SAN FRANCISCO — The space between the San Francisco Giants’ dugout and the bullpen mound in foul territory along the left field line remained empty almost all of Sunday night. It had been trampled for two days, same as the ground on the other side of AT&T Park, worn out as relievers scrambled to warm up. The other starting pitchers in the 110th World Series, the normal ones, had been prone to rallies and fatigue and the threat of an offense potent enough to win a pennant. Debate about when to pull the starter had hovered over the World Series. It did not apply to Madison Kyle Bumgarner.
“You look at your team, you look at your bullpen,” Giants right-hander Tim Hudson said. “You think, okay, is there anybody I have to put in this game better than what I got out there? And there ain’t. He’s the best player on the field anytime he takes the mound.”
The Giants moved one victory away from their third World Series in five seasons Sunday night with a 5-0 victory over the Kansas City Royals, a game Bumgarner clutched in a stranglehold for all nine innings he occupied the center of the diamond. By the end of his shutout, the Giants needed three outs for a 3-2 series lead and Bumgarner owned a 0.29 career ERA in the World Series, the best of any man to throw at least 25 innings in the Fall Classic. He had become the first man to throw a shutout in the World Series with no walks and at least eight strikeouts.
As fans chanted, “M-V-P!”, Bumgarner fired at Eric Hosmer his 117th pitch, a 3-2, 88-mph slider. Hosmer whacked it to third base. Pablo Sandoval fired across the diamond and completed the first World Series shutout since Josh Beckett’s clincher for the Florida Marlins in 2003. Minutes later, as he began a television interview, the crowd interrupted with a roar. Bumgarner lifted his cap and waved it around his head.
“That was pretty cool, actually,” Bumgarner said.
Bumgarner had just become the fourth pitcher to throw multiple shutouts in the same postseason, adding to the one he threw in the wild-card game to begin a postseason that has belonged to him. The others: Orel Hershiser, Beckett and Randy Johnson.
“That’s pretty special,” Bumgarner said. “That’s surprising. I wouldn’t have thought that.”
The series now heads back to Kansas City, and the Royals may feel like they have a chance Tuesday in Game 6 because they will look to the mound and see something other than Bumgarner’s 6-foot, 5-inch frame and unfeeling eyes. Royals ace James Shields redeemed his Game 1 meltdown with six strong innings himself, but he wilted in comparison to Bumgarner. The Giants’ offensive peskiness and the Royals’ surprising defensive malaise led to two runs off Shields.
The leading candidate for Series most valuable player needed nothing else. Five days after he allowed the Royals one run in seven innings in Game 1, Bumgarner allowed none on four hits and no walks. He struck out eight Royals and made sport of so many others.
In the fourth inning, he threw Lorenzo Cain a 65-mph curveball and followed it with a 92-mph fastball. Leading off the eighth, Bumgarner froze pinch hitter Billy Butler with a 76-mph curve that carried one message: Kindly leave the box, Billy. The dugout is that way.
“When you thought you knew something, he did the exact opposite,” Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas said. “That’s what makes him good right now. He was throwing his fastball for strikes, and his slider was sweeping in across the zone. Just tough at-bats.”
Bumgarner retired 10 consecutive batters at one point, and then he retired the last nine hitters he faced. He crushed rallies before they had a chance to form, a dictator stifling dissent. With men on base, the Royals went 0 for 9 with six strikeouts.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Hudson said. “There’s probably been better stat lines. To have done it on this stage, a game that’s so important, he’s got ice water through his veins. He’s pretty special.”
His dominance erased the need for tough choices. Hosmer grounded a single through the right side to lead off the seventh inning. The No. 5 and 6 hitters loomed with a man on base and no outs, a scenario that for the past three games had constituted an emergency for either manager. Bruce Bochy did not budge. The Giants’ relievers watched from the dugout.
Salvador Perez provided a brief scare with a booming liner to left, but defensive replacement Juan Perez made an easy catch on the warning track. Moustakas flied out to right-center field. Bumgarner induced a groundball by Omar Infante with his 95th pitch, an 87-mph cutter-slider hybrid, to third base. Sandoval made the play, and Bumgarner patted the inside of his glove and walked to the dugout.
“It’s in-between,” catcher Buster Posey said. “Sometimes it acts more like a cutter. Sometimes it acts more like a slider. That’s something he’s really done well as he’s gotten older, is changing speeds on his offspeed pitches.”
After he recorded the second out of the eighth inning, Bumgarner circled the mound and blew his nose into his jersey. Alcides Escobar stood at the plate. The crowd stood and roared, waving orange towels over their heads. With his 107th pitch, Bumgarner rifled a 92-mph fastball. Escobar skied it to left field, and it landed safely in Perez’s glove.
“I thought he was just as strong,” Posey said. “What’s so impressive is he’s been able to maintain the velocity, maintain the command. It’s October 26, and he’s as strong as he is in May.”
The stadium erupted with applause, just in case they would not see Bumgarner for another six months, before opening day. They saw him in the bottom of the inning, with a bat in his hands.
The Giants’ offense mounted a rally in the bottom of the eighth against Kelvin Herrera. Wade Davis replaced him, and Perez, a light-hitting outfielder, came within inches and hitting the first homer all season against Davis. Two runners crossed.
Closer Santiago Casilla had been warming up, the first reliever to grace the bullpen all night. Once the Giants’ lead grew to 4-0, he walked back to the dugout. Bumgarner appeared in the on-deck circle, bat on his shoulder. As he stood at the plate, the crowd chanted, “M-V-P! M-V-P!”
“I thought about maybe taking him out,” Bochy said. “But he was throwing too good.”
He struck out and then trudged to the mound. A fly ball to right and a grounder to short brought him one out away.
“I actually became a fan in the ninth,” reliever Jeremy Affeldt said.
Hosmer grounded to the left side of the infield, the final brushstroke of Bumgarner’s masterpiece. Teammates lined up to celebrate the third win of the World Series. There was no doubt who had done the most to get them there, who had been the best player on the field.