Some events in history are so big that they eclipse those that preceded them. When I think back on Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, Madison Bumgarner shines so bright that it dims my recollection of the rest of the game.
I remember the steady media diet going into that game that wondered endlessly if Bumgarner should actually start. His entrance in the fifth inning was treated somehow as long-awaited, it seemed as if everyone expected Tim Hudson to fail spectacularly and in some senses, it is often discussed as though he did. Hudson wasn’t terrible, in 1.2 innings, he allowed three hits and two runs. This was, of course, right after the Giants had scored two runs. I’ve seen worse from aces in this year’s playoffs, but Game 7’s are another beast, of course, and so it makes sense that his leash was so short.
Often overlooked (by people not named Jeremy Affeldt) is Affledt’s truly amazing 2.1 innings of work, in which he allowed just one hit, keeping the game competitive for Bumgarner’s entrance shortly after they took a one-run lead.
The offense in this game didn’t come easy and it wasn’t the home run heroics that featured in some of the other more memorable games of the decade. A pair of back-to-back sacrifices from Michael Morse and Brandon Crawford got the Giants on the board in the second inning, and a single from Morse gave the Giants the lead in the fourth.
But this game isn’t legendary for the offense. No, we all know why this game will live on in the halls of baseball lore and that reason is Bumgarner.
Bumgarner had a truly stunning playoff run that year. It started with a complete game shutout in the Wild Card game, and seemed like it had concluded with a complete game shutout in Game 5 of the World Series. But then he emerged from the bullpen like the grim reaper gliding from the fog to collect the souls of Royals fans everywhere.
After Game 7 of this year’s World Series, I wrote about how confounding it was that the Astros continued to warm up Gerrit Cole, but never brought him in. I don’t know if I would have thought that before 2014. Bumgarner has made the sight of an ace warming up in relief seem commonplace because teams continue to try to copy that moment. To very limited success. But Cole had a similarly dominant playoff run and it really was shocking (to me) that a team wouldn’t give the ball to their best pitcher with the season on the line in a Game 7.
That’s exactly what the Giants did in 2014. In five innings of relief, Bumgarner allowed just two hits and no runs. Which is crucial, because his team didn’t score any more thanks to the lights out bullpen of the Royals.
And I know what you’re thinking, “BUT ALEX GORDON!” And yes, I agree. That was terrifying.
It seemed as though all of Bumgarner’s hard work might be undone by butterfingers in the outfield. I am not ashamed to admit that I spent the rest of that inning with my ears plugged and my eyes screwed shut until I could hear the celebrations of my family around me. It was okay. It was all fine. Bumgarner had this and Pablo Sandoval finished it off, collapsing in a relief and joy that I think we could all relate to after he caught Salvador Perez’ pop-up foul to end the game.
Five years later, much like how SBNation has decided that the past contributions of Bryan, Roger, Doug, Kenny, Kevin, Casey and myself weren’t worth keeping us around, the Giants did much the same with Bumgarner. And you can argue that past performance doesn’t warrant consideration in these things, I still think its a damn shame that the Giants couldn’t beat the offer from Arizona to keep Bumgarner in black and orange (and out of those terrible, terrible Diamondback uniforms).
But I’ll always be grateful for those incredible memories he gave us throughout the 2014 playoff run. And shining brightest among them all will always be the image of him entering from the bullpen.