NEW YORK — Madison Bumgarner does not give a damn about anything.
When Conor Gillaspie hit an improbable three-run shot in the top of the ninth inning to give the Giants a 3-0 win over the Mets in the NL Wild Card Game, the left-hander calmly said: “Conor, I appreciate the hell out of that.”
He didn't scream, or raise his arms, or leap out of his seat. In a world filled with rampant emotion, he goes about his business like he’s got a pair of noise-canceling headphones on. He’s a simple man. And on Wednesday, he kept things remarkably simple.
Bumgarner rode his fastball–the same pitch that caused a stir early in the season for its decreased velocity–to a complete-game shutout victory in the winner-take-all affair. He didn’t care that his fastball, averaging under 91 mph, wasn’t as flashy as his counterpart Noah Syndergaard’s was. He hasn’t cared about it for a long time, continuing to rack up strikeouts and scoreless innings without a dominant four-seamer.
“Shows how much velocity matters,” Bumgarner quipped back in April.
The left-hander went to the four-seamer a total of 67 times–a season high. Only six times in his career had he thrown at least 67 fastballs. 26.6 percent of his 119 pitches were curveballs–a career-high. Bumgarner’s game plan was even more boring than usual: Throw up in the zone to righties, and low to left-handers. Lean on the fastball, and pepper in the curve. It worked to perfection.
“I don't think back to too many pitches to right-handed batters that he threw down in the zone tonight,” catcher Buster Posey said postgame. “I thought he did a great job later in the game mixing in some breaking balls for strikes to keep them from cheating on the fastball in the zone.”
“He was supremely Madison Bumgarner,” Mets outfielder Jay Bruce added. “He was as Madison Bumgarner as you can get.”
Bumgarner did not give up a hit on any pitch up in the zone all game, and earned one of his biggest outs of the game on a fastball up and off the plate at 92 mph to James Loney in the third, forcing the veteran to bounce into a 6-4-3 double play. Let’s be honest, any one of the points of the game the Mets had a runner on with a chance to strike was a big one, because there were so few.
Bumgarner’s fastball got him an out there, and it would come in handy big-time in the bottom of the eighth. With a runner on second and two outs, Bumgarner appeared to be showing signs of mortality. He stood on the hill, 103 pitches deep, to face the last hitter he would want to face in that spot: Asdrubal Cabrera. This was surely New York’s best shot to win the ballgame.
Bumgarner came down and in with the fastball, nearly brushing the corner, to jam the Mets’ hottest hitter. Cabrera caught the fastball toward the handle, sending it right back to Bumgarner at just 67.7 mph. Bumgarner caught the ball, and hardly had to move. Classic Bumgarner.
The fastball, and the curve. That’s all it took. One of the best pitchers in baseball was only going to use two pitches, more than he had ever done in the past, and he wasn’t going to let anyone tell him it wouldn’t work.
Bumgarner is never going to be Clayton Kershaw. He’s the Goodfellas to his Godfather. He’ll never be the league’s best pitcher, and it couldn’t bother him any less.
He’s going to keep going out and dominating, right in our faces, just like he did in his brilliant outing under pressure on Wednesday night. And, apparently, he only needs two pitches.