KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Royals clung this October to the well-founded belief they owned the most dominant bullpen in the major leagues. On Wednesday night, Madison Bumgarner emerged from the gates of the left field corner at Kauffman Stadium and informed them of their mistake. The best bullpen in baseball, Bumgarner let them know, with no shortage of menace, dangled from his colossal left shoulder. The best bullpen in baseball was him.
Every Royal was a little boy once, and they all dreamed of standing at the plate in Game 7 of the World Series. Childhood fantasies do not include facing a 6-foot-5 force of nature with an invisible cut fastball and malice pulsing through his veins. They do not account for a little boy who grew up in western North Carolina and became a crusher of dreams.
“Yeah,” Royals Manager Ned Yost said. “It was hopeless.”
The San Francisco Giants won their third World Series title in five years Wednesday night with a 3-2 victory over the Royals in Game 7. Three days after he fired a 117-pitch shutout in San Francisco in Game 5, Bumgarner took the ball with a one-run lead in the fifth. He held it five scoreless innings, retired 14 consecutive hitters and stranded the tying run on third base after an error behind him in the ninth inning.
“We played good baseball,” Giants slugger Michael Morse said. “And we had a guy named Madison Bumgarner.”
The final out came on Bumgarner’s 68th pitch. It landed in the glove of third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who fell to the ground. Bumgarner, the runaway series MVP, hugged his catcher Buster Posey, watched a pile of teammates form and stepped away. Bumgarner removed his cap, kneeled on the ground behind the pitchers’ mound and dipped his head.
The Giants won because they have Bumgarner and the Royals could summon only mortals. Bumgarner pitched 21 innings of the 110th World Series, more than a full third of the 61 innings the Giants threw as a team. His career ERA in the Fall Classic shrank to 0.25. If not for a technicality, he would have become the first pitcher to earn three wins in a single World Series since Randy Johnson in 2001. He settled for two wins, a five-inning save and a team on his back.
“There’s nobody that has single-handedly beat somebody the way he did us,” Royals designated hitter Billy Butler said. “He separated himself. He went to a different level.”
Bumgarner’s final out came with a man on third base as Kauffman Stadium shook. With two outs in the ninth, Alex Gordon ripped a line drive into center field. Gregor Blanco charged and then backpedaled. The ball skipped off the slick outfield and past him. Gordon sprinted around the bases as the crowd, starved for its first champion in three decades, screamed.
Left fielder Juan Perez bobbled the ball at the wall as Gordon charged around second. Third base coach Mike Jirschele held up his hands: Stop. Gordon halted as Perez’s relay throw one-hopped into shortstop Brandon Crawford’s glove. Would he have scored? They will talk about it here for another 29 years.
“It’s always tempting,” Jirschele said. “But I got to look at the situation. If I feel there’s no chance he’s going to score right there, I got to shut him down.”
Instead, he stayed on third base. Bumgarner heaved pitches wide of Salvador Perez. He chased them until he popped one up. And the season ended.
“I knew Perez was going to want to do something big,” Bumgarner said. “We tried to use that aggressiveness and throw our pitches up in the zone.”
Bumgarner’s dominance rendered other events Wednesday night as footnotes. His dominance allowed Morse’s RBI bloop single to right field off rocket-armed reliever Kelvin Herrera in the fourth inning to hold up as the winning run. Giants starter Tim Hudson endured the shortest World Series Game 7 start since Bob Turley tossed one inning for the New York Yankees in 1960. Jeremy Affeldt earned the win for his 21 / 3 scoreless innings.
The Royals, in search of their first World Series title since 1985, became the first team to lose a Game 7 at home since the 1979 Baltimore Orioles, spoiling a thrilling postseason in which they won their first eight games.
The specter of Bumgarner hovered over the entire night. After the Giants lost Game 6, reporters asked Bumgarner how long he could pitch. “As long as you’re getting outs,” Bumgarner said. “I feel like pitch counts are overrated. So whatever.”
Bumgarner walked through the bullpen gates at 8:54 p.m. Central time, with the Giants ahead 3-2. His presence ignited the ballpark, and Bumgarner squared off against both Royals batters and a wall of sound. On two days’ rest, he did not have his best command. Omar Infante jumped ahead in the count and stroked a sweet opposite-field single. The stadium erupted.
Alcides Escobar bunted Infante to second base. The crowd shrieked as Nori Aoki roped a liner to left field but hushed after Juan Perez chased it down on the foul line. Lorenzo Cain separated Bumgarner from another scoreless inning. Bumgarner rifled a 93-mph fastball over the outside corner and at the letters, and Cain swung through it.
Bumgarner had used his first inning to settle in. He shredded through the middle of the Royals’ lineup — Eric Hosmer, Butler and Gordon — in 12 pitches, including just two balls and three swinging strikes. He made a mockery of the bottom third of the order, throwing nine strikes in nine pitches and fooling Infante with a 75-mph curveball. The phrase “pitch count” did not surface in the Giants’ dugout.
“There was nothing,” Bumgarner said. “I was just concentrating on making pitches. I wasn’t thinking about how many innings I was going to go or how many pitches or anything of that.”
Bumgarner had thrown 36 pitches. Before the game, pitching coach Dave Righetti had told Manager Bruce Bochy he could throw between 50 and 70 pitches. The Giants’ bullpen remained quiet as a library. Bumgarner began the eighth inning — his fourth — by striking out Escobar flailing at a 92-mph fastball. Aoki grounded out.
When Cain walked to the plate, Righetti turned to Bochy in the dugout. He noted that Cain had taken long at-bats against Bumgarner all series. Righetti asked Bochy whether he wanted reliever Sergio Romo to prepare to face Butler, the fifth hitter, if both Cain and Hosmer reached before him. Bochy turned away.
“That was the last conversation we had,” Righetti said.
Cain popped up. Bumgarner had retired 12 consecutive hitters, only four of whom could hit the ball to the outfield. Three more outs and they would hoist the trophy.
“If Bochy would have told Bum he was done,” Affeldt said, “I think he would have had two pitchers out there standing on the mound.”
The Royals’ excellent bullpen had smothered the Giants. As closer Greg Holland bulldozed through the ninth, the Giants’ bullpen remained dormant. Bumgarner walked to the mound in the bottom of the inning, scooped the ball with his black glove and dabbed his left hand with rosin.
All night, 40,535 fans had filled a baseball with as much noise as a crowd can. They chanted “Let’s go Roy-als!” as Hosmer dug in. Bumgarner fell behind 2-0. And then he struck out Hosmer with a 92-mph fastball above the letters. Butler popped to first. Bumgarner needed one more out, and it came the hard way.
The Giants had seized the lead in the second inning with two runs off of Jeremy Guthrie. The Royals had responded in the second by tying the score at 2 and knocking out Hudson. Guthrie left with runners on the corners and two outs in the fourth. Yost turned to his remarkable relief trio of Herrera, Wade Davis and Holland for 17 outs. Herrera blazed an 0-2 fastball and broke Morse’s bat. Morse still muscled it over the infield and into shallow right to give the Giants a 3-2 lead.
The Giants needed to do only one more thing and hand their season to Bumgarner. They planned for him to bridge the gap to closer Santiago Casilla. They hoped he could do more.
“It’s a wonderful dream,” Righetti said. “And he wanted to do it.”
Boswell: Bumgarner is just scary good
Box score: Giants 3, Royals 2
On Baseball: Bullpens turn both starters into bit players