SAN FRANCISCO — The first sign that Madison Bumgarner would do it all Sunday night came two minutes before he threw his first pitch. As Bumgarner dug into the dirt on the mound, “Fire on the Mountain” echoed through the park, replacing a Kid Rock song Bumgarner has used in recent home starts.
Bumgarner indeed looked very much like the world-conquering ace who made a Marshall Tucker Band hit a precursor to dominance two falls ago. He shook off a 28-pitch first inning to pitch into the eighth. With the Giants struggling at the plate, he drove in the night’s only run.
“He’s special,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “And we’ve seen it over the years.”
The 1-0 win on Sunday Night Baseball gave the Giants a series win over the Cubs, the best team in baseball this season, and a streak of 10 wins in 11 games. Bumgarner dominated the box score, but in this case a piece of paper doesn’t tell the whole story. The outs that were recorded as 6-3 or 5-3 or 8-unassisted were so much more. From Brandon Belt’s scoop to start the game to Denard Span’s tumbling catch to open the ninth, this was easily the best defensive effort of the season for the Giants.
“It was good, crisp baseball,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “Everybody seemed like they made a good play.”
That’s because just about everybody did. Belt saved Bumgarner when the pitcher nearly threw away a game-opening grounder to the mound. Brandon Crawford made a strong throw from deep in the hole. Matt Duffy had a diving stop and Joe Panik was everywhere on the right side of the field. Buster Posey nearly went over the railing of the visiting dugout to catch a pop-up, and Span made one his better plays as a Giant to get the 25th out.
Bumgarner was appreciative of all the support, pointing out that his defenders work at those plays every single day. He noted that successful Giants teams in the past have done the same thing.
“We’ve had that in the past and we have it right now,” he said of the defensive effort.
The Giants have always won with strong pitching, too, and nobody is throwing better than Bumgarner in recent weeks. He is 5-0 with a 1.25 ERA in his past six starts, all of them Giants wins, and he has been particularly stingy in tight spots.
Bumgarner thought he was headed for a 12-pitch inning or so in the first, but a tough Cubs lineup loaded the bases. On a 3-2 count, Addison Russell fouled off two cutters. Bumgarner then froze him in place with a 92 mph fastball.
“I don’t know if you can make a better pitch there than he did with the bases loaded, 3-2,” Bochy said.
Bumgarner has allowed just one hit the last 20 times a hitter has come up with two down and a runner in scoring position. Opposing hitters are hitless in 14 straight at-bats with a runner on second or third. Bumgarner credited the Russell pitch with locking him into a groove that led to 15 consecutive outs.
“You get slapped in the face in the first inning and it gets you going, more or less,” he said. “You never want to walk out there thinking it’s going to be easy. It’s good to have a little competition going. I’m glad we got out of it.”
The Cubs had no chance after the wasted opportunity, never again putting a runner in scoring position. From third base, Duffy watched Bumgarner and thought, “It seemed, I guess, easy for him tonight.”
“We knew after the third or the fourth that we just needed to get him one run,” Duffy said later. “It turns out he got it for himself.”
Some of Bumgarner’s teammates often jokingly ask if he bunts pitches foul on purpose so he gets the sign to swing away, but Bumgarner said he was honestly steamed that he couldn’t advance Gregor Blanco to second in the fifth. He took his anger out on a two-strike Kyle Hendricks sinker, lashing it to left for a double that easily brought Blanco across the plate.
“It’s kind of a Catch-22 there,” Bumgarner said. “I was really disappointed in not getting the bunt down because that’s our job. That’s what we’re supposed to do.”
Bumgarner promised to work on his bunting on Monday, but the Giants might not call for many more. Over the last three seasons Bumgarner has 26 RBI, 12 more than the next best pitcher. On Sunday he joined Clayton Kershaw as the only pitchers this season to drive in the lone run in their own 1-0 win.
Bumgarner took the drama out of most of the night, but it stormed back in the ninth. Santiago Casilla, who has struggled with one-run leads, entered to face the 4-5-6 hitters. Ben Zobrist greeted him with a deep fly to center, and Span turned and immediately ran to where he thought the ball would land. When he turned to backpedal, the wind shifted the ball to another spot. Span made an acrobatic catch — “salsa dancing,” Gregor Blanco called it — and then tumbled to the track.
“I had to kind of do a little shimmy, a little karaoke,” Span said. “A couple of people told me that was like Candlestick right there.”
The play would have stood out on any other day, but on Sunday it was just one of many that were circled in scorebooks. Bumgarner’s performance might have stood out a bit more in any other week, but right now, 7 2/3 shutout innings is about what the Giants expect from the nightly starter. They’re playing as well as they have in a couple of years, and they made a bit of a statement over three games at AT&T Park.
Asked how he would explain this run — eight straight wins, a loss, and then two wins against the Cubs — Bochy smiled.
“We’re a talented club, that’s how I would explain it,” he said. “We’re really clicking in all facets of the game.”