KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In the moments just before the seventh game of the World Series, 10 San Francisco Giants pitchers made their way through shallow left field, careful not to step on the infield dirt, and headed out to the bullpen in right to take a seat, to watch and wait. They didn’t know at that hour, before Kauffman Stadium came absolutely unhinged, who would be used or for how long. But there had to be a feeling unlike any other in the 177 games they had played thus far: The call could come for any of them at any time. When the phone rings, pick it up, pray — and pitch.
The feeling was no different in left, where nine Kansas City Royals sat, those same thoughts of uncertainty on the bench beside them. When?
“There’s no game tomorrow,” Royals reliever Wade Davis said. “We’ve got a couple months to rest. We all would’ve gave our arm out there for that game.”
There have been 37 Game 7s in the World Series and none in which outs were more precious than Wednesday night. The pitchers when the evening began were Tim Hudson of the Giants, making his 470th major league start, and Jeremy Guthrie of the Kansas City Royals, starting for the 251st time. This was not to be confused with Roger Clemens vs. Curt Schilling, Phoenix, November 2001. When had so little been expected of two starters? They will forever be the answer to trivia questions now.
“Everybody knew that this game would be played much different,” Guthrie said afterward, “a very different style of baseball than what everybody’s used to.”
So different that, hours before the game started, Kansas City Manager Ned Yost offered this: “Hooks are going to be quick.” Wait. Was he pulling Guthrie before he even took the mound?
Jack Morris was on hand. Twenty-three years and two days earlier, he recorded 27 outs in the seventh game of the World Series, then asked to get three more. Bullpen? Please. His Minnesota Twins beat the Atlanta Braves, 1-0. What must he have thought of this similarly tense — but wholly different — 3-2 victory that brought the San Francisco Giants their third World Series title in five years?
The sum total Wednesday night read like something from a Grapefruit League game. Outs recorded by the starting pitchers: 15. Outs asked of the bullpens: 39. Runs allowed by the starters: five in five total innings. Runs allowed by the bullpens: zero in 13 innings. Hudson’s start, in which he got one out in the second and was yanked with two in and two on, was the shortest in a seventh game of the World Series since 1960, when Bob Turley of the Yankees faced just one batter in the second.
That was an era when such performances were oddities, even in the face of enormous urgency. Wednesday night felt like a version of the new postseason norm. Sure, there are the odd Madison Bumgarners — you may have heard of him, and we’ll get to him in a bit. But the modern reality is that frail pitchers facing hitters happy to take three pitches and foul off three more simply can’t pitch deep into October games. In a scenario such as Game 7, they certainly can’t be allowed to work through an issue or make a correction midgame, because it’s not mid-June. Indeed, Hudson’s five-out start came a night after Jake Peavy recorded four outs for the Giants, and no one thought much of it. Get the next, better guy in — and pronto.
This was, then, the Royals’ greatest hope. Because when Yost came to get Guthrie with one out and two on in the fourth, the score tied 2-2, there was no questioning his choice: Kelvin Herrera, the dominant right-hander from regular season seventh innings gone by. Twice in his 80 previous outings this season, Herrera had appeared in the fifth. Never earlier. Here he was in the fourth, setting up the baton relay to Davis and then Greg Holland, the closer — all to cover 17 outs.
“They carried us,” Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “They really carried us the whole way this postseason. . . . They were the strength of our team.”
Michael Morse fisted a single to right field, the muscled base hit that drove in Pablo Sandoval with the go-ahead run. But Herrera, after that, struck out four men in covering 22 / 3 innings. Three times during the season and once during the playoffs, Yost had coaxed six outs from his right arm. Here were eight — unprecedented — providing the bridge to the seventh inning.
That got it to Davis, and again, what more could be asked? Davis: Seven batters faced, Sandoval’s two-out double in the eighth the only mark against him, six outs to keep it 3-2. That got it to Holland to hold serve again. Three batters faced, two strikeouts, in the ninth.
“They did it again tonight,” Hosmer said.
Each time that bullpen door swung open in left, Royals fans felt comfortable. The problem was the bullpen door in right. Jeremy Affeldt was the first reliever called on by San Francisco Manager Bruce Bochy, and he not only got the final out of the second but hung zeroes in the next two innings — his 22nd straight postseason appearance without allowing a run. List of players with a longer such streak: Mariano Rivera, with 23.
And then the bullpen door swung open for the bottom of the fifth. Bumgarner appeared. Santiago Casilla is the Giants’ closer. Sergio Romo recorded the final out in the 2012 World Series. Javier Lopez is an accomplished lefty specialist.
On a night when everyone needed to be ready, relax.
“We had Romo and those guys ready,” Peavy said, holding a beer in one hand and a bottle of champagne in the other. “This is our guy. We lived and died with him, and he brought us to the promised land.”
The 10 men who walked out to the Giants’ bullpen to start the game largely sat still. Two days after he pitched a complete-game shutout, Bumgarner pitched the fifth, the sixth, the seventh, the eighth, Kauffman Stadium dreading each frame. When he closed it out in the ninth, a five-inning save the likes of which have rarely been seen, the new norm had been twisted again. Maybe the best October starting pitching can come at the end of the game if necessary, too.
Wednesday night, the bullpen in left did its job, each man who walked through the gate going above and beyond. But it didn’t contain the one-man elixir to the ills of October starting pitching: Bumgarner. For once, keep the gate closed. Open it again only when those idle relievers could stream through and join the celebration.
Boswell: Bumgarner is just scary good
Box score: Giants 3, Royals 2