It’s always tough when this happens. But to go into the last week and still be in it, I’m proud of these guys."
Ironically, it was after the Giants last faced Kershaw that some began to leave them for dead. On Sept. 3, Kershaw struck out 15 in a complete-game win that completed a sweep of the Giants in Los Angeles, leaving them a season-high 6 ½ games out of first place. The Giants were already without Hunter Pence (oblique) and Joe Panik (back) due to injuries. Shortstop Brandon Crawford (calf, oblique) was hurting. They would soon lose Nori Aoki, Brandon Belt and Gregor Blanco to concussions.
Yet the Giants managed to stay relevant nearly all of September, filling those holes with a series of young, inexperienced players and winning 12 of their next 22 games to enter this series against the Dodgers six games back with seven to play. Their odds were not good, and they knew it. They scratched out a 3-2 win in the 12th inning Monday night -- and for their reward got a matchup with Kershaw in an elimination scenario.
"We’ve been dealt a tough hand with the injuries that we’ve had," said Bumgarner, who exited in the sixth inning and took the loss. "And what’s today, September 29, I think we should be pretty proud of that. Especially the young guys that have come up and stepped in -- they’ve done a terrific job, all of them.
"They’ve come in and played like veterans when we needed them to. That speaks a lot about those guys’ character and the kind of team we’re going to have going forward."
The lineup against Kershaw on Tuesday night featured three rookies. Kelby Tomlinson did not make his debut until August 3. Mac Williamson was a September call-up, and a late one at that. After the Giants fell behind by four runs in the sixth, they put in at catcher Trevor Brown, who spent a week at home after the minor-league season ended and then became the Giants’ regular catcher over the past 10 days.
"You looked out at the lineup, at times there were four rookies, if not more," Bochy said. "And they played well. They didn’t play like kids. They played like men. And they should feel good about that."
Still, it was hard for the Giants to summon positive feelings as the Dodgers celebrated on the middle of their infield Tuesday night. After this weekend, the Dodgers are headed for the N.L. Division Series and a rendezvous with the New York Mets that should feature plenty of pitching. The Giants will go their separate ways for the winter, in keeping with the recent on-again, off-again pattern of reaching the postseason that they hoped badly to break in 2015.
"It’s not what we wanted," catcher Buster Posey said. "Obviously you set out in spring training to make the playoffs. And we just came up a little short this year."
Posey said he didn’t do anything different after the final out Tuesday. He gathered up his catching gear, headed up the short walkway to the Giants’ clubhouse, and did not make a point of watching the Dodgers’ celebration. But there it was anyway, a teeming blue mob on the green AT&T Park infield, underscoring the finality that Tuesday night brought to the Giants’ season.
"It’s always tough," Bumgarner said. "But you’ve got to take that and just remember that going into the offseason.
"Everybody has to remember that feeling. It’s not a fun feeling. You don’t want to be part of it, you want to be the one celebrating. We’ll just have to take that into the offseason with us, and let that give us a little bit of fuel for next year."
* The Giants had beaten the Dodgers in three previous head-to-head matchups between Bumgarner and Kershaw this season. But to match Kershaw on Tuesday, Bumgarner and the Giants needed to be close to perfect, and neither was.
Kelby Tomlinson’s error on a potential double-play ball in the first allowed the Dodgers to take an early 1-0 lead, and Bumgarner allowed three home runs in a game for just the fourth time in his career. Two came on his 111th and 112th pitches of the night. Justin Ruggiano hit a 67 mph curveball into the left-field seats, and A.J. Ellis jumped on a first-pitch fastball that ended Bumgarner’s outing.
"This is an emotional time of year and … I’m always pretty emotional out there, but a little more emotional tonight than I would’ve liked to have been," Bumgarner said.
"There’s a lot of factors that go into it. Any Dodgers series is kind of like that, but the time of year, the fact that before tonight we were still alive and had a little bit of hope. It’s just a lot of factors go in and, like I said, maybe a little more (emotional) than I would’ve liked to be. But I’m not at all blaming it on that. It was just a tough one."
Bumgarner said it had been a long time since he’d broken out his ultra-slow curveball -- not since mid-May, when he faced the Reds in Cincinnati -- before he tried throwing one to Ruggiano in a two-strike count.
"That obviously was a bad time to do it right there," Bumgarner said with a wry grin.
And the fastball to Ellis, he said, "wasn’t a quality pitch." After Bochy came out to get him, Bumgarner walked off the mound slowly, his gaze downward. The loss prevented Bumgarner from becoming the Giants’ first 19-game winner since Shawn Estes in 1997, and likely ended his chances at becoming their first 20-game winner since 1993.
It’s unclear if Bumgarner will make another start this season. Bochy said the Giants’ staff will get together to discuss the possibility of shutting several pitchers down now that they are officially eliminated. Bumgarner, who finished Tuesday night at 218 1/3 innings for the season, would be a prime candidate.
"I haven’t spoken with them," Bumgarner said afterward. "We’ll get to that tomorrow or whenever. But that’s just the last thing on our minds right now, at least me anyway."
If he is shut down, Bumgarner will finish the season 18-9 with a 2.93 ERA and a career-high 234 strikeouts. The questions surrounding Bumgarner coming into this season concerned how he would respond after his unprecedented innings load in the postseason last year. He responded by setting a new career-high in innings pitched, providing stability for a Giants rotation that teetered around him amid injuries and inconsistency, and posting numbers that will likely net him a top-five finish in the Cy Young race.
"Bum had a great year, tremendous year," Bochy said. "Had a little tough luck today, but he’s got to look at this year as another great year for him. There were questions with the workload he had last year, would it catch up with him, and here he throws all these beautiful games that we’ve seen so many times."
Posey, who caught every one of Bumgarner’s 32 starts this year, called the left-hander’s season: "Unreal."
"The amount of innings he pitched last year, the amount that he has improved this year, it’s hard for people to understand how taxing that is on your body," Posey said. "I mean it’s been a long time since I pitched, but I remember how sore I would get after pitching.
"It’s a testament to his work ethic and the work he puts in in the offseason. And it’s something he should really be proud of. I’m proud of him for what he’s done this year."
* Posey was no more sparing in his praise of Kershaw, who Tuesday threw a complete game while allowing one or fewer hits for the second time in his career, the other being his no-hitter against Colorado last year. Kershaw has the lowest all-time ERA against the Giants and lowered it Tuesday to 1.54. His career ERA at AT&T Park is 1.16.
There are many other statistics to express Kershaw’s dominance since he broke into the majors in 2008, but this one sums it up: Since 1920, Kershaw has the lowest career ERA of any major-league pitcher at 2.44. Second is Hoyt Wilhelm at 2.52, and fourth is the pitcher Kershaw is so often compared to, Dodgers legend Sandy Koufax, at 2.76.
"The numbers he puts up are unparalleled really," Posey said. "I’m not the greatest history buff, but I’d be interested to compare him, however many season’s he’s had, seven or eight, to anybody else’s first seven or eight. I’d imagine they stack up pretty well."
Kevin Frandsen’s one-out single in the third inning was the only hit the Giants had off Kershaw on Tuesday, and Angel Pagan’s third-inning walk gave them their only other baserunner. Kershaw retired his final 19 hitters, and struck out 11 of the last 15.
"He’s as good as it gets," Bochy said. "He probably threw one of his better games, and a lot at stake, you know he’s going to go out there and try to finish it off. And he did a great job."
* The remaining few days of the season could see Bochy getting very creative with his use of players and pitchers. It’s unlikely Posey will catch again, especially if Bumgarner does not start Sunday in the season finale. There’s the Marlon Byrd plate appearance count -- he’s at 535, 15 away from his contract option for 2016 automatically vesting. The Giants may well use the remaining games to get a long look at Mac Williamson, Jarrett Parker, Trevor Brown and others before assessing the roster over the offseason.
Wednesday night, they’ll get their last look this season at Mike Leake, before deciding this winter how aggressively to pursue him in free agency. Leake could help his own cause with a strong outing. Since coming to the Giants, the right-hander is 1-5 with a 4.86 ERA. He’ll face Dodgers right-hander Mike Bolsinger (6-5, 3.48). First pitch at 7:15 p.m.