Kruk & Kuip: It all started with Madison Bumgarner
SAN FRANCISCO – Atlanta Braves third baseman Chris Johnson did not have a good day at the office Saturday afternoon.
He struck out swinging on a curveball in the dirt. Then he struck out swinging on another diving curve. In his third at-bat, he whiffed at one more of those breaking pitches. But not before fouling a slider off his shin, causing him to howl in pain.
So the next time Madison Bumgarner pitches against the Braves, it wouldn’t be a shock to find Johnson in the trainer’s room hot tub, with some assorted ache or pain.
There was also nobody better to provide a postgame assessment of the Giants’ brilliant left-hander after he tossed seven superb innings in a 10-1 victory at AT&T Park.
“He’s nasty,” Johnson said. “For me, he’s one of the best lefties in the game. He throws his cutter in to righties, makes righties feel uneasy. He throws two-seamers away. He throws sliders. His changeup is good. You get a guy like that, you can’t really do much with him at this level.”
Considering there isn’t a level beyond this one, at least the non-pixelated version, that’s pretty high praise.
That’s how good Bumgarner has been for the Giants this season while going 4-1 with a 2.18 ERA. (And in the unlikely event the club gets its scoring appeal upheld from Bumgarner’s previous start, he’d have a 1.68 ERA.)
“He was on the top of his game,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “He hit his spots, made put-away pitches. He had great location. That’s a tough lineup to go through, and he did a great job for us.”
In the past, Bumgarner would attack hitters like a zombie in the low-budget horror flick. He’d come straight at you, taking a direct blow here and there. Now he’s learning the art of evasive action – especially against an aggressive, strikeout-prone lineup.
Bumgarner didn’t just throw two-strike curveballs. He bounced them. He didn’t just throw two-strike fastballs at the top of the zone. He threw them above the letters. The Braves kept swinging, so Bumgarner kept making pitches that were impossible to hit.
“They swing and they swing hard, so you try to keep mixing it up and make good pitches,” said Bumgarner, who credited backup catcher Guillermo Quiroz with calling a good game. “He deserves a lot of the credit. I felt I tried to mix it up the whole game, not get stuck on one or two pitches.”
It was the first time Bumgarner had beaten the Braves in five regular-season starts, even though they hadn’t exactly crushed him (0-3, 4.30 ERA). The North Carolina native grew up watching TBS, so it was a bigger deal when he faced the Braves the first time or two in his career. That thrill went away, as so many do when baseball becomes your livelihood.
But he did take away something from trumping them Saturday, especially since it set up the Giants to take three of four, possibly, if they can win behind Tim Lincecum on Sunday.
“They’ve got as good a shot as anybody to play October baseball,” Bumgarner said. “You want to play your best baseball too, to see where you’re at, I guess. We know we’re good and can beat anybody, but it’s always nice to be at your best against teams like that.”
As I mentioned in the Instant Replay, this is the first time the Giants have received back-to-back regular-season starts of at least seven innings and no more than two runs allowed since July 23-24 last year. It’s surprising, sure. But if there’s one area of this year’s club that has been unable to sustain any momentum, it’s the rotation.
After Matt Cain’s eight innings and Bumgarner’s seven strong with 11 strikeouts, Tim Lincecum hits the hill with inertia.
“This is more our game – get quality starts, keep us in the game and find a way to win ‘em,” Bochy said. “We’ve gotten them the last two games when we’ve needed them. Hopefully it gets contagious.”
That’s the word Bumgarner chose to use, too.
“I think everybody will work out their problems,” Bumgarner said. “It felt good to put a couple good ones back to back. Good pitching is contagious, just like good hitting is contagious.”
And when the Giants arrive at Turner Field later this year, maybe Johnson will feel a sneeze coming on. Those are contagious, too.