Madison Bumgarner set the tone, and the Giants followed.
Just like old times.
The big, legendary lefty downplayed what facing the team with which he won three World Series would be like, his friends turned into opponents and trading dugouts in a game that does not need fans to have a buzz.
Bumgarner will stare down a lineup that contains seven righties, the only exceptions being Mike Yastrzemski and Brandon Belt, with whom he won the 2012 and 2014 World Series. Bumgarner said he would try to view it as just another start. His excellent defensive first baseman for nine years once again backed him.
“I think there’s just gonna be energy more so because we know we need to win ballgames right now,” Belt said after the Giants’ 6-5 loss Friday night, ahead of the Saturday showdown. “I don’t think there’s really a concern of who’s on the mound that night.”
Sure. The two will stare each other down, and it would not be surprising to see either crack a grin.
Brandon Crawford will be sitting against the southpaw, righty-hitting Daniel Robertson starting instead. Buster Posey will be neither catching his longtime battery mate nor facing him, home caring for his adopted newborn twins. Everything — everything — is different this year.
First up for the Giants will be Austin Slater, newly activated off the injured list and thrown immediately at his teammate of three seasons. Perhaps Bumgarner taught him something about taking things one game, one at-bat at a time.
“Just try to treat it just like any other at-bat, stick to my game plan,” Slater, who is DH’ing, said over Zoom on Saturday. “There’s obviously a familiar familiarity there. I’ve talked hitting with him before, I’ve talked pitching. It’ll be a good battle, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Gabe Kapler, while paying due respect to the playoffs master he did not manage — “Madison was a tremendous pitcher for a long time for the Giants and arguably one of the top two pitchers over the course of the last 10 years or so.” — he did not want to let sentimentality affect how he approached the game.
He started Belt at first base not so he could see Bumgarner up close, but because Belt is slashing a ridiculous .500/.574/.981 in his past 17 games. He is not playing Crawford because the Giants have a righty option against a pitcher who is easier to hit from the right side.
There is not much time to try to drum up nostalgia when the Giants are nearly two-thirds of the way through the season and are on the outskirts of a playoff spot. San Francisco has to find ways to “maximize our roster,” Kapler said, which meant Robertson over Crawford, sense over sentimentality.
Bumgarner would not betray any deeper significance to his first start back at Oracle Park without wearing the Orange and Black, even if there’s no doubt he will touch the mound and want to show an organization that did not blow him away in free agency that it made a mistake. He said there are no hard feelings with anyone with the Giants, but he also said this will be just another game, which it will not be.
“I’m sure that when you go up against your former teammates and, for Madison, in a place where he spent a large part of his life, there’s going to be an elevated sense of maybe importance,” Kapler said. “I certainly wouldn’t want to speak for him, but that would be my guess. … It makes it more exciting, it makes it more fun and your adrenaline is a little bit higher.”