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.
“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.”