As great as Madison Bumgarner's night was Wednesday, when he pitched the Giants, on the road, into the National League Division Series, there had to be a part of him that was bitterly disappointed.
Bumgarner, you see, prides himself on being not just a great pitcher. He fancies himself a complete, solid, all-around baseball player.
Not a pitcher. A ballplayer.
And Bumgarner the ballplayer went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts on Wednesday. So what we all saw as a complete game, he likely saw as most incomplete.
This is suspected based on an hourlong chat I had with MadBum early last season. I was working on a magazine article, the premise for which was an ace-in-training angle. Predictably, Bumgarner wanted no part of that angle. He's not comfortable with the spotlight squarely trained on him while he's not on the mound. Clearly, he's quite comfortable when the spotlight is on him on the bump, but that's merely a measure of his confidence in his physical abilities.
This is a man who will never be accused of digging himself. What he is, that rare hour of one-on-one time revealed, is a man committed to getting every ounce of production out of the talent with which he's been blessed.
<p>To that end, he is not the kind of pitcher who simply puts in his “side work” during the four days between starts and serves as a cheerleader for the other six to seven hours he spends at the yard on those days. He is a rarity of sorts, intensely committed to taking advantage of every resource available to a major-leaguer.
The way he sees it, every member of the coaching staff is there for him. To teach him to be a better hitter. To teach him to be a better bunter. To teach him to be a better baserunner. To teach him to be a better fielder.
The way he sees it, there are a million little ways to help himself win a ballgame, even if he's not pitching particularly well.
You don't think he's become one of the most dangerous-hitting pitchers in the league just because he's been around for a while, do you? No, he's become dangerous because he absolutely grinds on it, just as he grinds on improving every other part of his game, on the mound and off.
It's why he's become a quiet but hugely respected team leader. He leads by production, he leads by example. There isn't a single player on the Giants who doesn't know that Bumgarner is putting every single ounce of effort in his body into making himself and the team better.
If Wednesday night didn't do it, it might never happen. If the rest of the country outside the Bay Area wasn't yet hip to what a dominant force Bumgarner can be when he's on top of his game, his masterful performance in the wildcard game had to have done the trick.
Locally, we've all watched Bumgarner's ascent to the elite with a clear sense that it was a matter of when not if. Well, here we are. An ace in training no longer, he's the clear stud of the staff that's been rock-solid for the better part of a half ticket.
His coming-out party, of course, came when he was a mere 20 years old, helping the Giants win their first World Series since moving west to San Francisco with a performance for the ages, on the road, against the mighty Texas Rangers.
It was then that everybody knew the expectations were spot-on. Bumgarner was destined for greatness, to be a leader of even the saltiest old men.
He was that throughout this regular season, he was that Wednesday night, and if the fickle baseball gods decide that Monday will be a night on which they offer a modicum of fairness, he'll throw up yet another playoff gem.
But if he does throw up a gem and takes another 0-fer, don't expect to see him doing cartwheels. A complete game is not just starting and finishing a game. It's complete, in Bumgarner's busy mind, when he's doing it all.