Bumgarner's performance one for the ages

By Steve Sell
October 30, 2014

I’m convinced more than ever now that San Francisco slinger Madison Bumgarner could pitch 20 more games against the Kansas City Royals and they wouldn’t score another run.

As much as the Giants talked about how they were all about “team,” and as great the Panda and Pence Show was, the World Series could be summed up in two words.

Madison Bumgarner.

I have watched baseball for 50 years. I watched Bob Gibson win three games against the Boston Red Sox in the 1967 World Series and Mickey Lolich repeat that feat against the Cardinals the following year.

But that was old-school baseball. In this era of pitching on the required five days rest, with bridge men, set-up men and 100 mph. closers, what Bumgarner achieved in the World Series borderlines on the super human. 

Had Salvador Perez not run into a hanging pitch in Game 1 and sent it just into the seats for a cosmetic homer in a 7-1 Giants rout, Bumgarner would have been perfect for the Series. He dominated the Royals in a 5-0 Game 5 shutout and was thought to be available for an inning or two or three in Game 7.

He gave the Giants five, five of the most gutty stress-free innings you’ll ever see with his sidewinder-like motion. He allowed two hits and, of course, no runs. There was a shaky moment in the ninth inning when a misplayed fly ball put the Royals’ Alex Gordon on third, but Bumgarner simply shrugged his shoulders, bore down, and — maybe appropriately — retired the over-aggressive Perez on a pop-up to end the game.

There’s rumors there may be a recall election of Cy Young. It may become the Madison Bumgarner Award. This may be only the tip of the iceberg. He joins Los Angeles’ Clayton Kershaw as the top young pitcher in the game and some might think now he’s better than Kershaw.

It was as though he dipped his arm in gold before the postseason. Remember, he blanked the Pittsburgh Pirates in the wild-card play-in game just to get the Giants in position. San Francisco cobbled together just enough wins in the non-Bumgarner games to make the World Series, then rode their big horse across the finish line.

The Giants and Royals may redefine the way the game is played. The days of the three-run homer may be over. Teams may be constructed with an emphasis on pitching, speed, defense and contact hitting. There were only five home runs the entire series, just two by the Giants, yet it was exciting, fundamental baseball to watch. San Francisco pitchers allowed just 11 walks in the seven games, though a lot of that had to do with the Royals’ hack-away mentality.

For the Royals, it was the last ride on the crazy train that nobody expected to purchase a ticket for. It was expected to be the usual season, a lot of hope and promise that would eventually fade into the usual disappointment.

Remember the slogan of “Our Time” back in 2012?” That flopped as much as LeBron James during an NBA game. But now the Royals’ time has arrived.

And this may not be a 1-in-every-29-year happening. The Royals have a core of young players, though the roster will look somewhat different next year. James Shields, who taught this team so much about winning, accomplished what he set out to do and he’ll probably take the free-agent money and run. Billy Butler is a free agent as well, though given his ties to the community and his longtime loyalty he might give the team a hometown discount. The Royals would still like to have a potential 25-homer, 100-RBI guy, but given the success of “small ball” this season, the desire for a slugger might not be as great.

Luke Hochevar, who missed the year with Tommy John surgery, will be back and he might be tried as a starter. Or the Royals could put him back in his eighth-inning role and reinsert Wade Davis into the rotation, where he spent much of the 2013 season. Yordano Ventura will be the ace and Danny Duffy, Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie are all under contract. For me, I’d like to see Davis remain in the eighth, as I can’t see any reason to break up the three-headed monster of Kelvin Herrera, Davis and Greg Holland, though it would be ridiculous to expect them to duplicate 2014. Like Bumgarner’s World Series, the trio’s season was an aberration. I don’t believe you’ll ever see all three of them be that good at the same time again.

Expectations, though, could be wildly unfair. This is still a team with flaws, like any team. The Royals’ offense comes and goes and they made it through the season without any major injuries to the everyday lineup. Teams, though, won’t let the Royals sneak up on them and there’s still the talented Detroit Tigers to contend with, as they have the best Big 3 in the business in Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and David Price, all past Cy Young winners and all still in their primes.

Let’s at least take a few days, even weeks, to enjoy what the Royals accomplished. Baseball became relevant again in Kansas City and no longer will the Royals be a joke that had grown old, tired and stale. They have energized the town and taken away some of the Chiefs’ thunder — unless they make it to the Super Bowl this season.

I’m not sure exhausted Kansas City fans could handle that.