Room 215 in Xanadu, where my roommate and I were watching Game 7 of the World Series, was deathly quiet as Salvador Perez came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs and the tying run a mere 90 feet away. After all, the normally surehanded Gregor Blanco and Juan Perez had conspired to commit roughly 1.5 errors on a simple base hit to left-center field, misplaying the ball so terribly that for a second it looked like Alex Gordon would score standing up. And Madison Bumgarner, the unquestioned ace of the San Francisco Giants, the starter who eviscerated the Kansas City Royals just two days prior, now masquerading as the world’s most overqualified reliever, had a rising pitch count and the pressure of the world on his shoulders.
Bumgarner squared his shoulders, doffed his cap and went back to work as if he was pitching in spring training. Five straight high fastballs later, Perez popped out to a prolific Panda of the Kung Fu variety, and the World Series was over. The Giants etched their place in baseball history as a modern dynasty, winners of three championships in five years. It was nearly enough to bring the normally stoic Buster Posey to tears as he joined the host of Giants celebrating their victory with the man most responsible for getting them there.
As famed Giants broadcaster Duane Kuiper sighed during the last Giants playoff run: “Giants baseball – torture!”
But watching this game didn’t feel like torture so much as a coronation for one of the most perennially underrated pitchers in Major League Baseball. Madison Bumgarner, still a tender 25 years of age, has now won three (!?!?!) World Series titles. He now owns the record for most innings pitched in a single postseason ever, and a sterling 4-0 record in the World Series with a patently absurd 0.25 ERA in 36 innings of work. As a matter of cosmic comedy, he now also owns the longest save in postseason history.
When asked about Bumgarner’s performance, in the context of history, Hunter Pence spouted a litany of adjectives, including “historic, legendary, unbelievable, special, spectacular, tremendous and all those things,” eventually realizing that words would be insufficient to describe what the world witnessed. Sandoval and Pence both hit over .400 for the entire series…and can have no serious complaints about not winning MVP. Bumgarner was THAT good.
Over the entire history of the Fall Classic, there have been many people tagged with the “pitching hero” label. From olden times, there are legends like Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and even Babe Ruth from his pitching days. Since I began watching the World Series in 2000, there have been a few pitching performances that have been worthy of the hero moniker: Randy Johnson mowing down the Yankees, Curt Schilling and his entire bloody-sock postseason and even a young fire breathing Josh Beckett, coming off short rest to win the title for the Marlins.
But I think it’s safe to say that we have never seen, and probably never will see, anything quite like the tour de force Madison Bumgarner delivered this postseason. From his opening round heroics to his championship series dominance to this World Series, where he owned both of his starts and delivered five of the gutsiest innings of relief you will ever see on two days’ rest…that is truly the stuff October legends are made of. I’ll be able to tell my grandkids about the time Bumgarner put the Giants on his back and willed them to victory.
As the Giants celebrated on the field, I turned to my roommate and tried to put into words what I had just seen. I couldn’t do it, and neither could he. Some things just cannot be expressed. Suffice it to say, this was a Game 7 that I will remember for a long time. Madison Bumgarner, you were truly Giant in every way.
Vignesh Venkataraman is still having trouble figuring out how one player almost singlehandedly won the Giants the world championship. Tell him how to avoid the riot police in the Mission District at viggy ‘at’ stanford.edu.