SAN FRANCISCO - Three months ago, when he was sitting in the trainer's room at Scottsdale Stadium, his pinky fractured and much of his season lost to a fluke, would Madison Bumgarner have taken this? Would the man with such high standards have been okay with 42-39 at the halfway point, given all that this team has been through?
"I don't know," he said slowly Wednesday night. "I don't know."
Bumgarner paused and thought for another second.
"Obviously everyone here would have liked to have done better, but at the same time, we're got to feel good about what we did," he said after a 1-0 win. "You always want more, but the spot we're in right now is not a bad place to be."
The Giants are on pace for 84 wins, which is light years ahead of last year's pace, but won't get you a division title. It won't get Bumgarner back into the Wild Card Game that he has twice dominated, but this team is trending upwards, and Bumgarner provides the greatest ray of light. In his fourth start back, he looked quite a bit like his old self. In his fifth start back, he took it up another notch. Bumgarner had all his pitches working Wednesday, particularly a cutter that he threw 28 times and buried on the back foot of right-handed hitters. His fastball was firm and placed wherever he wanted.
On a night he hit 1,500 strikeouts, Bumgarner went seven shutout innings, giving him 15 shutout frames over his last two starts. On this night, it wasn't enough for a win in his column, but the Giants came away victorious. Brandon Crawford took lefty Harrison Musgrave into the arcade in the bottom of the ninth for the only run of the night. The walk-off was the third of Crawford's career, and second against a lefty reliever from the Rockies. He hit a similar shot off Rex Brothers early in his career.
Asked what he was thinking in the emotional moment, Crawford, who is having a career year, smiled.
"We have a day game tomorrow," he said, "So everyone wanted to go home."
At 12:45 p.m. on Thursday, the Giants will try to finish off an 8-2 homestand and start their second 81 with another surge of momentum. Already, they are riding high, and not just because of the recent wins. The ballpark has a different feel when Bumgarner is on the mound, and he had it shaking early on Wednesday. The Rockies didn't have a hit until Carlos Gonzalez blooped a double with two down in the fifth.
"He really had all of his pitches going again and he mixed it up well," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He really had good command there, and a lot of strikes early The ball-to-strike ration was outstanding ... he's throwing the ball like Bum does. He's gotten back into pitching shape and he carried over the last game into this game."
This was another step toward normalcy for Bumgarner, who finally looks like his old self after missing most of the first half with that fracture. He threw his hardest pitch of the year at 92.3 mph. His cutter, which was late-arriving upon his return, had another tick or two on the radar gun all night long. Bumgarner said he felt stronger, and a bit better than in his last start, when he went eight shutout innings.
This start even had one more aspect of a classic Bumgarner start: With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Bochy sent Bumgarner up to hit for himself even though Will Smith would take over in the top of the eighth. Bumgarner was given a chance to bash his way to a lead, but he struck out. He appreciated the gesture, though.
"That means a lot that Boch has enough confidence to give me a chance there," he said.
Perhaps that's the next aspect of this team to return. The Giants haven't seen Bumgarner swing a powerful bat yet, but there's plenty of time left. Eighty-one down, eighty-one to go, and they're right in the race, with their best player back and leading the way.
"It's not where we wanted to be, but I think when you consider everything that's happened, yeah, you take it," Bochy said. "It really is a credit to those guys with all they've been through. They found a way to hang in there."