This was written on a train, without benefit of an internet. Many details might be incorrect, but all are true.
While I was waiting at the entrance to have my backpack searched Sunday, I saw a celebrity. I don’t know who he was, but I know he was a celebrity, because somebody came to the gate and told the stadium staff that a celebrity was going to be coming in a minute; and a minute later, when he got there, somebody else introduced him at the gate by saying “this is a celebrity,” and the guards smiled at him and enjoyed being in the presence of a celebrity. We were all at a game to see celebrities performing for our entertainment, but this was a non-baseball celebrity. Pretty cool, to see a celebrity.
Every time I’ve gone to AT&T Park this postseason, it has been wilder, more crowded, louder than the time before. It’s unclear how this is possible. The Giants sell out every regular season game. You’d think that a sold-out postseason game would look just like a regular Giants game, but it’s doesn’t, by a lot. The stadium parking lots are far more crowded; a Russian kid off 4th Street will let you park in this lot for $50, if you don’t mind walking about one literal mile to the stadium. The crowded concourses are nonnegotiable, at least until I find a service worker pulling behind him a long, wide stocking cart, and I just draft behind him. The lines for urinals are roughly infinitely longer than usual. (This might be in part because everybody at these games is well lubricated for the event. When my turn at the urinal finally came, I was amused that all four men who had preceded me to the other four urinals were still going while I was rebuckling my belt and washing up.)
Which is all just to say that a World Series game has many characteristics of a regular Giants game—the announced attendance of 43,087 for Sunday's game was hardly different than the 42,590 announced for the Giants/Twins on May 25th—but it is, undeniably, very different. Is it different for the participants? Well, I’m watching Tim Flannery coaching third base in the second inning, and the dude is coaching the stuffing out of that base. Before each pitch is delivered, he’s squatting and waving directions and screaming at Hunter Pence at second, like Flannery is the Al Pacino of third-base coaching and this is his third-base-coaching Scarface. Partly this is because it’s loud; it’s so, so, so loud (“MY SWEATSHIRT!” I had to scream twice at the writer sitting directly next to me, 36 inches away). Partly, maybe, it’s because this is the World Series, and Flannery maybe knows that in a World Series the baserunners’ minds might be spinning faster than usual. He’s got to refocus them, to make this baserunning they’re about to do the simplest task in the world. So, sure, maybe the World Series is different for the participants.
Then do we make anything of the fact that Madison Bumgarner is this good in the World Series? These are just games, like any other games, and he’s good in these games because he’s good in all games, right? Nothing more than that? He doesn’t actually become some different pitcher with different skills and a different brain, does he?
Of course not. We know this. And yet as we watch inning after inning, our resolve weakens and we begin to think that maybe there is something that is, undeniably, very different.
Bumgarner reportedly didn’t want to pitch in this game. He wanted to pitch in Game Four, on short rest, and he declared as much to his teammates, reportedly. In this version of his request—which he denies—Bumgarner knows that the World Series is different, both for what it demands of him and for what he feels he is capable of. To pitch on short rest, to step up, would be Bumgarner’s Moment. He wouldn’t just be a pitcher with great postseason stats; he’d have a Moment, and Moments last forever. The right moment is worth a couple hundred Hall of Fame votes.
You can see the argument for trying to get an extra start out of Bumgarner, but it would have been wrong. There’s no point squeezing extra out of Bumgarner if you’re squeezing him beyond recognition.
Instead, we got to see him in Game Five at full strength, fully rested, and as good as he has been at any point in this postseason. He gets through the first in a dozen or so pitches, nearly all strikes; after Lorenzo Cain dumps in a flimsy single, Bumgarner strikes out Hosmer, whose final cut is the sort of flailing misfire that makes you remember, oh, right, that Eric Hosmer. He gets through the second in about a dozen pitches, nearly all strikes; a leadoff single grounded the other way is backed up by three consecutive strikeouts.
It’s funny, every time a Giant hits a fly ball out in this series, it seems like the crowd misjudges it and gives that embarrassingly short home run hoot-‘n’-holler. But in the second, after Bumgarner struck out Moustakas, Infante, Dyson in the top of the inning, and after the Giants put the first two baserunners on in the bottom half, and after Tim Flannery does his third-base-coach ham job, Travis Ishikawa flies out to center. This time, the crowd is pretty quiet. Maybe by now they’re used to the Royals flagging everything down, but nobody stands up thinking this is going to be anything big. They just watch as Dyson drifts back under it and makes the catch. Except: This turns out to be a pretty huge fly ball. Pence tags and goes to third, and Belt tags and goes to second. I don’t know, maybe it’s not worth standing and cheering for—it did cost the Giants a tenth of one percentage point of win expectancy—but it feels like a pretty huge moment watching those two runners move up. When Ned Yost opts not to walk Brandon Crawford to face Bumgarner—the mere threat of Bumgarner’s unusually qualified bat in the ninth spot earning Crawford three hacks—the Giants take the lead on a groundball out (to a non-drawn-in infield).
Then Bumgarner gets through the third inning, 40 pitches thrown now, all but nine of them strikes. Through four innings, 50 pitches, all but 11 strikes. Then, with the Giants batting, another chance for Yost to pass on Crawford to face Bumgarner with runners on, but instead he lets Shields again throw to the shortstop. Crawford gets a hit, and it’s 2-0.
A Royals rally in the fifth—a line drive to left, played into a double—and Yost lets Bumgarner pitch his way out of it, leaving Dyson and Shields in, as though either one of them has a chance. The third time through the order in the sixth, and nobody even thinks about suggesting Bumgarner should come out; he gets Escobar, Gordon, Cain, in order.
A leadoff single in the seventh, and here Bumgarner strips his pitching motion down to a quick 1.2 seconds home, keeping Hosmer from considering a stolen base. Hosmer never does get past first base, which takes us to the eighth, Bumgarner’s finest inning.
It’s still 2-0 at this point. Three right-handers coming up, including Billy Butler, with the heart of the order looming if even one gets on.
- Fastball. Strike.
- Slider; fouled off.
- Curveball, 76 mph, just off the outside corner. Freezes Butler. Umpire punches him out.
- Slider, high.
- Fastball, higher still, but Nix swings—93 mph. Even count.
- Curveball, away; Nix freezes as Butler did, but this one’s a ball.
- Slider, just outside. 3-1.
- Fastball, 92, down the gut. Nix is under it. He pops out.
- Slider, taken for a strike.
- Curveball, taken outside for a ball.
- [Finally, after 7 2/3 innings, at this point the Giants get a reliever up in the bullpen for the first time all night.]
- Fastball, 93 mph, right past him. Swinging strike.
- Fastball, 92, popped out to center field.
The game wouldn’t be close again.
As the Giants put baserunners on in the eighth, I go outside the park, where huge crowds surround televisions near the Willie Mays statue, where fans are spilling out of overcrowded restaurant patios onto King Street. They’re all hanging on every pitch, but the problem is this: The television is delayed by 45 seconds or so. And the stadium is right there, right over there, just a few feet away from us. So we’re watching Juan Perez foul a pitch off, wondering what’ll happen on the next pitch (which turns out to be a ball, high) and meanwhile the earth starts shaking from the stomping, screaming crowd that lives one tiny time zone away from us. On the street, they cheer, but they don’t know why yet. They know something big has happened. This is not an advance-the-runners cheer, or even an RBI-single cheer. It’s also not quite a home run cheer; that would have a clearer spike and a longer taper. This was… was it a triple? A triple, right?
And, as television finally catches up, they watch: A double. Advancing to third on the throw. Call it a triple. Every person on that street knew already, but they cheer like it’s something brand new. The lead is now comfortable. Santiago Casilla will not be needed tonight.
I leave the crowd and hurry to the train. I’ve seen what that park looks like tonight, and I’m not going to gamble on the 9:15 that’s taking everybody home. As the 8:15 pulls out of the city, and as I write this, Madison Bumgarner goes back out to the mound to finish the game. He got his Moment, after all. It’s not the Game Four, short-rest, step-up moment he might (or might not) have envisioned. It’s different. It’s better. “Gigantes win! Shutout for Bumgarner!” the conductor tells everybody over the loudspeaker, and they all cheer.
Thank you for reading
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