A Big Night for More Than Just Bumgarner
Madison Bumgarner‘s performance tonight was tremendous, but there isn’t much I can say about that you won’t in a million other places tonight and tomorrow, except perhaps for one thing. When Bumgarner was asked after the game what he owed his incredible post-season success, he was modest and honest enough to say that he had been very lucky in his post-season games.
Of course, Madison is extremely talented, but no one is really as good as he’s pitched in his four career World Series starts to date. Clearly, he’s better than many at staying focused in the big games. However, at this level many major league players are capable of maintaining their focus in the World Series and, if everything breaks right for them, having great success.
By the same token, many great players have poor World Series performances one year but have sensational performances at some other time in their careers. Gil Hodges went 0-for-21 in the 1952 World Series, but hit .364 in the 1953 Series and .391 in the 1959 Series. Hodges was essentially the same player all along, but in one short series he was stupendously bad and in a couple of others he was a major star. Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra, all legendary World Series performers, each had at least one World Series in which they stunk. Reggie Jackson never had a bad World Series at the plate, but had a couple of League Championship Series in which he didn’t hit a lick.
It tends to even out over time, but very few players get to play in enough post-seasons for that to happen.
One thing to say for Bumgarner, however, is that he is obviously great at keeping an even keel. He stays humble, works hard and doesn’t over-think his on-field performance. It certainly makes it easy to root for him when his hard work pays off.
The player in today’s game I’m most excited for, though, is Giants’ bench-player Juan Perez. Like Travis Ishikawa in the NLCS, Perez has paid his professional dues, and, quite frankly, isn’t likely to have even as successful a major league career as Ishikawa has had. He’s more likely to be next Al Gionfriddo or Brian Doyle, than he is to be playing in the major leagues five years from now. However, like Gionfriddo and Doyle, he’s now had his one shining World Series moment where he broke open a close game with a drive that came about three inches short of a home run against the pitcher who was probably the best reliever in the American League this year. Now, he’ll be able to tell his grandchildren about what he did as a major league player, although one of the little snot-noses will probably ask him why he didn’t hit the ball out for a home run.
One of the most significant moments in tonight’s game was Brandon Belt’s bunt single against the shift in the second inning. It was the first bunt hit of Belt’s major league career. However, with the new emphasis on dramatic shifts against many hitters in the last couple of seasons, we are going to see a lot more players start to bunt against the shift.
In the case of Belt’s bunt tonight, it was absolutely the right play, because even without the bunt resulting in a hit, it would have moved Hunter Pence into scoring position with only one out in what was expected to be a pitchers’ duel. There are many, many situations in the course of a season when all but the most lead-footed sluggers should bunt in order to beat the shift. In fact, unlike a lot of other baseball skills, which take a lifetime to develop, bunting is something that most players can practice and become adequate at in a relatively short period of time.