Commentary

Going green in Game 4

Rangers, Giants both put their faith in young, less experienced starters

Originally Published: October 31, 2010
By Amy K. Nelson | ESPN.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Two young pitchers who started their seasons in the minor leagues will take the mound for their respective teams Sunday night in Game 4 of the World Series in what might be the most intriguing game of this series, and perhaps the most unpredictable.

While the Texas Rangers made it a 2-1 series Saturday night with their 4-2 win over the San Francisco Giants, they are not yet quite back in this series. For that to happen, and to keep the Giants from being one win away from a title, 24-year-old right-hander Tommy Hunter will need to keep his team in the game. A University of Alabama alum with a big personality, Hunter's 0-1 with a 6.14 ERA this postseason, pitching just 7 1/3 innings combined in his two starts.

"I've got to give the team a chance to win," Hunter said.

[+] EnlargeTommy Hunter
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezMaybe Tommy Hunter has a new pitch in mind for the Giants.

For the Giants, rookie Madison Bumgarner will take the mound. His postseason performance has been better; he's 1-0 with a 3.55 ERA and won the clinching game in the National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves, only the second-youngest starter to pitch a postseason clincher in MLB history. But the Hudson, N.C., left-hander still is only 21 years old. And a rookie. That doesn't matter, according to teammates.

"He's 21 years old and fearless," reliever and teammate Jeremy Affeldt said. "I've seen 12-year veterans snap more than he has."

Just how unpredictable is this series? The team up 2-1 is only 41-40 in World Series Game 4s, a wash. And two young starters are being asked to throw in the swing game. Both are No. 4 starters and both have little experience (a combined 63 regular-season career starts between them), so conventional thinking is that it's hard to know what to fully expect.

What is clear is that neither one of them lacks confidence. And they have more similarities than differences; both had mixed results in spring training, both started their seasons in the minors and both became integral pieces in their team's rotations. They were both also drafted in 2007: Bumgarner was No. 10 overall; Hunter was the 54th overall pick, in the sandwich round.

Hunter, who will start on 11 days' rest, went 13-4 with a 3.73 ERA during the regular season for the Rangers. He was 7-0 with a 3.06 ERA in Arlington. Bumgarner was 7-6 in 18 starts with a 3.00 ERA and posted a 1.91 ERA on the road.

"Both pitchers ended up having nice years and helped their clubs win," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.

A former two-time junior Olympic judo champion when he was 11 and 12 years old, Hunter is an extrovert; his presence is felt in the clubhouse. Hunter said he wouldn't have any issues sleeping Saturday night.

"I'm excited. If you're not excited, you're in the wrong sport," he said. "This is the World Series; I'm going to go out and play baseball [on Sunday]."

He teammates and manager agree.

"He wants the ball," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He's everything that you would like out there on the mound, and if he can go and execute it we'll be very happy. … He doesn't have to be perfect because there's no perfection in this game. But he just has to limit the damage."

One of the things Hunter did to prepare for his start was chart all of teammate Colby Lewis' pitches Saturday night. While the two aren't identical pitchers, they both are effective when they spot their offspeed pitches. Hunter said his curveball and his cutter will be keys, and since the Giants are more of a right-handed hitting team, facing this lineup in many ways will present fewer challenges than the Yankees', which featured more lefties.

"You throw your offspeed for strikes, you're pretty tough to beat," Hunter said. "Throw strikes, get my offspeed over for strikes, and I'm going to be OK. Follow Colby, just pick up where he left off."

But one of Hunter's challenges will be to remain in the game. He lasted just four innings against Tampa Bay (even though he only allowed two earned runs) but left with the team trailing 3-0. He lasted just 3 1/3 innings against the Yankees when Washington elected to bring in starter Derek Holland from the bullpen in Game 4, an eventual 10-3 Rangers win. Washington said the key was for Hunter to keep the ball down.

"When he can throw his breaking ball and use the bottom part of the strike zone," Washington said, "and when he can bury that breaking pitch in certain counts, he's most effective."

[+] EnlargeMadison Bumgarner
AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Curtis ComptonOpponents are batting .306 against Madison Bumgarner this postseason.

Bumgarner is the antithesis of Hunter, at least in personality and body type. Hunter is 280 pounds and pudgy and loud; Bumgarner is 215 pounds, lanky and reserved. Though just an inch taller than Hunter, Bumgarner appears much more so because of his build. He looks up to teammate Matt Cain, one of the calmest personalities in baseball.

"He's one of those guys I watch every move he makes," Bumgarner said, "both on the field and off the field. He's a good role model."

Bumgarner's hometown has just 2,800 people in it, and he was so homesick early on he briefly considered quitting baseball. Three years later he is here, and the Giants feel based on his past performance and his inability to be rattled that he will be fine. Bumgarner lasted just 4 2/3 innings against the Phillies in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, giving up three runs in a game the Giants eventually won. It was in Game 6, just three days later, when he entered the bottom of the fifth inning in a tie game and threw two scoreless frames in what was the pennant-clinching game.

"I've seen enough from Madison to know he's not going to beat himself," Bochy said. "For 21 years old, it's impressive how he carries himself. … Since we brought him up here he's handled everything well. I didn't have any concerns with him pitching in the playoffs."

Bumgarner said he's been trying to pattern his demeanor off Cain; he wanted not to let bad outings or bad pitches affect him. That doesn't mean that he can entirely block out the enormity of the moment, as much as he'd like to try.

"It can be pretty rough," Bumgarner said. "I keep trying to relax and just not even try to think about it."

Whether the Rangers will be able to attack Bumgarner early and keep their momentum is uncertain. But the feeling in their clubhouse was that there would be no letup.

"The momentum, obviously we're still down one game," Josh Hamilton said, "but it's shifted. We're at home, we've got the fans behind us. We're right where we want to be."

Now they hope it's their young pitcher whom they'll be crediting late Sunday night instead of the Giants'.

Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at Amy.K.Nelson@espn.com.