SAN FRANCISCO — Madison Bumgarner returned to the Giants earlier this month, but in his three starts preceding Thursday night, he had not resembled the dominant, overpowering force we have become so accustomed to watching.
He was Thursday night.
In San Francisco’s 3-0 win, Bumgarner pitched eight brilliant innings, allowing no runs and three hits on eight strikeouts. Hours before Thursday’s series opener with the Padres, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Bumgarner was ‘real close’ to raising his levels of stamina and endurance back to normalcy. There is no longer a doubt that San Francisco’s ace has fully returned to prime form, coming at a pivotal time, as Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija recover from injuries.
Bumgarner retired the first six Padres batters before allowing a double to start the third inning. He buckled down, though, producing a strikeout, popout, and another strikeout to escape the early jam. After a 1-2-3 fourth inning, Bumgarner faced danger for the first, and ultimately only, time all night in the fifth inning.
He got some help.
Bumgarner allowed a Jose Pirela single to start the inning, then retired Freddy Galvis on a lineout. Next up, outfielder Manuel Margot doubled down the right field line. Andrew McCutchen fielded the one-hopper off the wall, pivoted, and threw the relay to Joe Panik, who gunned down Pirela at home plate. Bumgarner followed with a strikeout to maintain his clean sheet.
A half-inning later, Bumgarner— the slugger— approached the plate with runners on second and third with one out. A lifetime .182 hitter entering Thursday, Bumgarner connected on a fastball to left field. The ball carried enough for Pablo Sandoval to tag up from third base and score, giving the Giants the lead they would not relinquish.
San Francisco had yielded only five hits entering the eighth inning, but its bats woke up to provide insurance. Alen Hanson tripled to start the eighth inning, and Buster Posey knocked him in with a single. McCutchen subsequently walked. Brandon Belt flied out, and Brandon Crawford struck out. Sandoval followed with a bloop to right field. Pirela, who never looked comfortable on the play, back-pedaled and bobbled the ball. Posey scored to extend the Giants’ lead to 3-0. McCutchen was then caught stealing to end the inning.
Giants reliever Mark Melancon shut down the ninth inning to give Bumgarner his first win of the 2018 season.
Thursday night featured vintage Bumgarner, accentuated with the RBI sacrifice fly and bookended with masterful pitching from start to finish. The Giants have now won three straight games, pulling them to 38-38 on the year.