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Madison Bumgarner gets everything but “Buster Hug” in dominant win

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SAN FRANCISCO – It all said so much about Madison Bumgarner.

His fastball was pure backwoods camouflage, jumping like a rabbit, kicking like a buck and swooping like a red-tailed hawk.

His jaw and his brow were locked tight as bowstrings as he fired 24 first-pitch strikes to 28 batters, set traps with an astounding 15 0-2 counts and threw ball three just once all night.

He stepped on one twig, when Justin Morneau hit a two-strike curveball into the right field corner to start the eighth inning. But Bumgarner’s night wasn’t defined by the buildup to a perfect game, or by The One That Got Away.

It was what happened immediately after the Giants’ broad-shouldered, soft-eyed left-hander rubbed up a new baseball as Morneau stood on second base. After sellout crowd sighed and showered him with appreciation, and Bumgarner turned ornery.

The next three batters: 11 pitches, 11 strikes, six of them swinging, and three strikeouts.

Kill shot.

[RECAP: Bumgarner’s perfect game broken up in eighth]

“Really,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy following Bumgarner’s one-hit, career-high tying 13-strikeout performance the 3-0 victory over the Colorado Rockies Tuesday night, “that game was probably more impressive than a lot of no-hitters.”

It was what the Giants needed after the previous night, when they were a poor reflection of a contending team in a disheveled loss to a depleted Rockies club that had dropped 23 of 26 road games since sweeping three here in mid-June.

Bumgarner had a 5.17 ERA at AT&T Park and nobody could understand it. Buster Posey was hitting .239 with an out-of-character .278 on-base percentage at AT&T Park and nobody could understand it. The Giants had lost their edge at home for more than two months and … well, maybe the shortcomings of their best all-around pitcher and hitter might explain some of it, right?

But this time, Bumgarner took charge and Posey provided all the offense with a pair of home runs. The two-run shot came in the sixth inning. The solo shot followed in the eighth.

It was a relief, Posey acknowledged, “because at that point you could sense he had an opportunity, the way he was throwing. It definitely would’ve been stressful if we didn’t have any runs on the board in the ninth.”

But a two-strike curveball to Morneau didn’t splash in the dirt, and his NL-best .317 average isn’t entirely a product of Coors Field. Certainly, perfect games have been lost on worse pitches.

“It was not a bad pitch, really,” Posey said. “Just a good piece of hitting.

“When he’s throwing the ball like that, it makes my job pretty easy. … The most impressive to me was the fact he gave up the hit and struck out the next three batters. That shows the kind of poise he has.”

Said Bochy: “The one thing you know you’ll get from Madison is great concentration. You may beat him but it’s not for a lack of effort or focus.”

Want to know something else about Bumgarner? When he batted in the seventh inning, just six outs away from perfection, he did not leave the bat on his shoulder. He took one of his lumberjack cuts and rocketed a lineout to deep right field.

Most pitchers would have stood there in the box, not wanting to disrupt any particles.

“Hmmmmmmm,” said Bumgarner. “I can’t really … no. I wouldn’t do that.”

Bumgarner took nothing for granted after Morneau’s double. Remember, the Giants’ free-fall began in June when they led the Rockies in the eighth inning or later three times, and lost all three games.

This time, it would not slip away. Bumgarner retired the final six batters to record his sixth career complete game and his second shutout. It also was his second one-hitter. This was the deepest he has taken any kind of no-hit or perfect-game bid in his career. You have to believe he’ll take one deeper still.

Does he pine for the day when the clubhouse serenades him, as they did for Tim Lincecum this year and last, and Matt Cain in 2012?

“I mean, it would be … it’d be great,” said Bumgarner, who threw 80 of 103 pitches for strikes. “It’d be cool to do. It’s a cool individual accomplishment. But that’s not important to me. It’s definitely amazing but when it comes down to it, we’re trying to win games. That’s it. It’s about your teammates and winning championships.”

Here is what he did accomplish, though:

–He reached double-digit strikeouts for the 19th time in his career, putting him behind only Lincecum, Jason Schmidt and Juan Marichal in Giants history. Even Gaylord Perry did it just 15 times. Bumgarner just turned 25 years old, by the way.

–His six games of 10-plus strikeouts and zero walks are the most in Giants franchise history.

–He is 15-9 and tied for the major league lead in victories. With seven starts remaining, he retains a shot at becoming the Giants’ first 20-game winner since Bill Swift and John Burkett in 1993.

–He became the first Giant to throw four complete games in a season since Cain in 2010. Maybe, one of these days soon, he’ll join the ranks of Cy Young Award winners, too.

Posey remains the face of the franchise, but can there be any doubt that Bumgarner is the thick legs and torso?

Without him, the Giants rotation would be nothing but cracks and fissures and age spots. Lincecum is banished to the bullpen for the first time in his career, Cain is hoping to bounce back from elbow surgery next spring, Tim Hudson will turn 40 next summer, 30-somethings Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong are impending free agents and the minor league system is as well stocked with arms as a Opa-Locka convenience store with a tropical storm on its doorstep.

They have been through the storms this season, slid back to the pack in a flash-flood of losses. Bumgarner did not get the perfect game Tuesday night, or the no-hitter or the ice bucket or the cup of champagne.

But he did give the Giants a little backbone, and maybe that’s what some of them needed.

Even if the night didn’t end with a full-fledged Buster Hug.

“Aw,” said Posey, “I don’t know if I could’ve picked him up anyway.”

Video: Minor leaguer dives over the wall to rob a home run

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Meanwhile, in Tulsa, Zach Welz of the visiting Arkansas Travelers made a spectacular catch. It was the catch Torii Hunter tried to make on that famous David Ortiz homer in the playoffs a few years back except Welz made it.

Watch as he topples over the wall to come up with the would-be dinger off the bat of Tulsa Drillers first baseman Cody Bellinger:

MLB, MLBPA move to help baseball in Puerto Rico. After hurting baseball in Puerto Rico.

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JUNE 30:  A Puerto Rican flag flies from a building a day after the speech Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla gave regarding the government's $72 billion debt on June 30, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  The Governor said in his speech that the people will have to sacrifice and share in the responsibilities for pulling the island out of debt.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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Yesterday Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Union announced that they will play games in Puerto Rico as part of a plan to develop and support baseball on the island. They likewise pledged $5 million for the creation of development programs in Puerto Rico and plan to stage special events there.

The press release about this made mention of Puerto Rico’s undeniably outstanding baseball tradition. What it did not mention is that, in the view of many, Major League Baseball itself harmed that tradition significantly when it decided to subject Puerto Rican players to the draft in 1990. A move that the MLBPA signed off on too, of course. Indeed, there’s a pretty strong argument that, if it were not for MLB and the MLBPA’s own acts, there would be no need to “develop and support” baseball in Puerto Rico like this at all.

An exploration of this can be read in this 2012 article from The New York Times. The article (and many, many others like it which have been written over the years) notes the sharp decline of Puerto Rico’s professional and amateur baseball leagues and observes that the once steady flow of players making their way from the island to the major leagues being reduced to a trickle.* (see update below) Why?

No one here disputes the diminished stature of baseball in Puerto Rico, and most agree on the culprit: Major League Baseball’s decision, in 1990, to include Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States, in its first-year player draft. This means Puerto Rican players must wait until they have completed high school to sign a professional contract, and then they are going up against players from the United States and Canada in the draft.

Perhaps more important, major league teams have less incentive to cultivate talent in Puerto Rico because those players may end up with another team through the draft.

Sandy Alderson is quoted in that article dismissing the notion that the draft was to blame, but even his dodge is couched in basic economic incentives. He claims that, hey, there is stuff that is more financially lucrative for people to do in Puerto Rico than play baseball now. Well, sure. I’d just like him to explain how radically reducing the amount of money a kid can get from playing baseball due to taking away his right to sign with the highest bidder and by utterly killing the incentives for clubs to invest in developing players doesn’t enter into that calculus. Alderson doesn’t explain that one.

No matter what Major League Baseball might say on the record about all of this now, the fact remains that no one spent the past 26 years building academies in Puerto Rico like they have in Venezuela or the Dominican Republic. No one has an incentive to turn a 12-year-old with promise into a 16-year-old prospect like they do in those countries because there is no longer any way for a teenager to sign for life-changing money like they can elsewhere. The draft has saved Major League Baseball hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses to Puerto Rican players over the past 26 years and it has reduced the number of prospects who may push high-salaried MLBPA members out of work, but has done tremendous damage to the baseball tradition to which Major League Baseball and the MLBPA now pay lip service.

I’m glad that MLB and the MLBPA are doing something about baseball in Puerto Rico. But $5 million over the course of four or five years, which is what this plan involves, a couple of games (if they’re even played), doesn’t even represent a fraction of the damage that the league and the union inflicted when they imposed the draft.

UPDATE: A couple of people who know a hell of a lot about this stuff have pushed back against my post on Twitter:

Marcano has written a book about the excesses and abuses involved in the development of baseball talent in Latin America. He is 100% right about this and, to the extent my writing above made it sound like I was endorsing the model in place in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic on its own terms, I want to be clear that I am not. There is a lot of bad stuff that goes on there and for every kids signing a million dollar bonus, there are hundreds who find themselves at a professional dead end or far, far worse.

That said: Major League Baseball has no problem exploiting that system in those countries and its move to impose the draft in Puerto Rico was not born of some principled stand against those excesses. It was to be a foothold for an international draft which is primarily about cost savings. It would be quite possible to have a system in place that both (a) protects kids from abuses; but (b) provides the sorts of financial incentives to make baseball a worthwhile pursuit for those with the talent to play it.

Also:

Cooper, the managing editor of Baseball America, so he knows of what he speaks, notes that from 1987-1990, before the draft was imposed, 19 Puerto Ricans made their Major League debut. From 2000-03, 23 made their debuts. From 2013-16, 22 made their debuts.

That certainly blows my above comment about “reducing the flow of players to the majors to a trickle” out of the water. That said, Major League Baseball’s move yesterday was not just about the pipeline to the majors. It’s about baseball overall in Puerto Rico. Those numbers reflecting that the top eschelon of talent is still making it to the majors are undeniable, but the Times article from 2012 talks about the erosion of amateur leagues, Puerto Rico’s diminished standing in international tournaments and the reduction in size of the Puerto Rican winter league.

So, OK, I’ll walk back my comments about just how much the imposition of the draft in 1990 damaged baseball in Puerto Rico, but I maintain that it’s hard to argue that it did not do some damage.