LOS ANGELES – On the mound, Madison Bumgarner’s fastball had plenty of movement Friday night. At his locker, his face was impeccably straight.
“I mean, I was just congratulating him,” said Bumgarner, asked about his verbal repartee with Yasiel Puig as the Dodgers’ outfielder completed a rather deliberate home run trot. “It was a really good swing. I don’t know why everybody got so mad.”
And how did Puig reply?
“I think he said, `Thank you,’” said Bumgarner, mostly in deadpan. “I’m not sure. I don’t speak Spanish very well.”
Something was missing from Bumgarner’s translation, obviously. Puig flipped his bat after connecting for a solo shot to center field, and while the flip wasn’t outrageous or out of character by his standards, it was enough to draw Bumgarner’s ire.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Bumgarner silences Dodgers, Giants win 3-1]
This is the same pitcher who was so ornery in the minor leagues that once after hitting a batter, told a minor league coach that he did it because the hitter “swung too hard.”
Bumgarner has mellowed as a big leaguer and that’s been to his benefit. But Puig clearly struck a nerve. Giants manager Bruce Bochy acted stunned when asked if he had a sense for what provoked the verbal spat.
“A sense?” Bochy said. “I think we all know what caused it. Like any competitor, these guys get a little upset when they think they’re getting showed up. The bat flipping, these things, a lot of pitchers are getting upset about it.
“You’re not happy you gave up a home run and you see guys flipping bats. It’s part of the game and it continues to be a part of the game.”
Bumgarner made sure to position himself in front of the mound and near the third base line as he received a new baseball, presumably so he could be within earshot of Puig. The dialogue began and plate umpire Will Little immediately moved between Bumgarner and Puig, who stopped briefly to reply before continuing home. Catcher Buster Posey made sure he positioned himself between Puig and his pitcher, too.
“It surprised me a little bit he was there after the home run,” Puig said through an interpreter. “I may have done something he didn’t like. From my perspective it’s part of the game.”
Puig said he didn’t know what Bumgarner said; Posey told him “something like ‘let it go’ and ‘go back to the bench.’”
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, who is under a microscope for the way he’s handled Puig’s showmanship, raced to the defense of his right fielder.
“It always surprises me when guys react to things when their team does the same type stuff,” Mattingly said. “It’s always the double standard. One guy does it but it’s OK for them to do different things.
“He hit it, he flipped it and he ran. I’m not quite sure what he’s upset about. The double standard for me is always amazing. … Obviously Yasiel’s a little bit of a lightning rod. He plays hard. He hit it, he flipped it, he ran. Honestly. You can’t be mad at one guy when your team does the same type stuff.”
The Giants do have a few guys who show emotion on the field. Even Bumgarner displayed a little panache when releasing his bat after his grand slam last month. Michael Morse has been known to admire a tape-measure drive or two. (Although in fairness, when you hit them 460 feet, they take awhile to come back to earth.) But Brandon Crawford didn’t do anything showy when he hit his two-run home run in the fifth inning.
In the end, it was Bumgarner’s best start of the season, it clinched a winning road trip with two games still to play and it ensured the Giants won’t lose any of the first three series they’ve played against their archrivals.
Bumgarner, who held hitters to a .203 average last season, had allowed 48 hits in 39 2/3 innings over his first seven starts. His outing at Dodger Stadium was more to form: Just four hits allowed in eight innings, with a walk and eight strikeouts.
“What a great effort and a strong finish,” Bochy said. “He’s such a tough competitor. He gave us eight solid innings and really, the eighth was as good as any inning he had.”
Said Bumgarner: “I didn’t feel so bad except the one really wild game in San Diego. I was just giving up a lot of hits and I wasn’t really getting ahead of guys. I made a slight adjustment and it’s working out.”
That’s been apparent to Mattingly as well. Bumgarner is 7-2 with a 1.87 ERA in nine career appearances (eight starts) at Dodger Stadium.
“Honestly, we haven’t been able to do a whole lot with Bumgarner here,” Mattingly said. “We were a little better in San Francisco. We had good at-bats. We haven’t been able to do a whole lot with this guy. That being said, we haven’t been able to do a whole lot lately.
“This guy’s stuff, he’s a handful every time we face him. That’s the way it’s going to be.”
Mattingly was ejected shortly after the war of war of words because he voiced his displeasure with Little’s high strike zone.
“The umpire … at that point I’m not going to have anyone yelling at Yasiel when he basically hits and runs,” Mattingly said.
Well, let’s be real. Puig did a little more than that. But if I may venture an opinion, it’s the same thing Puig does every time he hits a home run. Heck, it's the same thing he does after hitting a fly out. Pitchers and purists might not like it, and no, it doesn't reflect well on Puig. But to me, the reason you get offended is when it’s personally directed. And given Puig’s track record, that didn’t appear to be the case Friday night.
Besides, in a war of words, Bumgarner and the Giants got the final say.