It’s weird when the San Francisco Giants face a starting pitcher who used to play for them, particularly one who is a franchise legend. It’s not like facing a position player who used to play for them, or a reliever. It’s a different breed.
Because while there are many ways to win a baseball game, one of them works a lot more reliably, and happens a lot more frequently than the rest.
And that’s by beating up on the opposing starting pitcher.
Which is what they did to Madison Bumgarner.
If you could determine the arc of the game, that’s not what you’d choose. You’d want the Giants doing just enough against Bumgarner. Or perhaps doing nothing against him, locked in a pitcher’s duel, and finally breaking through when the game is handed over to the bullpen.
You wouldn’t want the win to come by rocking a franchise icon. It’s not the most fun way to absorb a victory. And it’s a foreign feeling, because we never had to watch them face Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain.
But the Giants, now proud owners of a four-game winning streak for the first time in more than two months, are in no place to be picky. They need wins any way they can get them, and if that means the crowd gives an awkward and slightly uncomfortable standing ovation to the man who almost single-handedly dragged them to a 2014 title while he walks off the mound, head down in dejection, then so be it.
For a while it didn’t look like it would be so. Alex Cobb needed 29 pitches to get through the top of the first inning, leaving the bases loaded but the scoreboard unaffected. Bumgarner responded in the bottom half of the inning with just seven pitches, flipping things back to Cobb before he had time to sit down.
Cobb was better in the second inning, but Bumgarner needed just 10 pitches in his half, and in the third, Cobb hurled 23 pitches. When the Giants put two runners on with no outs in the bottom half of the inning, only to go quiet for the next three hitters, there was an eerie feeling cast over the game.
It seemed that Cobb’s bend-but-don’t-break style would not be sustainable. It seemed that Bumgarner, while not flexing his vintage strikeout stuff, would make short work of an offense that will occasionally be a good boy and happily roll over or play dead.
And then, just like that, the tide changed, and the Giants started playing like a team that still harbors postseason aspirations, while the Arizona Diamondbacks started playing like a team that’s already made the call to AAA to start shepherding the interesting prospects up for an audition.
In a span of two pitches, fortunes changed for everyone. With one out in the fourth, Bumgarner tossed an 87-mph cutter right into J.D. Davis’ sweet spot, and he roped it into the gap for a double. It was the team’s first hit of the night, other than a truly-immaculate, line-straddling bunt by Joey Bart.
On the next pitch Bumgarner mixed things up, tossing a 79-mph curve. He hadn’t thrown his curveball much all day, and it primarily missed outside of the strike zone. This one caught all of the plate, and then, after Evan Longoria swung at it, it caught all of the bleachers.
#⃣ for #⃣ pic.twitter.com/Jrzk3SMuge— SFGiants (@SFGiants) August 16, 2022
Two pitches. Davis hit his 112.7 mph. Longoria hit his 103.4.
And suddenly you were reminded that the Giants, for all the hairs they’ve made you pull out, are still a half decent team, and that Bumgarner, despite the 2014 World Series trophy that he inspired you to get tattooed on your left ass cheek, is no longer an ace.
And then the floodgates opened. A fifth inning rally started with a booming double off the bricks by Bart (who had a three-hit day), that reminded you how he very well might be the first right-handed hitter to put one in the water. It ended when Austin Slater singled him home.
And the knockout punch was delivered in the sixth inning, with the same artists who had gotten the Giants there. Davis walked. Longoria singled. Thairo Estrada doubled home one run. And then Bart, facing a challenge fastball right down the pipe, hit a 111.1-mph single to bring the two runners in.
Foot on the gassssss pic.twitter.com/J4HGRi1RXh— SFGiants (@SFGiants) August 16, 2022
It gave the Giants a seemingly-insurmountable 6-1 lead. It wobbled Bumgarner enough that he needed 11 pitches to get through Luis González, before departing. And it gave the Giants, who moved to 5.5 games back in the Wild Card race thanks to a San Diego Padres loss, a little bit of hope.
Meanwhile, Cobb pieced things together. He surrendered a booming home run to Christian Walker, but otherwise cruised through the back half of a six-inning start, managing to not only suppress the Diamondbacks, but spare the bullpen.
The bullpen barely spared itself, though. Tyler Rogers took the bump for the seventh and, with an infield single, a hit batter, and a walk, loaded the bases with two outs. The D-Backs were a swing away from making things far more interesting than you cared for.
Yet while the former Giant in MadBum couldn’t get out of jams, a former Diamondback could: Alex Young, who spelled Rogers and struck out Josh Rojas on five pitches, all 82 or 83 mph. Relieving can be a brutal job. It only takes one bad pitch to wreck your month.
But it can be a pretty sweet gig, too, such as when you’re called on to record only 3.7% of the outs, which you do, and subsequently become a hero.
No such heroics were needed in the final two innings, with Dominic Leone and Jarlin García ignoring the calls for torture.
It was a good game and a good win for a team that needed a good game and a good win, and needs a lot more good games and a lot more good wins.
It was also a great day for Mike Krukow, who had two of his best Krukowisms of the year. The first came following Bumgarner’s most famous of moves — you know, the one involving mucus — which prompted Kruk to quip, “When you can blow a snotrocket and wipe it on your work clothes, that’s a great job.”
And the second came when Slater, upon striking out, was caught on camera shouting an obscenity. You know the one. It has four letters. It rhymes with the type of vehicle that Bumgarner so awkwardly had to accept from a nervous wreck of a man on live TV after Game 7 of the World Series.
After a good two-second pause, Krukow said, almost as a peace offering, “This game will make you talk to yourself.”
That it will, Kruk. And Slater’s obscenity notwithstanding, it’s mostly good things that the Giants will be talking to themselves about tonight.