You knew magic was in the air in San Francisco Thursday night, when Tim McCarver opened his early comments on Madison Bumgarner with the observation that Bumgarner’s nickname was MadBum. Aside from sounding like a British euphemism for irritable bowel syndrome, that is an horrifically unimaginative sobriquet. It was the kind of inanity that demanded to be swept under a rug, and MadBum obliged by matching Doug Fister in a shutout into the seventh inning. In fact, Bumgarner pitched seven shutout frames, striking out eight, and got the win.
That was huge for Bumgarner, as for the Giants. The lanky, low-angle lefty came into the game with a monkey the size of Tim Lincecum on his back. Bumgarner scuffled badly down the stretch this season, with his velocity and health major concerns for the Giants. Here are his average fastball velocities by month for the year: April, 91.42 MPH; May, 91.83 MPH; June, 92.01 MPH; July, 91.80 MPH; August, 92.23 MPH; September, 90.69 MPH; October, 90.74 MPH. That’s an alarming drop at the end. Bumgarner paid the price less on the heater itself, though, than on the slider that his heat was supposed to set up. In July and August, opponents hit .191 and .224, respectively, on his slider. In September, they teed it up to the tune of a .328 batting average, four doubles, two triples and three home runs in 64 at-bats. That all carried over in the postseason, which led Bruce Bochy to skip Bumgarner’s second potential NLCS start.
When the Giants announced that Bumgarner would start Game 2, rather than Lincecum (or Ryan Vogelsong on short rest), they claimed to have fixed a mechanical flaw that had prevented Bumgarner from getting the ball over to the third-base side of home plate with the kind of bite necessary to avoid its being smashed by right-handed batters. It sounded good, but with any such adjustment, results are not guaranteed. The Tigers had provided an example of just that Wednesday, when supposedly fixed Jose Valverde was lit up in a mop-up role.
Bumgarner, as it turned out, had made a very real recovery. He got the leveraged, low arm angle he needed against right-handed hitters, and was able to keep the ball down even while moving it inside with sweeping motion. The eight strikeouts showed the electricity was back in his arm.
Still, the game was tied at the seventh-inning stretch. The only scoring threat of the first two-thirds of the game came when Prince Fielder tried to score from first on a double in the second inning, and slid more or less directly into an out. He should either have run through the plate at full stem, or slid to the back corner of the plate, but he came in straight, and Buster Posey slapped a tag on his left side.
After the stretch, Hunter Pence led off with a single against Fister, whereupon Jim Leyland (with three straight left-handed batters due) went to southpaw Drew Smyly. Unfortunately, Smyly walked Brandon Belt, then fell behind 3-1 on Gregor Blanco. Blanco had been trying to give Smyly an out with a sacrifice, but Smyly falling behind forced two things to change:
- The next pitch would have to be right down the middle; and
- The infield, especially Miguel Cabrera at third base, had to modify their positioning to defend against the possibility that Blanco would now swing away.
Blanco didn’t swing away. He got a perfect pitch to bunt on 3-1, and laid down an expert, slow roller of a bunt down the third base line. Smyly, Cabrera and catcher Gerald Laird converged on the ball, but thanks to Blanco’s execution (and speed) and Cabrera’s compromised starting point (and utter lack of mobility), the only play they had was to hope it rolled foul. It did not. Bases loaded.
Brandon Crawford grounded into a double play, but it was enough to push across a run for San Francisco. In the eighth inning, a well-timed stolen base and an ill-advised intentional walk set up another bases-loaded situation. Hunter Pence punctuated that rally, as it were, with a sacrifice fly, and that was all the Giants needed. On their two scoring plays, three outs were recorded, but the runs still count. The team’s ability to make contact has proved durable even in the face of good bat missers, and Detroit’s defense has changed the course of the series for the worse a handful of times.
Sergio Romo came on and closed out Detroit, dominating the top of their order. I mentioned Romo in my blog last night, and I don’t want to talk much about Fox’s decision to deify him as a dugout clown, but I will just run it down quickly. Romo wears high socks with extra striping. He wears half-sleeves under his uniform top, and a gauge in his left ear. His beard is perfectly groomed. He’s exceptionally cool, and grabs the eye in a way few other players do. Eminently marketable, he’s also dominant, as he showed with some devastating, sweeping sliders and a fastball that hit the true outside bottom corner of the strike zone against Omar Infante. Perhaps the most interesting thing about him is that he doesn’t even throw hard. His slider has unmatched two-plane movement, and he locates as well as any active reliever, but his fastball averaged just under 88 miles per hour this year. The Tigers were so helpless against him, though, that it might as well have been 98. Romo, Bumgarner and Sandoval are the breakout stars of the Series thus far, and maybe all three are overdue for a bigger slice of the national spotlight.Next post: Brian Harper: A Baseball Life
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