LOS ANGELES -- Three hours before the first pitch Thursday, a few minutes after the Dodgers had started batting practice, Madison Bumgarner strolled onto the field in Giants shorts and flip-flops. He spent some time with Clayton Kershaw, a longtime opponent and friend, and then walked over and spoke with Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who greeted Bumgarner with a big hug.
The Dodgers have their own season to worry about, but they knew what this night meant for Bumgarner. Kershaw had earlier told The Orange County Register that "any team that gets him is getting one of the best competitors we've got." Bumgarner's 35th start in a storied rivalry was almost certainly his last, with the strong likelihood that he will be traded in the next six weeks.
The night did not go anywhere close to what Bumgarner hoped. He was shelled, the ball elevating on him in the fourth inning as the Dodgers scored five runs. This was Bumgarner's shortest start against the Dodgers, but that tells you something, too. The left-hander has made more than a season's worth of starts against the Dodgers and put up Cy Young Award-worthy numbers.
If that was truly it, it's worth appreciating what Bumgarner has done against the rival over the past decade, especially given how tough the Dodgers have been on opposing pitchers while winning six consecutive NL West titles. This year's team will cruise to a seventh and has the deepest and most dangerous lineup in the National League, but before Thursday's game, Bumgarner had held the 2019 Dodgers to two earned runs in 19 innings.
"It's who he is," manager Bruce Bochy said before the game. "He's a battler and he competes so well. They have a great lineup and he gives you all he has. He's always had the ability to turn it up, so to speak, or rise to the occasion."
On this night at Dodger Stadium, Bumgarner didn't. But that didn't put too big a dent in his overall numbers. He first faced the Dodgers on September 19, 2009, as a 20-year-old rookie, coming out of the bullpen for a scoreless inning in a blowout loss. That was Bumgarner's second appearance in the big leagues. He struck out Doug Mientkiewicz and Ronnie Belliard. Bochy, apparently unaware of what was to come, pinch-hit for Bumgarner in the bottom of the inning.
Since then, Bumgarner has made 35 starts, facing the Dodgers at least once every season and as many as five times as Bochy sometimes shifted his rotation to get Bumgarner lined up against the Dodgers. He did so again last week. Bumgarner has a 2.72 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 225 1/3 innings against the Dodgers, going 15-14 with 8.7 strikeouts-per-nine.
Part of what made Thursday night so surprising was that Bumgarner has always been dominant at Dodger Stadium. His 22 appearances there are more than any park but Oracle and he has a 2.67 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. In 21 previous starts at Dodger Stadium, Bumgarner had pitched seven or more innings 11 times. The only other start that didn't last five innings came eight years ago.
Of course, there's another element to all of this, too. When the Dodgers' pre-game show tried to set the stage for the game, they showed Bumgarner jawing at Yasiel Puig, Max Muncy and Alex Guerrero, but they also showed his home runs. In 76 at-bats against the Dodgers, Bumgarner has 15 hits, including four homers. He took Hyun-Jin Ryu and Zack Greinke deep and got to Kershaw twice.
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Bumgarner might have thought about all that history at some point Thursday. Asked after the game about it being his last start in the rivalry, he nodded.
"I know it could be," he said. "Not that that had anything to do with the result. Mentally I was in the same place I always am."
The results weren't there, but if that was the last time Bumgarner faced the Dodgers as a Giant, it will still be remembered as a hell of a run.