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November 1, 2010

World Series Prospectus

Game Four Report

by John Perrotto

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ARLINGTONMadison Bumgarner has just turned in the kind of performance that very few pitchers who have ever put on a major-league uniform have matched. Yet at game's end, it was hard to tell he had even been the winning pitcher.

"Unfazed" hardly begins to explain the way the Giants' 21-year-old left-hander seemed after pitching the Giants to the brink of their first world championship in 58 years. He never even cracked a smile as he discussed locking down the Rangers' powerful offense for eight innings and combining with Brian Wilson on a three-hit shutout in the 4-0 victory Sunday night at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, as the Giants took a 3-1 lead in the World Series.

"I just keep telling myself to stay relaxed," Bumgarner said. "And I've told myself that so much that it's starting to become second nature. It makes it a lot easier on me and the players to see somebody that's relaxed out there throwing."

While Bumgarner might have put his teammates at ease on the field, they had a hard time containing their enthusiasm about the way he pitched in his World Series debut.

"That kid," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said with a proud father-type smile, "I can't say enough about what he did. I mean, a 21-year-old kid on that stage pitching like that. He had it all working. He's not really a kid, though. He's a man."

At 21 years and 91 days, Bumgarner became the fifth-youngest pitcher to win a World Series game, behind only the 1913 Athletics' Bullet Joe Bush (20, 316), the 1966 Orioles' Jim Palmer (20, 356), the 1981 Dodgers' Fernando Valenzuela (20, 356), and the 1953 Dodgers' Johnny Podres (21, 4).

First baseman Aubrey Huff, who gave Bumgarner some cushion with a two-run home run in the third, knew the Giants' chances of bouncing back from their first loss in the series were good as soon as the starting pitcher walked into the clubhouse late Sunday afternoon.

"He's fearless, man," Huff said. "He came to the yard today and you could see he was chilling. Nothing really bothers him. Put on some David Allen Coe on the playlist and let him go to town. He's just a big 21-year-old kid out there with a funky delivery and who attacks the zone."

Giants leadoff hitter Andres Torres had a fine view of Bumgarner's performance from his post in center field. Thus, Torres appreciated how Bumgarner scattered three singles, struck out eight, and walked only two while throwing 69 of 106 pitches for strikes.

"It's unbelievable to watch the way he throws," Torres said. "He attacks the zone and moves everything. That's why he's so good. He's mentally prepared, too. He pitched a great game."

Bumgarner threw first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 27 batters he faced. While his fastball topped out at 94 mph and averaged 91, Bumgarner felt that adding more changeups than usual into the mix made the difference. He threw 25 changes and the Rangers were just 1-for-8 against them.

"The Rangers are a great team," Bumgarner said. "They're unbelievable. You don't want to take anything away from them. They've got a lot of great hitters on this team. I just felt like we were able to make pitches."

He was so good that Rangers manager Ron Washington declined all opportunities to make excuses, including his team hitting into some tough luck as the Giants made a number of fine defensive plays, and getting the short end of two calls that first-base umpire Jeff Kellogg missed.

"It all came down to the pitching," Washington said. "Bumgarner did a great job. We couldn't get anything mustered on him and when we thought we might get something done, he got the ball on the ground and got a double play or got out. He threw real well. He didn't throw one pitch at the same speed, he moved the ball around, he kept the ball on the ground and he kept his defense engaged."

Huff's third-inning, one-out home run down the right-field line off losing pitcher Tommy Hunter, who lasted just four innings, proved to be all Bumgarner needed, scoring Torres, who had led off with a double. It also put "home" back in the term "home run," as Huff grew up just down Interstate 20 in Fort Worth, which shares Tarrant County with Arlington.

While most professional athletes will rarely admit to getting sentimental, Huff made it clear that his home run was meaningful. He grew up idolizing Nolan Ryan and rooting for other Rangers such as Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro, Steve Buechele, Ruben Sierra, and Julio Franco. Sitting in old Arlington Stadium gave an 8-year-old Huff the inspiration to make becoming a professional baseball player his goal, and his single mother of two, working at the local Winn-Dixie supermarket, bought him a batting cage for the backyard.

"I think she did it to keep me out of trouble," Huff said with a smile, "and I don't think she realized how hard I worked in that thing every day. I wouldn't be here now if it weren't for her making that decision."

The Giants added two more runs off the Rangers bullpen, which lost right-hander Alexi Ogando to a strained left oblique muscle in the sixth inning. Torres doubled home Renteria, who had singled, in the seventh, and rookie catcher Buster Posey hit a solo homer to center off Darren O'Day with one out in the eighth to make it 4-0. Torres had three hits, including two doubles. Renteria was 3-for-4 and is now 6-for-14 in the series.

Meanwhile,  Bumgarner and Posey became the first rookie battery to start a World Series game since right-hander Spec Shea and Yogi Berra teamed up for the Yankees in Game One in 1947. Bumgarner and Posey also were back-to-back first-round draft picks by the Giants in 2007 and 2008.

"You see so many first-round picks who don't turn out, who just don't ever take advantage of their talent," Giants general manager Brian Sabean said. "To watch those two kids do what they are doing is really something to see and a credit to our scouting and player development departments. They are such great competitors and they have so much maturity."

Bumgarner and Posey first met during the Giants' Arizona Instructional League camp after the 2008 season. They formed an immediate bond that has only strengthened in their rookie seasons.

"We're always on the same page," Bumgarner said. "I trust him 100 percent. Whatever (sign) he puts down, I want to throw that pitch. Besides that, he's a great catcher."

Bumgarner, meanwhile, has the tools to be a great pitcher, especially after the mysterious case of his lost velocity was solved early this season at Triple-A Fresno. There was real concern in the Giants' organization that he might have been a pitcher who peaked early, as far as velocity was concerned, when he struggled to reach 90 mph in spring training after also showing decreased velocity late last season. Yet, some mechanical adjustments have made Bumgarner's fastball a plus pitch again.

"It's more than just him throwing hard, though," said Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti, who opposed Valenzuela as the Yankees' starter in that 1981 Game Three. "Left-handers who move the ball around and hit their spots have been effective since the game's beginning. That never changes, which is why we're so excited about Madison's future."

The Giants are also excited about their present, as they need to win just one of the next three games to secure their first championship since Horace Stoneham moved the team to San Francisco from New York in 1958. The San Francisco Giants have gone winless in three prior World Series appearances.

"We've got the chance to eradicate the ghosts of 1962, the ghosts of 1989, and the ghosts of 2002," Sabean said, referring to the Giants' three World Series losses since moving west. "It would be very special."

Still, the Giants were quick not to fantasize too much about a championship, which they can clinch tonight when they match aces with the Rangers, sending Tim Lincecum to the mound against Cliff Lee in Game Five.

"Right now, we still have work ahead of us and it's a seven-game series," Bochy said. "As I said earlier, it's a number we have to get to and that number is four."

The Giants' pitching staff is making four wins look very obtainable, as it has shut out the Rangers twice in the series. No team has been blanked twice in a World Series since the Dodgers were held scoreless three times in 1966 in the midst of the Orioles' sweep.

"Those guys pound the strike zone," Washington said of the Giants' pitchers. "They've got good stuff. They've got velocity. They can spin the baseball. They can change speeds. They keep their defense engaged and that's what you like to see out of pitching. They've done a great job. We've got to figure out some ways to put some runs on the board against them."

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

Related Content:  Giants,  Madison Bumgarner,  The Who,  Andres Torres

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