Madison Bumgarner is totally cool with the postseason, mostly because he is burning hot. He has a stunning blend of calm and intensity, which explains why he is as comfortable cutting down batters in October as he is chopping down trees on his ranch in November.
“You know, he’s just one of those guys that has the ‘it’ factor,” Buster Posey, the Giants catcher, said of the lefthander who will start the National League wild-card game Wednesday night against the Mets.
Hunter Pence, the Giants rightfielder, said, “Sometimes you see him do some things and you think ‘I wonder if he knows what he’s doing,’ and he always has a very strong intention with everything he does. He’s in command of himself and all the things going on. It’s just that he’s got this special ‘it’ factor and this incredible competitiveness that’s just so beautiful to watch.”
Not so beautiful if you are looking from the batter’s box this time of year. Bumgarner’s previous experience in a wild-card game was an 8-0 four-hitter over the Pirates in 2014. His 7-3 record and 2.14 earned run average in the postseason includes five innings of scoreless relief in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series.
“ ‘It’ factor” might not be a very descriptive phrase, but it is more of an explanation than you will get from Bumgarner about why October is his month. “I don’t know,” he said Tuesday at Citi Field. “That’s a tough one to answer. I wish I had something for you, but that’s a tough one.”
Fact is, he does not overanalyze or overprepare for the playoffs. He is good at achieving what everyone tries to do: maintaining even keel through routine. “I feel like every time I go out there, it doesn’t matter if it’s a spring training game, if it’s regular season, postseason, whatever, I’m giving it everything I’ve got. Mentally, physically, everything,” Bumgarner said.
Yet one level beneath the surface, he is an inferno. Bruce Bochy took Bumgarner out of a key September game against the Dodgers after the pitcher vehemently confronted Yasiel Puig. That was an aberration. Usually, his temper is under control, as are his pitches. His ace vs. ace matchup against Noah Syndergaard figures to be compelling.
“Two Goliaths going at it, two big guys, and that makes for some good drama, some good excitement,” Pence said. “That’s the fun of baseball, getting out there and competing against the best.”
It is no shock that the Giants’ best pitcher can handle the opposite demands of poise and passion. Every baseball season, he adjusts to cosmopolitan San Francisco after a winter on 100 acres in Caldwell County, North Carolina. He tends to the horses and chops down brush, just one of the workers (mostly family members). It has been reported that when he married his high school sweetheart, Ali, he gave her a cow as a wedding present.
Still, he thrives at work in big cities. Especially the one in which he will pitch Wednesday night. Bumgarner is 4-0 with a 0.62 ERA at Citi Field, a record that he takes in stride. He said, “I don’t think there’s any good reason for it.”
Chalk it up to the “it’’ factor.