Posted by: Mike Cornelius | October 30, 2014

Bumgarner Wins The Pennant

It began all those months ago, pitchers and catchers answering the familiar call to report to camps in the mild late winter climates of Florida and Arizona. Through 25 to 30 Grapefruit or Cactus League games, players readied themselves for the new campaign, and rosters gradually took shape. The Dodgers and Diamondbacks flew halfway around the world to get things started, with Vin Scully greeting television viewers with a hearty “G’day!” from Sydney, Australia. From the blossoming of spring and on through the heat of the summer the arduous schedule of 162 regular season contests unspooled itself. Even as temperatures began to cool pennant races heated up through the final month of September. The fortunate fans of ten franchises got to cheer their favorites on into October. Finally, on a crisp Wednesday evening in the heartland, the longest season came to an end in the best and most dramatic way possible, with a scintillating World Series Game Seven. When the final out had been recorded, both a dynasty and a legend were official.

The 110th World Series was historic from the start. It was only the second Fall Classic to feature two Wild Card teams. Since the 2012 change in the MLB playoff structure that added the Wild Card play-in game, it was the first Series to involve a winner, much less two, of that new opening round to the postseason. Since both San Francisco and Kansas City advanced to the Series out of the Wild Card play-in contest, before the first pitch of Game Seven was thrown the one certainty was that this World Series would be the first to crown as champion a team that survived four rounds of playoff baseball. With the 88-win Giants facing the 89-win Royals, this was the first time in a non-strike year that neither contestant had won 90 or more games in the regular season.

It was also a World Series that was at once taut and lopsided. Neither team ever led by more than one game, and the Series was tied every time it could be; at 1-1, 2-2, and 3-3. Yet by the time they ended five of the seven games were blowouts, with the winning squad scoring at least five more runs than the losing one; another first in Series history. It was 7-1 Giants in the opener, then 7-2 Royals in Game Two. Later San Francisco rallied at home to first tie the Series at two games apiece and then take the lead by winning Games Three and Four by 11-4 and 5-0. The Royals responded with a 10-0 rout of their own in Game Six. Those scores resulted in diminished roles for some players expected to be crucial to the final outcome. Kansas City closer Greg Holland made just three appearances, and only one of those was in a save situation. But that was a heavy workload compared to his San Francisco counterpart Santiago Casilla, whose 2014 World Series consisted of four pitches.

In the end Game Seven more than made up for any lack of drama in most of the earlier contests. The Giants were trying to do what no team had done since 1979, namely win a Game Seven on the road. They faced a sea of blue-clad fans, but still managed to strike first by plating a pair of runs in the top of the 2nd inning. After Pablo Sandoval was hit by a Jeremy Guthrie cutter, Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt singled to load the bases. First Michael Morse and then Brandon Crawford followed with fly balls deep enough in the spacious Kauffman Stadium outfield to sacrifice home Sandoval and Pence.

Kansas City needed just eight pitches from Giants starter Tim Hudson to even the score in the bottom of the frame. Billy Butler singled to lead off, and Alex Gordon doubled on the first pitch he saw to score Butler all the way from first. Hudson hit Salvador Perez with his next pitch, and yielded a fly ball to Mike Moustakas that advanced Gordon to third two splitters later. Omar Infante then sacrificed Gordon home and the 40,000 plus in the stands were at full volume.

A key moment came in the bottom of the 3rd inning, after Lorenzo Cain singled to lead off for the Royals. Eric Hosmer followed with a sharp ground ball to the right of second baseman Joe Panik. The rookie stabbed the ball with his glove, and then had the presence of mind to flip the ball to shortstop Brandon Crawford directly from his glove. Had Panik taken the time to transfer the ball to his throwing hand he might not have gotten the force at second on the speedster Cain. Instead Crawford was able to throw on to first and double up Hosmer. The initial call on the field was safe at first, but an appeal by Giants manager Bruce Bochy led to a replay review and the end of a potential Kansas City rally.

In the very next inning the middle of San Francisco’s order again went to work. Sandoval and Pence singled, with Sandoval moving to third on a Belt fly out. When Morse drove a single into right field Sandoval lumbered home to put the Giants back on top, 3-2.

That was the score through 3 ½ innings and that would be the score through 9, because the Giants’ Bochy decided to turn the game over to San Francisco’s 25-year old master of the postseason, Madison Bumgarner. His gaudy playoff statistics were highlighted here just last week, when it was suggested that unless the Royals could figure out a way to get to Bumgarner, their magical run through October was likely to come up short. In the end they couldn’t, it did, and Madison Bumgarner wrote his own page in the Great Game’s history.

The left-hander came on to start the 5th inning. He had already beaten the Royals in Game One, throwing 7 innings of three hit, one run ball. Just three days earlier he had beaten them again in Game Five, throwing 117 pitches in a complete game, four hit shutout. Now on two days rest he yielded a single to Infante, the first batter he saw. He then retired the next fourteen Royals who stepped into the batter’s box, four by strikeouts. Finally with two outs in the bottom of the 9th Gordon singled sharply to center field, and when Gregor Blanco let the ball get by him hopes rose in Kansas City. Gordon raced all the way to third by the time left fielder Juan Perez ran down the ball and fired it in to the relay man.

But 90 feet away is as close as Gordon would get. Firing four-seam fastballs at 93 miles per hour, Bumgarner gave Perez nothing hittable. On his 68th pitch on two days rest he got Perez to chase a high throw out of the strike zone, resulting in a popup to foul ground off of third base. When Sandoval squeezed the ball in his glove and fell to the ground, the longest season was over. With three titles in five years, the Giants and their fans can fairly use the word dynasty, even if in those other two years the team didn’t even make the playoffs. As for Bumgarner, whose two wins and the Game Seven save this year brought his career World Series record to 4-0 plus a save and an ERA of 0.25, the MVP Award he won doesn’t begin to tell the story. Still only 25 years old, Madison Bumgarner is already a legend of the Great Game.

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