Pence: 'We're pushing to finish strong'
Despite being 14 games under .500, the Giants still are still excited after every win. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
LOS ANGELES – The Dodgers will be dousing themselves soon enough, and we can assume Guggenheim money springs for something better than domestic brut.
The Giants will be packing lockers soon enough, ceding their title as World Series champions and hoping they don’t finish in the cellar.
But until those things happen, you keep playing to win. Right is still right. And in this second half, Madison Bumgarner had been so deeply wronged.
He had won just once in 10 starts since the All-Star break despite a 2.42 ERA over that span. He was facing presumptive Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw on Friday. He brought his best to the mound.
And even after making one critical mistake while giving up a two-run homer to former teammate Juan Uribe, the Giants still found a way to come to Bumgarner’s aid. They laced four consecutive singles off Kershaw in the seventh inning, the first three of them with two-strike counts, while scoring three runs in an eventual 4-2 victory
This wasn’t a mere rescue. This was spotting a cigarette lighter 1,000 miles off the Azores. Heck, this was the sea parting.
It was a stunning rally against a pitcher who had completely frustrated them over the years. It came just in time to turn Bumgarner from a loser into a winner. And five relievers locked jaws onto that decision, with Sergio Romo burning pennant-race fuel on the final four outs.
“There’s a lot of pride here – a lot of pride,” Romo said. “Tonight was just an example of not giving up. We feel we do have something to play for. If others don’t agree, there’s always our pride.”
Romo won't get any disagreement from Giants manager Bruce Bochy.
"This time of year, you do find out about guys," Bochy said. "Were they keeping up the intensity? Are they distracted, thinking about something else? These guys, they aren't. They're fighting hard."
What would the Giants take more pride in accomplishing? In beating Kershaw while scoring three runs off him for the first time in more than two years? Or gaining a measure of justice for Bumgarner, the one start-to-finish rock in their rotation, who deserved so much more than a 12-9 record?
“I was happy for Bum more than anybody,” Bochy said. “He’s had so much tough luck. We put up a crooked number to get him a win. So good for him.”
Juan Perez played a huge hand in Bumgarner’s victory, too. The left-hander was facing his last batter with two outs in the sixth inning, Bochy said, when Perez laid out to catch A.J. Ellis’ line drive down the line. Bumgarner doesn’t get the decision without completing that inning.
“He hasn’t been here long, but we know he’s an unbelievable outfielder,” Bumgarner said. “I was hoping he’d go into the stands, jump over the fence and catch Uribe’s ball.”
The Giants would go to those lengths for Bumgarner, as much as they admire the way he’s grown into one of the league’s best pitchers.
When I asked if beating Kershaw, even under the circumstances, was something he could hang his hat on, Bumgarner immediately deflected credit.
“Well, if not for the offense, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about it,” he said.
Bumgarner and Kershaw actually have become a rare pair in this rivalry – friends off the field. Bumgarner said he saw the fellow lefty running on the field last year and made a point to say hello. They’ve been friendly ever since, although they don’t talk about pitching too much.
“Yeah, he taught me all his secrets,” Bumgarner joked. “I should tell you he gave me the scouting reports on all their hitters. Stir it up over there a little bit.”
This wasn’t the first time Bumgarner outdueled Kershaw. In fact, he’s 2-1 against him in three career confrontations. Bumgarner beat him 2-1 on Aug. 20 of last year in a fantastic duel when both pitchers struck out 10 in eight innings. Kershaw came out on top 6-1 on April 11, 2011, when he tossed 6 2/3 shutout innings and Bumgarner gave up five in five.
Bumgarner would’ve lost again if not for those four consecutive hits, and they were meaningful in more ways than one. Hunter Pence was 2 for 37 lifetime (.054) against Kershaw before coaxing his single up the middle. (Pence later hit his second opposite-field homers in as many nights, and he's played all but 13 innings in right field while starting every game. So there's one example of a guy who, despite being an impending free agent, doesn't appear to have his head anywhere besides the game.)
Then Pablo Sandoval had a solid at-bat that included a couple of loud fouls before whistling his two-strike hit. Joaquin Arias fouled off a two-strike fastball before staying back on a curve and lining his hit to left field.
Finally, Brett Pill, who memorably hit a two-run home run in one of Ryan Vogelsong’s 2-1 victories over Kershaw last year, didn’t try to do too much with a 1-1 slider.
“I was just trying to hit it up the middle,” said Pill, who sliced it down the right field line to plate two. “He sped it up a little bit. I guess the key was not swinging for the fences.”
Pill would not be bold enough to say he owns Kershaw now. When that question was put to him in jest, he all but ran away from his locker.
“No, no no,” he said. “You know you’ll maybe get one pitch to hit. Just don’t miss it.”
Don’t miss it. Don’t give away an opportunity. Don't let up. Don't let them celebrate in your face. (And now they won't this weekend, unless the Giants lose two and the Rockies beat the Diamondbacks twice.)
Right is right, and against the Dodgers, pride is always at stake.