The 2014 World Series is looking like the Madison Bumgarner show so far. In fact, the salsa-hot Kansas City Royals –living legends and social media kings just a week ago—are now playing second fiddle to The Adventures of MadBum (sounds like a tight movie) as San Fran’s ace winger conjures memories of past playoff pitching greats.
It’s understandable how most of the hitters who face him in the postseason are sort of shell-shocked by his magnificence.
Despite being one of the best pitchers in MLB this season and posting career–highs in wins (18), innings pitched (217.1) and whiffs (219) and despite some early career postseason success, nobody expected him to be Sandy Koufax-style, Aloe Blacc, “I’m The Man” lights out.
The 6-5, 235-pounder used his penitentiary technique to continue his diamond demolition in a 7-1 San Fran road win in Game 1 of the World Series . He stone-cold stopped the Kansas City Royals cakewalk through the playoffs. Hunter Pence handed him an early lead with a blast and “MadBum” handed Ned Yost’s record-breaking, base-swiping young gunners their first postseason loss in nine games
MadBum is 3-1 with a 1.40 ERA in five starts and has pitched at least seven innings in every outing after scattering three hits over seven innings on Tuesday. The Giants won their seventh straight WS game and improved to a ridiculous 16-2 in their last 18 WS games. To say that San Fran has discovered a secret formula for postseason success is an understatement. Bumgarner, however, says he doesn’t have any particular formula or ritual. He skims a few scouting reports with his pitching coach Dave Righetti and manager Bruce Bochy and then hits the hill.
"It was just about going out and making pitches and executing," Bumgarner said. "I know that's a boring answer, but for me, that's all it is. I'm just trying to make pitches and take all that other stuff, push it aside and just concentrate on moving the ball around, getting ahead (in the count), getting outs and getting us back it the dugout."
Maybe MadBum was destined to shine on baseball’s biggest stage. For some players, success and failure in October is already a pre-determined part of their life’s athletic script. For cats like Mitch Williams and Donnie Moore (RIP) their fates were cruel, unfortunate and torturous. Williams was able to rebound from giving up a World Series-losing home run for the Philadelphia Phillies to Joe Carter in 1993. Moore wasn’t.
Bumgarner’s fate looks to be a favorable one so far. The lethal lefty from Hickory, North Carolina, debuted in his first postseason game at 21 years old. Baseball Nation had no clue that he would emerge to be more valuable and clutch than hurlers with VIP names like Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.
He did give hints however, as he entered that first postseason in 2010 lit, having allowed five earned runs in his final 38 regular-season innings (1.18 ERA).
Now, at the seasoned age of 25-years-old, Bumgarner’s already produced some of the dopest World Series stats the game has ever seen. He is 3-0 in three starts with a 0.41 ERA and has 19 strikeouts and five walks in 22 innings. He had also pitched 21.2 consecutive scoreless World Series innings dating back to 2010 before Salvador Perez hit a solo home run in the seventh, and his 33.1 consecutive scoreless playoff innings on the road, including 23.1 this year, is the major league record.
That streak of 21 consecutive shutout innings to start a World Series career is second only to the great Christy Mathewson’s 28. Mathewson played in the early 1900’s but he compiled a career postseason ERA of 0.97 in 101.2 innings pitched. He threw 10 complete games in the postseason with four shutouts, both benchmarks he still holds over a century later.
While Bumgarner’s accomplishments have leaned towards legendary; playoff baseball has a way of balancing the scales if you get into enough crucial situations. He’s on a roll no doubt, but I wouldn’t rush to calling him the “pitching version of Mr. October” as some analysts have proclaimed. He still has at least one more start to make against a feisty and game KC squad.
Remember Cliff Lee?
Entering the 2010 World Series with the Texas Rangers, Lee was 7-0 in 64.1 IP with a 1.26 ERA in the postseason, which included nine World Series starts. Known for his pin-point control, Lee also had an incomparable strikeout-to-walk ratio of 67-7 and averaged eight innings per start.
In 2010, he perplexed the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 1 of the ALDS and then again in a crucial Game 5. He also caught wreck on the Yankees with a clutch win in Game 3 of the ALCS. Lee was well on his way to being considered the most dominant postseason pitcher of his generation and fans and analysts began to make the mistake of assuming he was automatic money in the crunch.
Then he got bombed in both his WS starts during the Rangers’ 2010 loss to San Francisco. Mr. Untouchable gave up nine earned runs in 11.2 innings and in his last playoff appearance in 2011 he gave up five runs and 12 hits in six innings for the Phillies in a NLDS loss to St. Louis.
Lee’s postseason legacy is still formidable, but with no rings and three straight losses in big spots, his ranking has certainly taken a hit. His situation is a prime example of how performing great in the playoffs is a year-to-year and often game-to-game occurrence. And being considered a playoff titan—especially as a pitcher—is something that has to be determined once your career is over.
So enjoy the MadBum moment in the same way we did Curt Schilling’s bloody sock and Bob Gibson’s two WS titles and eight complete games in nine starts, but remember those cats did it time and time again.
Just as fast a pitcher like Bumgarner can go on a historic run of playoff dominance, the table can turn and champions get turned into chumps with one bad inning, poorly placed pitch or one mighty swing of the bat by the opposition.