ORACLE PARK — Five days ago in Los Angeles, Madison Bumgarner didn’t have any answer for his worst career start against the rival Dodgers. When asked, after a a deluge of aquatic-themed stadium taunts, how he could gave up six runs and three homers in on 10 hits in just 3 2/3 innings in a stadium where he held a 2.34 career ERA, Bumgarner said, “Don’t know.”
Back in the Bay on Tuesday, Bumgarner found not only answers, but arguably the best command he’s had all season against a team he’s historically dominated at Oracle Park.
The Giants left-hander struck out a season-high 11 Colorado Rockies in a 4-2 win, making history while his offense picked him up with timely hitting. It wasn’t a complete win — those have been in short supply this season — but it did something to wash out the sour taste of the San Francisco ace’s last outing, and upped his all-important trade value.
“He’s shown that ability so many times coming of a bad start to put it behind him, to wash it off and bounce back,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He did that tonight.”
Bumgarner had sensed all season that he’d restricted himself to one side of the plate during at-bats. It got progressively worse. He didn’t realize how bad it had gotten until he watched tape of the Dodgers game last week. He came out steady and measured, attacking both sides against the Rockies and struck out six of the first nine men he faced.
“The plate’s small enough as it is,” Bumgarner said. “Better use the whole thing … You see it, and you’re like, ‘Man, what are you doing?’”
That his revelation came against Colorado wasn’t entirely a surprise. Bumgarner had dominated the Rockies at Oracle Park, going 9-2 with a 1.94 ERA in 17 starts, recording quality starts in each of his last eight. His effort on Tuesday was the 33rd time in his career he broke double digits in strikeouts, and gave the Giants their first back-to-back double-digit strikeout games by starters since Sept. 27-29, 2016 (Matt Moore, Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto), fittingly against the Rockies.
San Francisco tried a bit of novelty to shake free some early offense in support of Bumgarner, hitting Brandon Belt (the team’s OBP leader) in the leadoff spot. It didn’t pay immediate dividends — he struck out on three pitches in the first — but it did pay.
“He came back in and I told him, ‘You’re supposed to make me look good,’ and he laughed” Bochy said.
In the third, one pitch after home plate umpire called time out while Chi Chi Gonzalez was midway though his delivery, Brandon Crawford — aboard on a leadoff single — broke for second on first motion. Donovan Solano rolled a single through the left side, right through the spot just vacated by shortstop Garrett Hampson, moving Crawford to third.
A bouncer to third by Bumgarner erased Crawford, but he stayed in a rundown long enough for Solano to reach third and Bumgarner to move up to second. A sac fly to center by Belt turned that heads-up base running into a run one batter later.
“He’ll do it tomorrow,” Bochy said. “He’ll be back in there tomorrow. It didn’t look too smart the first at-bat.”
One inning later, Ian Desmond tied things up with a solo homer to left, breaking a streak of 10 men retired by Bumgarner to start the game.
San Francisco answered right back in the fourth with a fading two-out RBI single to right by Donovan Solano — his second hit of the day — and a full-count, two-out single to left by Bumgarner that brought the Oracle Park crowd to its feet.
While at times, Bumgarner was electric on the mound — striking out nine of the first 18 men he faced — he needed a lot of pitches to get there, including 20 in the first inning. After a pair of walks and a strikeout in the fifth, he got a fielder’s choice groundout and then fanned Gonzalez — hitting for himself with men at the corners — to end the threat and head to the dugout sitting on 79 pitches.
After a wrong turn by Kevin Pillar turned an out into a leadoff double by Charlie Blackmon in the sixth, Bumgarner looked to get out of the inning unscathed, but Alex Dickerson lost a two-out pop fly to left by David Dahl in the twilight sky for a run-scoring two-bagger, despite the best efforts of both Pillar and Crawford.
Bumgarner then caught Ryan McMahon looking for his final strikeout of the night.
In the seventh, pinch hitter Tyler Austin crushed a 90-mph, center-cut fastball from reliever Shaw 410 feet away to dead center field, a solo homer that left the bat at 108.77 mph, and gave the Giants some breathing room.
Bumgarner’s 11 strikeouts (the first time he’s done that since April 2, 2017) moved him into third place all by himself on the club’s West Coast-era career strikeouts list with 1,695, passing Matt Cain. Next up are Tim Lincecum (1,704) and Juan Marichal (2,281).
“It’s pretty special to me, to be on any kind of leader board … for this organization,” Bumgarner said. “It’s been around a long time, and a lot of really good players come through here. It’s definitely an honor.”
Bumgarner, though, likely won’t get close to Marichal. As arguably the Giants’ best trade piece, his value to teams in contention waxes and wanes with each start. Even with the hiccup in Los Angeles, his ERA since May 1 is 4.15. Without that blip, it’s 3.52. In 11 of his 12 starts since the beginning of May, he’s gone at least six innings.
“He had the hiccup last start, but he’s really, really been himself,” Bochy said.