SAN FRANCISCO -- Madison Bumgarner turned and briefly watched Manny Machado's low liner. It kept going and going, as if wings sprouted from the seams halfway through the flight.
It was the kind of homer you didn't see in previous years, and after his start last Friday, Bumgarner could do nothing but shake his head and say he thought the ball had no shot of leaving the yard.
"This year has been kind of funny," Bumgarner said. "Not funny to pitchers, but funny to everybody else."
In a year when the ball is obviously juiced, pitchers have learned to take some stats with a grain of salt. It's expected that you'll give up a homer or two when out there. Most starters aren't allowed to face a lineup for a third time anymore. The old standards have changed.
But for the Giants' ace, a very simple stat remains the benchmark.
"If I had to pick the most important thing to me, pick one, I would say innings is it," he said.
Bumgarner always has cared most deeply about carrying a heavy load for his team, and this season he's back to his workhorse ways. With 176 2/3 innings, he trails just Stephen Strasburg in the NL. When Bumgarner records his eighth out Wednesday night against the Cardinals, he'll be back atop the leaderboard.
The Giants have needed every ounce of that effort. Their rotation mostly has been filled with inconsistent young pitchers, and even veteran Jeff Samardzija has been limited to five or six innings for most of the season as he works back from a year wrecked by a shoulder injury.
Samardzija was told this spring that his old goal of 200 innings was no longer the benchmark, but Bumgarner has a good shot of getting back there after two seasons shortened by injuries. He is scheduled to make five more starts, and the Giants could use off days to slide him back into the rotation on the final day of the season, and Bruce Bochy's career.
Bochy has tried to pull back on Bumgarner a bit this season, and on at least a couple of occasions it has been surprising to see Bumgarner replaced earlier than expected. His longtime manager now talks often of taking care of his ace, but Bochy still takes pretty close to as much Bumgarner as he can get.
"He's approaching the 200-inning mark again and that's what makes him so valuable, too," Bochy said. "It's not just how good he is, but the workload he carries."
More and more, that's being subtracted from today's game. When Bumgarner last had a fully healthy season, he threw 226 2/3 innings. Nobody in the NL will come close to that season, and it may be that only four or five guys get to 200. It's a mark that doesn't mean what it once did, but to Bumgarner, it's still important.
"If you throw a lot of innings and you're out there, everything else is usually taking care of itself," he said.