Madison Bumgarner’s home runs have achieved the category of spectacle, the idea of his participating in the Home Run Derby a whimsical what-if. But even when he isn’t launching a ball into the seats, Bumgarner’s presence as a hitter – not just a pitcher capable of hitting – can affect a game, as was the case Tuesday night.
In the seventh inning of a tied game, Giants manager Bruce Bochy sent Bumgarner up to bat with men on first and second and one out. It was a scenario in which many pitchers would be removed for a pinch-hitter, or at least be asked to bunt. With Bumgarner, Bochy did neither.
Brewers reliever Will Smith started Bumgarner off with consecutive breaking balls. Both bounced in the dirt, past catcher Jonathan Lucroy to the backstop. And that allowed Angel Pagan to score from second base without the benefit of a hit, the eventual winning run as the Giants beat the Brewers, 3-2, at AT&T Park.
“It just shows you how much respect he has as a hitter,” Bochy said. “He is pitched like a hitter. He’s getting 3-2 breaking balls, 2-0 breaking balls. Pitchers aren’t giving into him.
“You look up there at the numbers and go, well, that doesn’t make sense. But they know he has good power and if you make a mistake he can do some damage. And that’s what a threat does for you. A dangerous hitter makes pitchers be a little careful and sometimes that can bring some good things like a wild pitch.”
Quantifiably, Bumgarner’s influence Tuesday could be measured in eight innings pitched over which he held the Brewers to two runs on four hits with eight strikeouts. Asked if his mere presence at the plate also led to the winning run, Bumgarner grinned.
“I think we more or less caught a break right there more than that,” he said. “But if you want to look at it that way, it sounds good to me.”
The Giants moved to 14 games over .500 but not without a scare. First baseman Brandon Belt was hit by a Carlos Torres fastball on the right ankle in the sixth inning, appeared in obvious pain and came out of the game after the seventh. Belt underwent an X-ray after the game, which the Giants said came back negative.
“It hit him right below the ankle, swelled up pretty good,” Bochy said. “That’s why he had to leave the game.”
The Giants’ majors-leading 16th one-run victory masked a game that felt more one-sided. The Giants left 13 runners on base, two in each of the first six innings, while going 2-for-12 with men in scoring position. The Brewers in those situations were 1-for-1.
The one was Hernan Perez’s single in the sixth inning that scored Jonathan Villar, who had doubled. Jonathan Lucroy’s solo homer leading off the fifth accounted for the only other run against Bumgarner.
It snapped Bumgarner’s streak of six consecutive starts allowing one or zero runs. But the left-hander won his seventh straight decision. And he still has not allowed more than two runs in 11 straight starts – the longest such streak by a Giants pitcher since Juan Marichal had 11 in a row from Sept. 30, 1965 to May 26, 1966. His season ERA actually inched up Tuesday – from 1.88 to 1.91.
“It’s just really fun to watch a really good, elite pitcher do his thing,” Bochy said. “But what’s really amazing about him is the little things he does.”
In four plate appearances Tuesday, Bumgarner and reached base three times, on two walks and an infield single. He began the eighth inning at 100 pitches and issued a one-out walk to Keon Broxton before getting Ramon Flores to fly out.
Bochy at that point had right-hander Cory Gearrin up in the bullpen with Villar on deck. After Flores’ out, catcher Buster Posey jogged to the mound and looked into the dugout. Bochy, on the top step, raised his shoulders in a questioning motion. Posey returned a thumbs-up sign, and Bochy stayed in the dugout, leaving Bumgarner in the game.
Bumgarner threw two 91 mph fastballs past a swinging Villar – but ended the inning by picking Broxton off of first base.
“I’ll take an out however I can get it,” Bumgarner said.
Santiago Casilla saved the game with a perfect ninth, freezing Brewers slugger Ryan Braun with a fastball over the outside corner to end an 11-pitch at-bat and the game. Bumgarner said he watched the battle from inside the Giants’ clubhouse.
“He made a lot of big pitches,” Bumgarner said of Casilla. “You’ve got a guy like that that can tie the game with one swing, and you’ve got to be careful with him and make a pitch, and he did. He didn’t give in after he got behind. He kept making pitches, and it worked out for him.”
Casilla’s clean inning was one of several positive developments for the Giants. Angel Pagan returned from the disabled list Tuesday, drove in a run on a fielder’s choice and scored the game-winner in the seventh after reaching on a single. Buster Posey, who entered the game batting .257, had four hits, two of which contributed to scoring rallies.
“I think you definitely see the difference without that little nerve thing that was bothering him,” Bochy said of Posey, who missed several games recently with nerve irritation in his right thumb. “He was trying to play through it. But (now) he’s letting it go.”
Pagan’s return from the DL coincided with pitcher Matt Cain returning to it. Cain missed 15 days with a right hamstring strain before coming back to face the Brewers on Monday. And during that 3 2/3-inning outing, the Giants said, he re-aggravated the injury, causing the Giants to put him back on the DL on Tuesday.
Bochy said Cain was “very sore in that hamstring area again” Monday night and would have missed his next start regardless. Cain had an MRI on Tuesday that showed a “mild strain.”
“We just decided the best thing was to DL him, let’s get this thing right 100 percent, let’s don’t fight it,” Bochy said. “Matty understands.”
The Giants recalled Chris Stratton from Triple-A, one day after sending him down, to feel covered in the bullpen. But Bumgarner, with eight innings, rendered that concern moot.