It had shades, perhaps in feel if not in degree, of 2010, 2012, 2014 again. The more he threw, the better he got.
Historically, that has been the case for a star whose legend was not born in April but in October. The question will become whether his San Francisco legacy will conclude in July.
Madison Bumgarner strengthened with each arm rotation, bending but not snapping. When he needed to reach back, his big left hand could have scraped the center-field fence. He stiffened after letting in a run in the first and third, surrendering nothing more until the seventh inning. He was meticulous in his execution, all over the plate and hitting Buster Posey’s glove repeatedly.
He looked like a solid piece for a playoff contender. Is he playing for that playoff contender? With each never-ending game, it appears the answer gets more to his liking.
Bumgarner has found his magic, and the Giants are not running out of theirs. Again they pulled out a thriller, this one ending with Pablo Sandoval — who’d had a terrible game — homering off Brad Brach in the 13th inning for yet another walk-off.
If this was Bumgarner’s farewell to Oracle Park, he went out a winner in a 5-4, 13-inning victory over the Cubs in front of a 39,747, countless of whom had his name etched across their back. In all, he went seven innings and allowed three runs, striking out seven and surrendering six hits.
If it has felt like the Bumgarner era in San Francisco might never end, the Giants may have sent him off in fitting style: By playing a game that felt like it might see a winner. But it was Sandoval, who had bounced into two double plays, who grounded out with the bases loaded in the 10th, whose ninth-inning error could have cost the Giants, who played hero.
In the 10th, Kevin Pillar hit a ball 398 feet and came up maybe 2 inches short of a homer. It only served to extend the game, making a crowd that didn’t leave get one more inning of a Bumgarner start.
The Giants won their 17th in 20 games, moving to 52-50. They hadn’t been two games over .500 since Aug. 2, 2018. They stayed within two games of the Cardinals for a second wild card that Farhan Zaidi was be hard-pressed to ignore eight days before the trade deadline. It their past six games, the Giants have five one-run victories and improved to 24-10 in such games this season.
“I haven’t even thought about it,” Bruce Bochy said before the game of this possibly being Bumgarner’s goodbye.
Bumgarner has, and let the media, front office and fanbase know he wants to stay with his fiery remarks after his previous start. His mouth was hot, his arm is hotter. In his past six starts, he’s allowed eight earned runs in 36 innings (2.00 ERA) while striking out 41. Giants fans did not need to be reminded about his prowess. It will be interesting to see whether opposing general managers did.
His final trouble came in the seventh, when Jason Heyward doubled to right-center to begin the inning. Victor Caratini singled past Pablo Sandoval — who had an eventful game, grounding into two double plays and making a ninth-inning error that wouldn’t them — to narrow the lead to 4-3. Bumgarner struck out David Bote, pinch-hitting for Yu Darvish, and induced Kyle Schwarber into a line-out. He walked off to a standing ovation and walked into a dugout he may call home for just one more day. After the series finale Wednesday, the Giants visit San Diego and Philadelphia.
Assisting Bumgarner was Will Smith, who threw two scoreless innings of relief. A night earlier he wasn’t available, and Bochy leaned on him. Since the hiccup against the Rockies, Smith has thrown five scoreless innings while striking out nine, letting up just two hits.
Also aiding the effort was Mark Melancon, who chipped in two more scoreless innings of relief. He’s thrown 6 2/3 innings without giving up a run, and the Giants continue to mix and mix in extra-inning games to great effect.
Also doing his part was Alex Dickerson, whose cold back has not cooled his hot bat. The left fielder doubled in his first at-bat and tied the game at 2-2 in the fourth, taking a 96-mph Yu Darvish fastball 372 feet to left. He was the first of four straight Giants to get on, as Brandon Crawford single, Mike Yastrzemski walked and Kevin Pillar knocked in two with a double off the left-center field wall. The Giants went from down 2-1 to up 4-2.