And so the reign ends, amid a rain of unhittable pitches from Clayton Kershaw, leaving an aftertaste far more wicked than the garlic fries. If there’s a bitterness to being eliminated from postseason contention on home soil, it’s the worst level of fan torture having to watch the loathed Dodgers party in the infield, particularly when the bubbly-soaked celebrants once again are too flawed and flaky to win what the Giants have won three times this decade.
“Beat L.A.! Beat L.A.!” the diehards chanted early Tuesday night.
By game’s end, those who still remained were lightly booing after the season’s 75th loss, a fatal 8-0 defeat that removes Champion from the city and nickname and makes the Giants one of 29 clubs that won’t win the World Series. As Kershaw raised his arms and grinned after pitching a one-hit, complete-game shutout in an 8-0 obliteration, the AT&T Park scoreboard flashed a message intended as classy — and a subtle plea for people not to engage in violence that has left fans dead and paralyzed in this rivalry.
Somehow, no one was in the mood to respect much of anything. Wisely, as a manager should, Bruce Bochy did take time afterward to salute a team that dealt with serious injuries all season and used kids and plug-ins to hang in a division race until the final days.
“They fought. They fought hard. They had an uphill climb,” he said. “It’s always tough when this happens, but when you go to the last week and still have a chance — to be honest, I’m so proud of these guys and everything they had to deal with. We were short.”
This isn’t the time to belabor what the front office didn’t do — that is, acquire a second top-line pitcher that might have meant the difference, even with the many injuries, in the six games separating them from the National League West winners. We’ve done enough of that already, and the big bosses don’t listen anyway, busy as they are counting megaprofits. What we’ll do now is look ahead, to winter, and tell the Giants what must happen to ensure they’re contending for a championship in the next even-numbered season.
They must acquire a second top-line pitcher.
Sorry, but I refuse to abandon the narrative.
Watching Madison Bumgarner struggle in what should be his final start of the season, pushing his left arm well past 100 pitches early in the sixth inning, only reiterates the reality that grips this team. The Dodgers, with their issues, won the division because Kershaw has Zack Greinke as his partner in strikeout crime. After throwing 270 innings last season — 52 2/3 in the greatest October pitching performance ever — Bumgarner is overburdened and overworked, a harsh truth that the Giants stubbornly refute. Bochy is convinced that MadBum really is Paul Bunyan, but he happens to be a human being, proving it on a rough evening when he allowed three solo home runs. The last two, by Justin Ruggiano and A.J. Ellis on pitches Nos. 111 and 112, were walloped so hard into the left-field stands that the crowd grew hush, except for a larger-than-usual contingent of blue-clothed Dodgers fans who easily found tickets in a city that didn’t want to view an L.A. clinching.
It’s not just his workload, with 3,312 more pitches added to last year’s 4,074, meaning Bumgarner has violently whipped that shoulder almost 7,400 times in the last 18 months, not counting two spring trainings. It’s the burden of being the ace without having a 1-A as an accomplice, increasing the encumbrance. He embraces that pressure as the predominant starter, saying, “Personally, I want to be able to do that. They have confidence in me to do that. I think that’s uplifting to everybody.” But remember, before he broke through last autumn, Bumgarner was an above-average starter. He now is a full-blown elite pitcher, but his consistency this season was below that of Greinke, Chicago’s Jake Arrieta and Kershaw, who looked every bit his MVP-Cy Young self in holding the Giants to a third-inning single by Kevin Frandsen. In his last 16 starts, Kershaw is 11-1 with a 1.24 earned-run average. His 13 strikeouts, including six in a row in the middle innings, lifted his career-high to 294. He also contributed to Bumgarner’s fatigue with a 13-pitch at-bat in the fifth before grounding out.
Predictably, Bochy said Bumgarner has quieted the concerns about overuse. “He has to look at this as a great year,” he said. “There were questions with the workload he had last year, but he has pitched all these beautiful games. He’s special. He should be proud.” Behind the scenes, let’s hope Bochy employs his considerable influence to bring in that accomplice.
Bumgarner hasn’t missed a start all season in amassing 218 1/3 innings. “I expect to do that,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen in this game. Things can change real quickly for you. You don’t want to take anything for granted, so it’s good to come in and see all that work pay off for you.” He also doesn’t want to take his arm and body for granted, as Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum know.
Ask Kershaw how comforting it is to have another starter of his caliber. Then imagine Bumgarner matched with Greinke — a delicious possibility with the 31-year-old righthander sure to opt out of his contract in search of a $200-million-plus deal. What better to way to strengthen your team and weaken your rivals than by hijacking one of their aces? Here’s the problem: The Dodgers will throw a ton of money at Greinke, as they do in their historic bloatedness, while the Giants aren’t inclined to engage in bidding wars. They made an offer to Jon Lester last winter, yet there’s no evidence their bid was as competitive as those of Chicago, where he signed with the Cubs, or other teams.
Will Larry Baer and Brian Sabean chase Greinke or David Price? Or will they eschew the boutiques and shop in thriftier places, where they might find Mike Leake and Jordan Zimmermann? Leake was a major disappointment as the “major” pitching addition in late July, only leaving a leak in the rotation. But the flip side of his failure is that the Giants would get him cheaper in free agency, with the same applying to Zimmermann after a down season in Washington.
I realize the Giants have a successful formula. But their loyalty to Cain and Lincecum backfired this season. With a franchise valuation now topping $2 billion and a home sellout streak of 403 regular-season games, the front office has no reason not to splurge. The spring-training mix will include Jake Peavy (a No. 2 who should be a No. 3), Chris Heston (a No. 3 who should be a No. 4) and Cain (whose best days are behind him after elbow surgery).
As for Lincecum, he has been at the ballpark on crutches this week after Sept. 3 hip surgery. He leaves today for his continuing rehab in Arizona and vows to be ready for spring training. The Giants would like to bring him back with a minor-league deal after overpaying him the last two seasons, and the fact they are administering his comeback is a sign that The Freak isn’t done here.
“That would be really nice obviously, something to not to have to worry about if it comes to that,” Lincecum said of returning. “But right now, I think I’m kind of worried about myself a little bit. It sounds a little selfish, but this is the first time I’ve ever had to deal with a major injury. So I’m trying to get my mind around that.”
The Giants are in an awkward spot in regard to a possible Lincecum tribute this weekend. If they have a ceremony, are they saying goodbye? If they don’t have a ceremony, what if he leaves without a goodbye? “I hope something happens. Obviously, I would like to show my appreciation one way or another just because [the fans] have been with me day in and day out,” he said. “These fans don’t get paid to be here. It’s completely selfless, and to be able to kind of give yourself in that way as a fan of sports is pretty special. I can definitely relate to it.”
The fans gave this season.
Now, in the offseason, the Giants need to give back.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at email@example.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.Clayton KershawLos Angeles DodgersMadison BumgarnerSan Francisco Giants