One Giant treat on Halloween
Madison Bumgarner's masterpiece puts Giants on the brink of a World Series title
ARLINGTON, Texas -- So how'd you spend Halloween when you were 21 years old?
Wearing a Freddy Krueger costume around the old student union? Going to math class with a pumpkin on your head? Climbing out of a fake coffin to scare the local trick-or-treaters?
Yeah, well, that's not how 21-year-old Madison Bumgarner spent his Halloween on Sunday night. And why do we have a feeling this one will go down as his favorite Halloween ever?
He didn't get any Reese's Peanut Butter Cups out of the deal. But he did throw eight shutout innings in a World Series game. And, well, that'll work.
Those eight dominating innings led the Giants to a 4-0 wipeout of the Rangers in Game 4 of the World Series -- and carried his team to the precipice of doing something never before witnessed in its title-starved city.
And if these Giants can take their newly forged 3-games-to-1 lead, finish this thing off between now and Thursday, and win the first World Series in the San Francisco history of their franchise, we bet they'll be looking back someday on one of the most magical evenings any 21-year-old ever spent on a pitcher's mound in October.
But first, they'll have to convince the guy who shut down one of the best offenses in baseball that he did anything special.
"I doubt he even realizes what he just did," said Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt, after yet another dominating, historic trip to the mound by yet another Giants starter. "But that's what makes him so good. He just pitches like he's pitched his whole life. He just expects to do well.
"It may hit him this offseason," Affeldt went on. "We're supposed to go hunting together, and I may remind him. But right now, I just want him to stay unconscious."
Well, if he ever does regain consciousness, here's what he ought to know about what he did out there Sunday night:
• Only three starting pitchers younger than Madison Bumgarner (21 years, 91 days old) have ever won a game in World Series history -- Bullet Joe Bush (20 years, 316 days) for the 1913 A's, Jim Palmer (20 years, 356 days) for the 1966 Orioles and Fernando Valenzuela (also 20 years, 356 days) for the 1981 Dodgers.
• Only one starting pitcher younger than Bumgarner ever threw at least eight shutout innings in a World Series game. And that was Palmer, who was exactly 100 days younger when he shut out the Dodgers in Game 2 of the 1966 World Series.
• And no rookie starting pitcher younger than Bumgarner has ever thrown six or more shutout innings in a World Series game. Bumgarner is two years younger than the previous record holder, the Mets' Gary Gentry, was when he twirled 6 2/3 scoreless innings against the Orioles in Game 3, 1969.
Not to mention that Madison Bumgarner did all this against a team that was shut out just five times during the entire regular season. And that offense he held to three soft singles in eight innings Sunday was the same juggernaut that had just finished mauling an incredible array of left-handed starters in this postseason -- hitting .313, with seven home runs and a .500 slugging percentage, in six games against CC Sabathia, David Price, Andy Pettitte and Jonathan Sanchez.
So this was one spectacular night on the old pitcher's mound. But to his teammates, this was just another day in the life of their No. 4 starter.
You could plop down on your favorite bar stool and win a lot of bets if you asked your buddies which starting pitcher on the Giants had the lowest ERA and the best strikeout-walk ratio this season. And yeah, that answer is indeed Madison K. Bumgarner.
"He's fearless, man," said Aubrey Huff, whose two-run, third-inning homer got the Giants off and rolling on this night. "He came to the yard today, and you could see he was just chilling. Nothing really bothers him. Put on some David Allan Coe on the playlist and let him go to town."
Not that the fellow who did all that was ready to digest the historic nature of his night on that town. But when he was asked afterward if, for now at least, this will go down as the most memorable start of his young life -- more memorable, even, than the North Carolina state high school championship game he has spent so much time reminiscing about lately -- Madison Bumgarner was willing to go so far as to concede: "Yeah, I think it will be."
"It might be the only opportunity I get to pitch in a World Series," he said. "Hopefully, I'll get a lot more. But you never know."
No, you never do know. But if Bumgarner looks around him, it would be tough not to admire the view. He's 21. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are 26. Jonathan Sanchez is 27. And none of them can bolt for free agency before 2013 at the earliest.
Those four have started every game for the Giants in this postseason. And it's safe to say that has worked out OK so far. For instance:
• These Giants have now thrown four shutouts in this postseason -- tying them with the 1998 Yankees and the 1905 New York Giants for the most in a single postseason.
• This team also has now spun two shutouts in the first four games of this World Series -- making it the first staff with more than one shutout in the same World Series in nearly a half-century, since the Orioles fired three of them against the Dodgers in 1966.
• Bumgarner's masterpiece represented the fourth time a Giants starter has thrown at least seven shutout innings while allowing no more than four hits in this postseason. (Cain has done it twice, with Lincecum and Bumgarner doing it once apiece.) And no team has ever done that before. The old record was three starts like that -- by the 2001 Diamondbacks of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, and the 1999 Yankees (with Orlando Hernandez, David Cone and Roger Clemens doing those honors).
• And, finally, in 14 October starts, this rotation has a combined ERA of 2.44. And we remind you that all four starters have come whooshing straight out of the Giants' farm system. If this team wins the World Series, the Elias Sports Bureau reports that group will form the first homegrown four-man rotation to win it all since the 1983 Orioles (Scott McGregor, Mike Boddicker, Mike Flanagan, Storm Davis).
"You know," said Giants infielder Mark DeRosa, "I wasn't in Atlanta in the heyday of [John] Smoltz and [Tom] Glavine and [Greg] Maddux. But I've been fortunate enough to go to the postseason a lot, with some great teams. But I never went with a staff -- a strikeout staff -- like this team has."
And we're glad he brought that up, because now that this team has pulled to within one win of ending the third-longest title drought in baseball (behind only the Cubs and Indians), we're still not sure the masses have quite comprehended what they're watching.
We've been looking at the Giants all postseason and wondering how they got here. We chuckle at their wacky cast of characters. We scratch our heads at their ever-changing lineup cards. We wrack our brains trying to figure out whether this would be the motliest group of position players to win a World Series since, well, whom? The '88 Dodgers? The '69 Mets?
But by doing that, we kind of forgot something important:
This team wasn't constructed around those position players. It's never been about those position players. To look at this team and fixate on its lineup is kind of like looking at the Taj Mahal and getting hung up on the landscaping.
So repeat after us:
It's about the pitching, stupid.
This team has always been built around all these bionic arms. Always.
How many years have we assessed the Giants in spring training and said, "If they can just get to October, they'll be scary." Well, now here they are, throwing up one historic pitching performance after another. And they've been exactly as terrifying as advertised.
"There's no question that's something you always want," said their pitching coach, Dave Righetti. "No question. When people fear pitching, it seems that's always good. I grew up watching Catfish [Hunter] and Vida [Blue] and Blue Moon [Odom] and [Ken] Holtzman. And the A's back then always won with pitching and defense and three-run dingers. Not a bad formula."
So where would this group rank if we measured it against the greatest postseason rotations of modern times? That's a tough one for this pitching coach to assess right this minute, when he's in the middle of it.
"We'll see," said Dave Righetti. "We'll see. It's got to be played out. But it's a fair question. I understand it. Wherever you want to put them. You guys [in the media] are better at this than me. You guys do it, and I can either agree or not. But you guys can do it. You guys are good at that stuff."
Well, we appreciate the vote of confidence. And if this team wins it all, we'll be happy to make that grand assessment. But for now, it's time to step back from that lesson in history class and turn our attention to another, bigger topic:
One Win Away.
Yes, friends, those San Francisco Giants are one win away. One win away from wiping out the ghosts of Scott Spiezio and Ralph Terry and the Richter Scale. One win away from ending the wait of millions of people who have managed to survive more than a half-century of title-free torment. And we can't underestimate the magnitude of what that one more win would mean.
We're not going to pretend this is the Pacific Time Zone's version of the 2004 Red Sox or the 2005 White Sox. But when we presented this subject to a man whose history with the Giants dates back nearly to the beginning of this drought, the great Felipe Alou was able to put it in his usual eloquent, poetic perspective.
"It's not the same as Boston or Chicago, because it's not the same length of time," he said Sunday. "But it's more or less the same. Sometimes in the past, we had great teams. We had many great Giants. But 'The Team'' was not as great as this team, if you know what I mean. A team is not necessarily a bunch of great players together. But this team -- this is a team."
He, like so many of them, is still haunted by the ghosts of postseasons that didn't unfold like this one. But even though this team still has to win one more time, there's something about this journey through the postseason that feels different to the survivors of Giants tragedies past.
"We were so close in 2002, with a lead late in the game, and that was really frustrating to everybody," said Alou, now a special assistant to Giants GM Brian Sabean. "But this time, I think they really, really feel secure -- because they trust their pitchers and they never quit."
Those pitchers they will trust to start the next two games happen to be their resident two-time Cy Young (Lincecum) and a guy with a 0.00 postseason ERA (Cain). And if you had two men like that to run out there at a time like this, you'd trust them, too.
But lest we forget, the 2010 One Win Away Giants wouldn't be in this spot without the 21-year-old kid who went to the mound on Halloween -- and wore the best Sandy Koufax costume in America.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.