In the first inning of this game, Buster Posey unloaded a monster of a three-run homer into the left field bleachers. It was only the third three-run homer of the season for the Giants (along with zero grand slams), and it was their first in about a month.
So Madison Bumgarner took the mound with a three-run lead; and that was supposed to be enough. Because he’s Madison Bumgarner. He’s been great all season long (3.10 ERA across his first eight starts), but we had yet to see the overpowering Bumgarner — the one that would rack up double-digit strikeouts toward the end of last season. And for the first time in 2012, that Bumgarner made his appearance.
He was phenomenal. In the first inning, he retired the side in order. In the third, he struck out the side in order (all three of them swinging strikeouts). In the fourth, he set down the heart of the Brewers’ order (admittedly not as intimidating with Prince Fielder now in Detroit) on nine pitches. Through five innings, he had recorded seven strikeouts (already a new season-high), with just two hits and one walk allowed.
Then the Brewers managed to score a run off of Bumgarner in the sixth, but that wasn’t all his fault. Ryan Braun had reached on a single to second base that wasn’t played very well by Charlie Culberson, and Nate Schierholtz — uncharacteristically — failed to keep Braun from scoring on a double to right field. He had run into the wall, and couldn’t fire off a good throw.
In any event, Bumgarner got out of the inning without much damage done, and continued to cruise along. The seventh inning was an eight-pitch 1-2-3. In the eighth, Bumgarner struck out the first two batters he faced — bringing him to a total of ten K’s on the day. Then Brandon Crawford — who would later strike out with runners on first and second to end the ninth inning — committed his ninth error of the season on a routine groundball to short, which allowed Norichika Aoki to reach base.
Two outs in the eighth inning, a two-run game, a runner on first, the lefty Bumgarner at 106 pitches, and the reigning NL MVP — right-handed slugger Ryan Braun at the plate. At that point, I tweeted the following: “Gotta be honest, I think I’d go to Romo at this point.” Bumgarner had looked phenomenal, but the safe decision was obviously to bring Sergio Romo into the game. And of course, Braun proceeded to launch the ball into the left field bleachers, tying the game at three. Bringing in Romo wasn’t an obvious decision (at least, not as obvious it’s been made out to be) — Bumgarner is an excellent pitcher, after all. But it was a risky one, and — in retrospect — the wrong decision. I don’t think this was nearly as bad as some of Bruce Bochy’s other recent failures with pitching management. But it also wasn’t an isolated incident. It seems like time and again, Bochy leaves a pitcher in just too long. And it’s been costly.
I’m not sure that was even his worst decision, though. How about leaving Brett Pill in the game to bat in an important situation (runners on the corners, less than two outs) against right-handed reliever Francisco Rodriguez, only to bring Brandon Belt into the game the next half-inning?
…then another five innings happened. And Hector Sanchez was double-switched into the game (a prudent measure, given that Buster Posey had just ended the previous inning, and had already caught 13 innings). And, leading off the fourteenth inning, he crushed a ball into the Brewers’ bullpen to give the Giants the lead. The homer brought his line up to .297/.299/.438 for the season (no, that OBP isn’t a typo). But hey, that’s good for a 99 wRC+. Which is great for a catcher. It’s amazing what a homer can do to a player’s numbers, even this late in the season (Sanchez entered the game with his wRC+ at 80).
Anyway, after going scoreless for 12 consecutive innings, they actually won. With some sloppy defense, fruitless offense, and questionable decisions, they made it tougher than it needed to be. But they won.
The story today was Madison Bumgarner. Nothing — missed calls, sloppy defense, a lack of run support — was going to get in his way. That’s what it felt like when he worked through that messy fifth inning. And when he rebounded from a leadoff error in the sixth — an inexcusable miscue between Angel Pagan and Brett Pill that put Aramis Ramirez in scoring position — to shut the Brewers down. But the lasting image was when he stepped up to the plate in the fifth inning — following a futile one-pitch at-bat from Conor Gillaspie — and lined a double into left field to tie the game at one.
All in all, he turned in yet another stellar performance on the mound, allowing one run through seven innings of work, as he improved to a 2.31 ERA (3.61 FIP) on the season and carried the Giants to a 5-2 victory. In four of Bumgarner’s six starts this season, he’s gone 7+ innings without allowing more than one run.
Obligatory reminder: he’s 22 years old. His first five starts alone put his 2012 season among the best by a 22-year-old Giants starter. Is there any question he can work his way up to #1 on that list by season’s end?
- Five runs…feels like it’s been a while, eh? It has. Last time they scored five runs in a game was back in Cincinnati, nine days ago.
- Hector Sanchez, who entered this game hitting .233/.244/.302, finally got things going with a pair of doubles (one of which nearly went over the centerfield wall for a homer). These were his second and third extra-base hits on the season, respectively, and needless to say, it’s great to see a game like this out of Hector.
- Melky Cabrera had a quality game as well, with a couple hits (including a triple) and some very good glovework in right field. He’s now put together four consecutive multi-hit games, which has brought him up to a .364 wOBA this season. At this point, it seems pretty clear that I was wrong about Cabrera — something I’m very happy to say.
- Angel Pagan has now hit safely in 19 consecutive games; however, he’s also now gone 16 consecutive games without a walk. I do wonder if he’s slightly altered his approach, becoming more hacktastic for the sake of preserving his hitting streak. It’s not likely, but it’s worth throwing out there. And while we’re on the subject of walks — the Giants had another walk-less game today, keeping their season total at 65. That’s third-worst in the National League.