Madison Bumgarner wasn’t created in a lab. He’s not the pitching version of Frankenstein. He’s free of performance-enhancers or bionic limbs as far as we know. In this postseason, however, he’s entered the type of zone that defines all logic.
The lethal, lanky lefty is an example of pushing the threshold of what’s humanly possible by an MLB pitcher. He’s become the rarest diamond in a sea of talent-affluent performers.
In 31 innings across four career World Series starts, Bumgarner has allowed one run. That's a 0.29 ERA. It’s the lowest in World Series history, surpassing Jack Bilingham of those 1970’s Big Red Machine squads and even Babe Ruth who had a 0.87 ERA in his WS career and was a lock down hurler before he became the Sultan of Swat.
In pitching a complete-game, 5-0 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Monday (his second this month) in Game 5 and moving the Giants to within one victory of their third World Series title in five years, MadBum has asserted himself as the immovable object in these WS games. His shutdown performance followed up an 11-4 route by San Fran in Game 4 that tied the series at 2-2.
It was the first World Series shutout since Josh Beckett in 2003, and Bumgarner became the first pitcher in World Series history to pitch a shutout with no walks and at least eight K’s.
He gave the Kansas City Royals their first postseason loss in 29 years to begin this World Series— a 7-1 masterful performance that broke KC’s MLB-record 8-0 start entering the Fall Classic.
In sweeping the 98-win LA Angels and then torching the AL East King B-More O’s, Kansas City became the irresistible force in MLB. Ned Yost’s 89-win underdogs have captivated Baseball Nation with their youth, speed, energy, flair for the dramatics, pitching and defense.
Entering this World Series against the Royals, scientific baseball minds were labeling this matchup as, “the irresistible force vs. the immovable object.”
According to modern scientific understanding, no force is completely irresistible—as Bumgarner has proved in stifling this resourceful KC offense—and there are no immovable objects and cannot be any, as even a minuscule force will cause a slight acceleration on an object of any mass.
That sounds accurate. Baseball is a sport of inches and momentum. When it comes to pitching, location is everything. Balancing the emotional aspect of the moment with executing pitches with effectiveness and pin-point accuracy every inning of every game, is an almost impossible goal. Ask Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer.
If that perfect balance is achieved, how long can it last? Not much longer if KC can put the pedal to the metal and snatch Game 6. It won’t solve their problem of having to potentially face MadBum in a relief role in Game 7 if San Fran can grab the lead (a la Big Unit Randy Johnson in the 2001 WS against the Yankees).
A day after throwing seven innings and 104 pitches to beat the Yankees 15-2 in Game 6, Johnson jogged out of the bullpen to throw 17 pitches and record the final four outs in Arizona's series clincher. Johnson's valiant relief pitching set the stage for Luis Gonzalez's climactic single off Mariano Rivera in the ninth.
The reason why people talk about that performance so much is because starters don’t usually pitch back to back days, so the way KC sees it, a disruption in Bumgarner’s pitching flow can’t hurt. We know what he is as a starter—death on a diamond. Relief pitching is a whole other animal. The preparation is different. You don’t control your own destiny from first pitch to last. You can inherit and organize someone else’s mess or obliterate someone else’s masterpiece.
The focus that’s needed to give up one earned run in 31 innings against the deadliest squads in baseball, was unattained by the greatest arms in MLB history prior to Bumgarner becoming Spartacus with a mitt. He’s blended the Zen with the bloody dagger and created an unprecedented shift in the performance ceiling of a playoff pitcher.
Modern scientific theory, however, maintains that an immovable object would have to have an inertia that was infinite and therefore infinite mass. I don’t see any sign of Bumgarner slowing down, but common sense would tell you he is due for a stinker right?
If you study the past history of the baseball gods, they have a cruel way of evening the score. They don’t particularly like perfection in their game. They will take a player to the brink of immortality and then expose his human DNA in a down pour of disaster and humble pie.
Science hypothesizes that such an immovable object would eventually collapse under its own gravity and create a singularity. An unstoppable force would require infinite energy, which does not exist in a finite baseball universe.
Unless your Bumgarner, who is licking his chops to pitch in a game seven if the Giants don’t wrap the series in KC on Tuesday. He’s a 6-5 workhorse and he’s pitched 265 innings so far this season. Those numbers don’t even seem possible in this age of baseball where pitch limits and babying young gem pitchers is the standard. Just as KC did the improbable by running off a string of postseason victories that baffled baseball historians, something had to give.
The irresistible force met an obstacle that wasn’t enthralled with their beauty and enthusiasm. In character, Bumgarner is the complete opposite of the team he now owns in these 2014 playoffs. He’s low-key, quiet and quite nonchalant in his approach to the game and the way he handles interviews, but has a silent confidence that gives you no reason to think MadBum doesn’t have the energy to rev up the engine, shake off his rubber arm and infinitely throw blanks on the board.
“He’s the same old Madison, “ said San Fran shortstop Brandon Crawford in reference to MadBum’s World Series success and celebrity spotlight that comes with putting the chokehold on baseball’s legendary ghosts and accomplishing near perfection in a game based on failure. “He doesn’t really change no matter what the stage is.”
That’s a scary thought and science will once again be tested before this series ends, because anyway you look at it – at some point–KC will have to blast through the immovable object to achieve baseball supremacy.