Brandon Belt

Two kinds of clutch: Bumgarner and Belt lead Giants to 3-1 win over Astros

Madison Bumgarner Giants

Madison Bumgarner doesn’t HAVE to win every one of his starts the rest of the way, but it seemed necessary after the Giants ran into a brick wall covered in ivy over the weekend. Bumgarner has had plenty of good outings — including his previous one, in Atlanta — this season. But nothing he’s done since Game 7 of the World Series has resonated quite like this.

Bumgarner pitched his first nine-inning complete game this season, and he was as dominant as we’ve seen all year. His career strikeout-to-walk ratio is historic, and today he added to that by striking out 12 Astros and walking none.

Even though it was Aug. 11, the pressure seemed like October because the Giants are currently on the outside looking in. Plus, the bullpen’s workload has been ridiculous, and Bumgarner gave the relievers their second day off in a row.

Everyone knows what the Giants face throughout the rest of the month. Maybe that’s why Bumgarner pitched his best game of the season against a team with power throughout the lineup, and did it with that familiar look.

My game. My time. My team.

Bumgarner would never admit that, but his teammates don’t mind taking a ride on Bumgarner’s broad shoulders once every five days. They needed exactly what they probably knew in the back of their minds that Bumgarner would provide — the kind of oh-boy-our-team-really-really-needs-this performance that puts him in a different class than any active pitcher.

A different kind of clutch

We’ve heard the complaints before. Brandon Belt gets his numbers during meaningless moments — games where the Giants are either up by five runs or down by six. It’s ridiculous, but despite his strong numbers with runners in scoring position, and one of the most important home runs in a postseason full of memorable dingers, his detractors just don’t see him as a money player.

So, how would the Belt-bashers explain a night like tonight? Scott Kazmir was rolling. He didn’t post the same strikeout numbers as Bumgarner, but besides that ball Matt Duffy crushed that Carlos Gomez caught while in mid-air and slamming into the center field wall (what a freaking play that was), the Giants were pretty quiet.

Then Belt comes up in the fourth, works the count full, fouls off a curveball, and obliterates a fastball at the … um … belt … 420 feet to center. In other words, the man who gets AT&T’d more than any other somehow avoided that fate on the same pitch he inexplicably kept missing earlier in the year — off a lefty, no less. It was his sixth home run this month. If anyone is coming up huge in August, it’s Belt.

But wait, there’s more! Belt came up two innings later against Kazmir, who hadn’t allowed a hit since that fourth inning homer, and deposited another fastball into the left field bleachers. That caused a full-on Kazmeltdown, as Houston’s new lefty gave up two “soft singles” as described by, to Justin Maxwell and Ehire Adrianza. A run scored as a result, because Kazmir made a wild throw to first on the one hit by Adrianza. There’s the old familiar ground attack, and then there’s ridiculousness. But after the way their latest road trip ended, the Giants will take it.

CSN Bay Area put up a graphic that showed where Belt’s home runs have landed this year: six have gone to right field, four to center, and seven to left. Add ’em up, and Belt is just two behind the other Brandon for the team lead in home runs, and one ahead of Buster Posey! We could note that Belt has over three times as many strikeouts as Posey, but that wouldn’t be nice on Belt’s big night.

The second-to-last out of the night came on a nifty leaping grab by Belt on a Carlos Correa liner. If that ball gets over Belt’s glove, Bumgarner doesn’t finish the game and we’re looking at Evan Gattis against Sergio Romo with a guy on base. I don’t care what Romo’s numbers are against right-handed hitters, watching him face that lumberjack-looking guy with the game in the balance would’ve been terrifying.

Extra BASGs

— I wrote “Brandon Belt, the second half breakout candidate who’s actually been pretty good this season” on July 24. It included these passages.

But it’s not some weird fluke that Belt is the most popular “let’s trade him” guy among KNBR callers. Let’s go over a few of these reasons again, and add a couple more.

  • Overshadowed by a bunch of All-Star and near-All-Star teammates
  • Not enough dingers for his position (although he’s sixth in the majors in doubles with 25)
  • Strikes out a lot
  • Perceived as not being clutch (even though that’s false)
  • Can’t hit lefties this year (.164/.261/.230 in 2015 … his career vs. LHP: .251/.320/.414)
  • Streakiest player on the team, and perhaps the entire National League

and …

I’m expecting that Belt’s numbers vs. lefties will climb a bit closer to his career totals as the season goes on, and as the temperatures get warmer and the ball carries farther, he’ll get close to 20 home runs when all is said and done.

Belt’s numbers against lefties after his two-homer game against Kazmir: .220/.312/.427

Home run total: 17 (and skyrocketing … #Splash69 could actually happen this year if Belt decides to pull the ball)

— At one point Bumgarner struck out seven in a row, tying a record set by Juan Marichal and … Jonathan Sanchez. Sanchez was also the guy who broke the franchise’s no-hitter drought and started one of the most important regular season games the Giants have played since moving to San Francisco, so maybe that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

— The Dodgers won 5-0 over the Nats.

  • Totally expected: Zack Greinke pitched six scoreless.
  • Not expected at all: two Dodgers relievers combined to allow one single and nothing else over the last three innings.

— Did you see Bumgarner hold back when Gomez flung his bat in disgust in the sixth inning? He stared for a second longer than most pitchers would’ve, but no yelling. He’s making progress!

— Remember, the third annual Bruce and Kim Bochy pizza party starts at Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria on King Street at 3 pm tomorrow. Bruce will be there after the game, as will I. Details here.

Click here to see a list of prizes you can win in this raffle (all proceeds from the raffle, as well as Amici’s sales at both San Francisco locations between 3-10 pm, go to SF Homeless Prenatal Program). Raffle prizes include baseball collector’s items like a Hunter Pence autographed bat, a 2015 Giants autographed team ball, and much more. Hope to see you there tomorrow.

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