Giants fans celebrated the banishments of Miguel Tejada and Aaron Rowand from the roster the same way fans celebrate a ballyhooed free agent signing. Addition by subtraction, it would seem. The only question: did it come too late? Perhaps, since the best the Giants can possibly hope for is to be 2 games back after Sunday’s game — and that’s only if they sweep the D-Backs and Arizona loses tonight to the Rockies.
But on a sunny day at AT&T Park, the Giants took only 140 minutes to dispatch the Chicago Cubs. And while it’s tempting to seize on Tejada and Rowand being designated for assignment and back-to-back home runs by Jeff Keppinger and Pablo Sandoval as the overriding themes, simply because those occurrences were so out of character for the Giants, it was the familiar sight of a dominant outing by Madison Bumgarner that won this game. And Bumgarner struck an optimistic tone in a clubhouse that hasn’t seen much in the way of that kind of attitude lately.
Back in late February, when I covered Media Day, the main questions Bumgarner faced were versions of these:
1. What’s it like for a small town guy from the sticks to win a World Series in big ol’ San Francisco? (Banjo implied)
2. Are you prepared for this season after throwing more innings than ever before? Are you worried about getting tired? Are ya, kid? ARE YA????
Doesn’t that seem funny now, Bumgarner getting too tired? Instead, he’s growing into a bona fide strikeout pitcher. Check out his stats up to and after the disastrous start on June 21 against Minnesota:
Through June 21: 15 starts; 84.1 inn; 66 K; 24 BB; 93 hits allowed.
June 26 – August 31: 13 starts; 81 inn; 80 K; 15 BB; 80 hits allowed.
Bumgarner’s also gone from 3-9 during that first period to 9-12 after today’s win, if you still care about such things.
Bumgarner was one of the youngest pitchers in history with a K/BB rate over 3 last season, and while he wasn’t that far off early on, in his last 13 starts that rate has increased to an almost Halladay-like 5.33. Before turning the Flip Cam on I asked Bumgarner about where the increase in strikeouts is coming from, and he gave a similar answer to what Bruce Bochy said when I asked him a similar question after the game. Bochy said strikeouts are nice, but you’d “rather have early outs.”
BASG: “Seems like you’re becoming a strikeout pitcher now. Anything change since the first half of the season?”
Bumgarner: “Just making pitches, that’s all I’ve been really trying to do. And that’s really it. Last few games I didn’t strike out many guys at all. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal, I’m not going to be a strikeout guy. I’m pitching to contact, trying to get quick outs. Sometimes I’ll get a few strikeouts, but you know, that’s it.”
— Brett Pill was the center of attention when the media headed into the clubhouse after the game, and he said he was more than happy to leave Fresno before having a chance to break the Grizzlies’ RBI record for a season. In this short clip he talks about how it feels to finally get the call:
— Talked to Nate Schierholtz briefly. He’s still wearing a boot on his right foot, but said there’s been a little improvement and hopes to be able to return from the DL on Tuesday when he becomes eligible. I used to chat with his mother on occasion when I worked at a retail store in Danville back in 2006-07, and remembered that she had a fractured foot herself back then. I asked Nate about that, and like his injury (which came from fouling a pitch from Tim Hudson off his foot), his mom’s fractured foot came from a freak accident when she fell off a ladder. After her foot healed, she won her age group in a local half-marathon without training, if I recall correctly; along with his skateboarding dad Nate’s blessed with some really athletic genes:
— I resisted the urge to pull up a chair at the clubhouse dominoes table with Tim Lincecum, Guillermo Mota and Orlando Cabrera, even though a 4-person game is always better than 3 guys playing with a boneyard (the pile of unchosen dominoes after everyone grabs seven).
— I may or may not have raided the adjoining Champions Suite long after the game, where there may or may not have been a huge pile of sliders and an untouched pizza that I learned about via a tip from an “industry source.”
— Someone on the Giants really likes Lil’ Wayne. I’m guessing Mota.
— Mark DeRosa talked to reporters for a looooonnnnng time. Mychael Urban asked him if a big change like letting Tejada and Rowand go would manifest in better play on the field. “Hope so. That’s not to say Row and Miggy were cancers in any way,” DeRosa said. “Just seemed like it was 30 days of the same games. Same at-bats, same passion, same fate.” I could barely even see DeRosa, there were so many reporters gathered around him. Everyone knows where to get the best quotes, I guess.
— I’m going to end this with a note on Bumgarner, who I just love watching pitch. A couple weeks ago when I thought I would only get to cover a couple games like this, I made sure to pick games on the schedule with Bumgarner and/or Lincecum throwing. Partly because Bumgarner is already one of the top 10-15 pitchers in baseball, W/L records be damned.
But I also remember that first time interviewing a Giant (after they turned pro, anyway — I interviewed Schierholtz when he was still with Fresno for the CC Times back in the day), and it was Bumgarner. He politely dealt with all the perfunctory questions about his background and his stamina, and after a while everyone else had left and it was just him and I in a luxury suite, talking ball.
He humbly answered quite a few of my questions, and seemed to especially like when I brought up the stat about pitchers 21 and under with K/BB over 3.00. Then, after the interview was over, he offered his hand to shake mine. In all my times interviewing athletes and coaches at all levels, that’s the first and only time that’s ever happened.