Tonight was an Odd Couple game featuring ornery left-hander Madison Bumgarner and quiet eccentric Zack Greinke that wound up playing out along the same lines as their public personas. Bumgarner threw 101 shaggy pitches across 5 messy innings basically from the stretch while Greinke was neat, precise, and quick in 6 innings of professorial work.
Bumgarner has walked 10 and struck out 15 over his past three starts (17 innings) and they’ve all looked roughly the same: questionable command of his pitches, rough-at-best stuff, and shaky control of the strike zone.
His velocity hasn’t been alarmingly low and he’s come out of the gate with pitches that seem to have Bumgarnerian movement on them, he just doesn’t seem to have the necessary muscle memory to get the ball to go where he wants it to, and at no point tonight did the Diamondbacks hitters look uncomfortable against him. Plenty of hard contact and certainly a little bit of concern to be had because of his inefficiency, but in the grand scheme of things, he allowed only a single run and didn’t put the Giants in an early hole.
He left with a 2-1 lead and got the win, the 108th of his Giants career. He’s now tied for 16th place on the franchise’s all-time wins list. The other pitchers he’s tied with? Red Ames, Johnny Antonelli... and Tim Lincecum. Bumgarner will need 7 more to tie Dummy Taylor for 15th place, and when that day happens, we’ll do a deep dive on Dummy Taylor, because that’s some self-loathing that needs to be explored.
In the meantime, let’s just be grateful for a healthy Madison Bumgarner who didn’t look like himself tonight, but still made it work.
An early deficit would’ve been disastrous because Zack Greinke looked like Professor Zack Greinke. I’m not sure what degree of Greg Maddux he is — certainly, there’s not a pitcher alive who can get to 90% of Maddux — but for the sake of this recap, I’m willing to say that he’s the closest Major League Baseball has in 2018 to Greg Maddux. Greinke pitches with such confidence and probing curiosity that it’s really quite marvelous.
Evan Longoria crushed a mistake curveball in the first inning that was more of a mistake in execution than in philosophy. You could see Greinke trying to figure out Longoria’s weaknesses. You saw it in every at bat against Gorkys Hernandez — two of them ending in strikeouts on curveballs way down and out of the zone that Gorkys couldn’t help but chase — where Greinke kept trying to get him out the way he wanted to before finally accepting that he had to get Gorkys out the way Gorkys wanted to.
He pitched Madison Bumgarner with “respect” in that he refused to throw him a fastball in the first plate appearance. In the second plate appearance, Bumgarner raked a fastball into left field to give the Giants a 2-1 lead and I swear it was only because Bumgarner had worked the count to 2-0 and Greinke knew he had to follow The Book and at least get a strike. It looked like he tried to throw a two seamer down in the middle of the plate to try to get Bumgarner to swing over but didn’t quite throw the pitch as intended and Bumgarner was able to slap the ball the way he did.
If it sounds like I’m gushing over Greinke it’s because he’s really managed to settle in after a rough start to the season to return to his old form. He’s struck out 53 over his past 52.2 innings and allowed a total of 8 earned runs. Tonight was only the third time in eight starts where he allowed 2 runs. In 9 of his past 17 starts, he’s allowed 0 or 1 run.
And it’s to the Giants tremendous credit that they never looked overwhelmed by him. Every plate appearance was a battle and they really made him earn his quality start.
I’ve made it this far into the recap without gushing over the offense. The Giants scored 8 runs tonight against a tough team when they have struggled to score runs against any quality of team. Evan Longoria got it started with a beautiful home run to left field, and let me single him out for his runs-saving defense in the bottom of the first inning after Madison Bumgarner loaded the bases. It was a full extension play that would’ve made Pablo Sandoval proud.
Every hitter in the lineup had at least one good at bat, even if they didn’t always have successful outcomes. Brandon Crawford went 0-for-4 but he drew a walk. Joe Panik never looked fooled, Steven Duggar didn’t fold after Zack Greinke worked him in his first at bat of the night, which helped later on when he continued a rally, and Austin Slater stayed within himself, kept his eye on the ball, and sprayed pitches all over the field. It was a really nice performance all the way around by a lineup that hasn’t made a lot of noise.
Bruce Bochy made a couple of interesting decisions late in the game to counter Torey Lovullo’s management (I think I’ve finally spelled the man’s name right this time) and to the hitters’ credit, they made Bochy look like a genius.
After Lovullo brought in sidewinding reliever Brad Ziegler, Bochy countered with Hunter Pence, who swung at the first pitch and hit an RBI sac fly. And after Lovullo opted to leave Ziegler in to face Chase d’Arnaud, Bochy subbed in Alen Hanson, who promptly singled in a run.
Real quick: let’s thank Brad Ziegler for both being the first Diamondback to use the bullpen cart this year
and now let’s thank him for giving up all them purdy hits.
After Hanson’s hit, Lovullo subbed in lefty T.J. McFarland, which might’ve been the move to make once Hanson came into the game. Alas, Austin Slater got to face a lefty and Alen Hanson scored from first base on Slater’s single up the middle because A.J. Pollock bobbled the ball while picking it up
It was a glorious run of... runs and not something we usually get to see. But it made me feel how I sometimes feel whenever the Giants start a 4-game series in Arizona. It’s the place of a lot of consternation, but also, sometimes, a jumping off point. The Giants didn’t make it to the postseason in 2001, but a 4-game series in Arizona at the end of the July with their playoff hopes fading was thoroughly exciting and felt like a real jumping off point.
The 2018 Giants could very well drop these next three games, but tonight was a reminder that they’re never out of it when they play at Chase Field.
But let’s end by jumping back to the bottom of the 7th. The Giants had taken a 3-1 lead in the top of the inning and the Diamondbacks were set to counter with Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, and Die Hard screenwriter Steven E. de Souza — excuse me, Steven Souza Jr. Mark Melancon didn’t allow a run in relief of Madison Bumgarner in the previous inning, and Bruce Bochy opted to give this crucial part of the order to Ray Black.
Since giving up a booming 3-run home run to Matt Carpenter, Ray Black had not allowed a hit. The reliever “no hitter” is rare and it was going to be tough to do against this part of the batting order, even though Ray Black has quickly become one of the best pitchers on the staff thanks not just to his 100+mph fastball but also because of his tremendous breaking balls.
Ray Black’s sequencing to Paul Goldschmidt began with a rising 98 mph fastball at the letters that Goldschmidt fouled off, then a slider away and out of the zone, another rising 98 mph fastball up at the letters that Goldschmidt fouled off, and then this beautiful pitch:
That’s Paul Goldschmidt, who’s never had a bad day in his life against the San Francisco Giants, and Ray Black made him look bad. In a season where lots has gone wrong and the team has frequently made itself look bad because of lackluster performances, a night like tonight can’t help but go a very long way.
Thanks, Ray Black.