The first time I heard about Madison Bumgarner was in Game Four of the 2010 Division Series at Turner Field. The San Francisco Giants led the series 2 games to 1 and Bumgarner was their number four starter against the Atlanta Braves ace, at the time, Derek Lowe. I figured Lowe would be able the handle the Giants' bats and we might have some offensive success against San Francisco's "last" starter. But Bumgarner pitched six strong innings and beat the Braves 3-2 in what turned out to be Bobby Cox's last game. So, for me, it was hello Madison.
Bumgarner went on to pitch an outstanding 8-innings of shut-out ball against the Texas Rangers in Game Four of the 2010 World Series. I was impressed. He threw 7 more innings of shut-out ball against the Detroit Tigers in Game Two of the 2012 World Series. This guy proved he was a clutch pitcher.
At least I thought he had "proved" it. But nothing compares with what he did in 2014 World Series, especially in last night's exciting Game Seven against the Kansas City Royals. I was excited about the series going seven games because this gave former Braves pitcher Tim Hudson a chance to start in a game that is every baseball fan's childhood dream. Game Seven. All or nothing. But Hudson did not fare so well and left the game in the second inning.
Let's rewind to Game One. Bumgarner cruised through seven strong innings for a 7-1 Giants win. His turn to pitch came up again in a crucial Game Five. This time he pitched a complete game (almost unheard of in today's postseason baseball) for 5-0 Giants victory. To their credit Kansas City came back to tie the series, pounding the Giants in Game Six 10-0. This put everything on the line for the final game of the series...and it put Bumgarner in the bullpen.
Even though he had pitched a complete nine-innings two games earlier, Giants manager Bruce Bochy brought Bumgarner in on very short rest in the 5th inning. I was watching this happen and announced to Jennifer that this was a pretty big deal. I figured Bochy would use him for 2-3 innings before working in his closer. Wrong. Last night Bumgarner was the closer. He got the first save of his career with another five innings of shut-out ball. Giants win 3-2. They are World Champions.
Right now there is no better pitcher on the planet than Madison Bumgarner. And he is one of the greatest of all time.
How great? According to Sports Illustrated, Bumgarner's performance ranks fifth all-time in a World Series. (It is interesting to note that the Braves' Lew Burdette ranks second on their list for his performance in 1957.) According to The New York Times: "Bumgarner’s final World Series line sparkles: 2-0 with a save and a 0.43 earned run average, with nine hits, one run, one walk and 17 strikeouts in 21 innings. Add in 15 scoreless innings in earlier victories, against Texas in 2010 and Detroit in 2012, and you get a 0.25 E.R.A. that ranks as the best in World Series history, minimum 25 innings."
Bumgarner's performance ranks him alongside such select baseball pitchers as Sandy Koufax and Christy Mathewson. But the perhaps the best direct comparison is with Grover Cleveland Alexander who won two games in the 1926 World Series and came in to save that Game Seven, apparently with "one hell of a hangover." To my knowledge, Bumgarner did not have a hangover as he pitched last night.
Given the results he might have one this morning, however.
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