Even with all the practice they have had, the Giants can’t quite describe how extraordinary and clutch Madison Bumgarner is. Nor can anyone else. This is a start, though: He served as his own closer Wednesday night, pitching the ninth inning and saving his team’s season.
“It’s hard to put into words what he did for us tonight and what he has done for us,” said manager Bruce Bochy, who was reluctantly going to pinch-hit for his ace in the ninth inning of a dramatically taut wild-card game against the Mets. Bochy and his team got a last-second reprieve when the batter in front of him, Conor Gillaspie, hit a three-run home run.
Oddly, that produced the one scary moment in another superlative October game for the big lefthanded pitcher from North Carolina. The prospective pinch-hitter, Jarrett Parker, ran to the plate to congratulate Gillaspie. “I was screaming to him, ‘Get out of there!’ Bochy said, recalling being worried that the plate umpire was going to rule that Parker had officially entered the game to replace Bumgarner.
That didn’t happen, Bumgarner pitched the ninth of a 3-0 triumph and continued building onto his own remarkable postseason legacy.
He now has thrown two complete-game shutouts in wild- card games (he beat the Pirates, 8-0, two years ago). He extended his postseason scoreless streak to 23 innings. He improved to 8-3 with a 1.94 ERA (the third-lowest in major league history). He has gone 6-1 and 0.79 in his past nine postseason games. He has an 0.50 ERA in eight postseason road appearances and his team is 8-0 in those games.
“It’s hard to have any more confidence than what we have in Bum, especially in a game like this,” Bochy said. “Bum just did his thing. We won the game because of him.”
The Mets tried a different way of combating him: Pitching like crazy against his teammates. Noah Syndergaard’s seven scoreless innings gave Bumgarner no margin for error, no space to breathe.
“My mentality doesn’t change. It doesn’t matter if we scored 10. Any starting pitcher, they all plan to go out there and throw a complete game,” Bumgarner said. “I’ve been blessed with a lot of opportunities. But I’ve played this game long enough to know that anything can happen, especially at this time of year. So I’m not going to take any of that for granted or expect it to come easily.”
It is hard to imagine anyone expecting a game-breaking homer by Gillaspie, who was drafted by the Giants, bounced to the White Sox and Angels, returned to San Francisco as a sub and started because Eduardo Nunez was injured.
“You know, I’d be lying to you if I said I had words to describe this moment. `Absolutely incredible,’ I guess is the best I can do,” Gillaspie said. “You know, as a kid and as a player at this level, you look forward to just getting a hit in the postseason just to help your team. Wow, I mean, I’m a lucky guy.”
Everyone on the club considers himself lucky to play with Bumgarner. Bochy said, “It’s great to get that big hit, but it starts with the pitcher.”
Once again, it ended with the starting pitcher, too.