Bumgarner gives Giants a performance for the ages

Bumgarner gives Giants a performance for the ages
August 21, 2012, 7:04 am
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LOS ANGELES Dave Righetti slipped on his loafers as hedrifted into memories.

You dont see it very often, said the Giants pitchingcoach, after watching Madison Bumgarner outduel Clayton Kershaw in a 2-1victory Monday night.

Sabathia comes to mind from the last 10 years, and you haveyour Guidrys and Carltons, your Vida Blue.

Lefties always admire lefties, especially the rare powerguys. Those pitchers arent trying to trick you or nip at the corners or dowhat keeps left-handers in the game into their 40s. No, these pitchers come atyou straight on, tanks in a demolition derby, sawing off bats, throwingexplosive stuff, daring you to hit it if you can.

Thats what Kershaw did. Thats what Bumgarner did just abit better.

Watching both those guys on the mound was a treat, Giantsleft-hander Javier Lopez said. Of course, I dont think the hitters will tellyou that.

Actually

Special? Oh yeah, that was special, said Giants centerfielder Angel Pagan, who had two of the six hits off Kershaw and scored bothruns. Bumgarner threw an unbelievable game. And Kershaw, man, he threw amazingtoo. It was fun to watch.

It was a late-August game in a pennant race, and the winnerwould be guaranteed to end the day in first place.

But it was even more than that.

Know what that was? Righetti said. That was like one ofthose old NL matchups. Until they go out and perform, its just anotherGiants-Dodgers. Then they start pitching and it feels like something else.

Theyre the ones that made us remember. It was cool, realcool.

And Im glad we won.

The Giants have to keep winning this way. Sure, Melky Cabrera is still being spilled all over the tabloids and the offense will have to find a way around thatpsychological morass. Theyll have to score enough runs on a consistent basisto support their pitching staff.

But they must pitch to win. They might be capable of winning6-5, or even 8-3. But its more likely theyll have to win many more 2-1 gamesover the next six weeks. And when they come upon a Kershaw, the Giants willneed a performance to match.

Even though Tim Lincecum hasnt been Tim Lincecum, thebullpen is a committee and the pitching overall has lacked the dominance ofyears past, the Giants do seem to find the big performance when they need it.

Want proof? Kershaw is 1-3 against them this season.

Bumgarner had only faced Kershaw once before in his career.It was April 11 of last season, and the Dodgers bum-rushed him for five runs infive innings. Rod Barajas hit a two-run home run in a four-run fifth.

It was one loss amid an 0-6 beginning hes never forgotten.

This kid weve talked so much about him, Giants managerBruce Bochy said. Hes got such great poise, such great focus. His makeup isoff the charts. One of the moreimpressive years was when he got off to a rough start. A young guy can lose hisconfidence. But it never wavered with him.

Now Bumgarner is more focused than ever about finishing batters.With two strikes, hes got a killer instinct that wasnt always there in thepast. He bounces a slider where he used to try to paint a perfect one. Thatshow hes struck out the most batters in the NL (61) since the All-Star break.Thats how he put away Matt Kemp in the seventh to strand a runner at thirdbase.

That was a big strikeout for me just a big point of thatgame, said Bumgarner, who flexed like a pro wrestler as he walked off themound. I guess I had a little adrenaline.

Said Bochy: It gets back to the focus Im talking about.Hes really concentrating on making a good pitch and not dropping his guardwith two strikes.

All great power pitchers do more than burn out bulbs on the radar gun. They also are able to maintain their stuff tothe last pitch. Bumgarner did that, too. Bochy pushed him into the eighth andlet him throw 123 pitches the second most by a Giant this season (after MattCains 125 pitches in his perfect game June 13).

Bumgarner struck out his final two hitters.

Yeah, his stuff was great, Bochy said. He wasntlaboring. I checked on him. Hes a big, strong boy. Its probably tougher ifyou take him out, to be honest.

It's always a good idea to ask others about Bumgarner because he wontspare many words about himself. He spoke of making sure hes on his game withevery pitch, having a plan and not giving into guys. But his ultimate summaryof Monday's game came out like a bit of country wisdom:

You better pitch better if you want to win.

The last time against Kershaw, perhaps Bumgarner wasntequipped to match up against him. Hes a year older now. And since that 0-6 beginningin 2011, he is 27-14 with a 2.88 ERA in 50 starts.

Oh, and he is allowing 0.82 baserunners per inning since thebreak, too.

Last year I had a little bad luck, Bumgarner said. But Ibelieve you create your own luck, and I created bad luck by throwing pitchesthat were over the plate for guys to hit.

Its just making better pitches and learning how to pitchto different guys. Its knowing what to do with who Im facing. Its justpitching smarter.

Bumgarner has plenty of curve ahead in his learning. Hesonly 23, as of Aug. 1. Kershaw is 24.

There will be plenty more confrontations, plenty more tanksin the derby, plenty more opportunities to transform a pennant-race game into Instagram-coloredmemories.

Does Bumgarner look forward to that?

Well, he said, definitely.

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