SAN FRANCISCO - Yasiel Puig walked to the batter's box and then turned and saw Bruce Bochy coming up the dugout steps on the other side. The young outfielder whirled back toward his dugout, knowing the next round between Puig and Madison Bumgarner would have to wait. Bochy had something more important on his mind. It was time for Bumgarner to get his standing ovation, and it was time for him to prepare for what might come next.
If all goes according to plan, the next pitch for Bumgarner - a man whose legacy is built largely on a play-in game - will be thrown Wednesday in the National League Wild Card game.
The Giants went a long way toward securing that possibility Friday. They followed wins by the Mets and the Cardinals with a 9-3 blowout of the Dodgers, pulling away in the sixth with a seven-run rally. AT&T Park shook. Bumgarner roared on second base. Hunter Pence lost his mind in the dugout. Buster Posey looked around and had a familiar thought: "This feels like a playoff game."
"We've all seen that you can get hot," Posey said later. "Our starting staff has the ability to pitch deep into games. If you get hot, you never know."
The Giants will enter the weekend a game behind the Mets and a game up on the Cardinals. Bumgarner's regular season is almost certainly done, but he went out with a bang. The big left-hander, pitching under the weather, took the Giants into the eighth. He added two hits at the plate, including a two-run double in that raucous sixth inning.
Bumgarner's night started with the sort of buzzard's luck that had kept him from his 100th win all month. The Dodgers scored two in the first, benefiting from a pair of bloop singles. The Giants stormed right back, tying the score against Rich Hill, the No. 2 starter for the Dodgers in their upcoming NLDS.
Bumgarner and Hill took the tie into the sixth and the Dodgers jumped ahead with a string of singles. That's when the explosion came. The Giants hung six runs on starter-turned-reliever Brandon McCarthy, who certainly pitched himself out of a postseason roster spot. Bumgarner's double was preceded by a Conor Gillaspie pinch-hit double that kept Bumgarner in the game. Bochy had a pinch-hitter ready for the bases-loaded situation, but Gillaspie deliver. Bumgarner did too, and Brandon Belt added a three-run shot, raising his fist as he passed first base.
It was all calm waters from there, with Bumgarner becoming the third-youngest pitcher to reach 100 victories with the Giants. At 27 years, 60 days old, Bumgarner said this accomplishment is special. But it's one he'll have to cherish later.
"There's a lot more at stake right now," he said.
The tension will return to AT&T Park on Saturday afternoon, with rookie Ty Blach facing Clayton Kershaw. Blach, in his second career start, will face a team that has trouble with left-handers. His first start, Sunday in San Diego, didn't go well, but Bochy said he is confident.
"He's a tough competitor," Bochy said. "He's a guy we feel should be out there."
Blach will have plenty of backup, from Albert Suarez, to a rested bullpen, to starters Jeff Samardzija and possibly Johnny Cueto.
"I don't know who's not available," Bochy said. "They're all ready and set to go."
With a little help, the Giants can clinch a postseason spot Saturday afternoon. The Cardinals take on the Pirates in the morning, and a Cardinals loss plus a Giants win would clinch a wild-card matchup between the Giants and Mets. Bochy said his club is enjoying this weekend chase, and that certainly seemed apparent as the Giants pulled away. They know what stands in front of them over the weekend.
"It's up to us," Bochy said.