I say we need to come up with a name or a new stat to quantify Madison Bumgarner’s feat of awesomeness last night.
The lefty of 52.2 postseason innings and not nearly as many words was initially credited with the win for his five innings of two-hit, no-run, little-hope-for-the-hitters relief work in the San Francisco Giants’ 3-2 victory in Game 7 of the World Series.
That was changed to a save before the postgame celebration was complete, with Jeremy Affeldt getting the win, a decision that confirmed a larger truth: Bumgarner deserved both the win and the save.
I don’t know what to call that rarity of excellence, though. You can’t smoothly combine win and save into one word. (The sin? The wave?) I suppose we could call it the Demoralizer for what seeing an ace stroll out from the bullpen does to the opposition. But that’s tough to fit into a box score.
Wait. Wait. It’s obvious. I know what to call it. Hell, we should have started calling it this 15 years ago.
That’s it. Hey, beats The MadBum, right?
Glad we’ve settled that. Now, the important question:
How can the Red Sox return to that singular place now occupied by the Giants?
The brilliant Bumgarner and the well-managed, well-rounded Giants formally ended the Red Sox’ reign as World Series champions last night. But in reality, it ended unofficially a long time ago, perhaps as far back as May, and certainly no later than the trade deadline.
As the postseason played on without the defending champions, there were moments of encouragement and discouragement in regard to the Red Sox’ hopes of playing meaningful games in October 2015. But now that we’ve gained the clarity having seen the season’s final scenes, I believe it’s more of the former.
The Giants — and the admirable, tortured Royals too — are excellent teams, but imperfect. Neither won 90 games — the Royals prevailed in 89, the Giants took 88. Neither won their division — so much for that mattering, Tigers and Dodgers — and thus both emerged from the wild-card game.
Both had prolonged stretches of mediocrity or worse: The Giants were 41-40 from May 1 to July 31. The Royals went 22-30 from the beginning of June until the end of July. Hell, the Royals went 1-6 against the Red Sox this year. I was in the bleachers at this game with my dad and daughter, and departed thoroughly unimpressed.
Their lineups were fine, but hardly reminiscent of the 2003 Red Sox, you know? The only true hitting star in either lineup was Buster Posey, and he didn’t have an extra-base hit in the postseason.
The Giants’ secret was their above-average depth — every regular had an adjusted OPS of at least 103 during the regular season. But there were holes. Juan Perez, chosen (wisely, it turned out) to start over Travis Ishikawa in Game 7, hit .170 during the regular season, or 88 points lower than Bumgarner.
The Royals had two regulars with an OPS above .716. They had four at .692 or below, including Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez. Gordon led the way with 19 homers, which was a nice July for John Mayberry back in the day.
The pitching staffs were fine, too. But let’s not mistake them for the ’66 Dodgers or ’98 Braves. The Giants got all of nine outs from Jake Peavy (a back-to-back champ!) and Tim Hudson combined in clinching games. Yordano Ventura is special, but the Royals would probably say their ace is James Shields, and I’m beginning to think his Big Game nickname has more to do with his hunting skills than his pitching talents under the brightest lights.
But both the Royals and Giants got hot at the right time, had some well-timed luck — always a postseason requirement even for juggernauts like the 1998 Yankees, and now more crucial than ever given the playoff setup — and received timely hitting and lights-out pitching in the most pivotal innings.
That’s a formula the Red Sox can follow. It’s the formula they did follow, just last year, when David Ortiz refused to make an out, Jon Lester was nearly as untouchable as Bumgarner was this October, and Koji Uehara was practically a one-man version of this year’s Royals bullpen, though Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa aided along the way.
The Red Sox’ offseason blueprint was pretty clear already, but this postseason brought it into focus even more. It’s imperative to put together a deep, quality pitching staff, and they need to fill some of the dead spots in their lineup with, at the very least, competence.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see them pluck a couple of players out of free agency who played in this series — Shields and Pablo Sandoval. They need to figure out the roles for their young pitchers such as Allen Webster and Ruby De La Rosa, both of whom could be more suited for relief.
And let’s admit it: They need John Farrell to be stronger tactically. Bruce Bochy is an advantage every postseason for the even-year-dynasty Giants. Farrell was excellent last year — he out-managed Joe Maddon in the ALCS — but he also seemed to have a horseshoe in a well-placed spot. There’s a little too much Ned Yost in him sometimes.
(By the way, can you imagine if the Royals third base coach was not Mike Jirschele but Yost’s bench coach … Dale Sveum? Is there any doubt he would have sent Alex Gordon in the ninth inning, only to see him thrown out by 37 feet? Instead, he sits alongside Yost and surely hears an endless string of bunt talk: “I like the bunt here, Dale. You like the bunt? Trick question. ‘Course you do.” … “Bunts, bunts, we like bunts” … [Singing] “Jet planes, sac bunts, tigers on a gold leash” … “Dale, remember how we both played with Robin Yount? His last name almost rhymed with bunt. Almost. Yount. Yunt. Man, so close …”)
What a season that was, though. I mean, not for the Red Sox. They were irrelevant bystanders by the time the air cooled again and the games that determine legacies were played. You knew that, and it was no fun. But the 2014 season went down to the final batter of the 2,462d game, with the tying run on third base and a pitcher on the mound who was intent on winning the game and saving it (dammit, call it The Pedro!) all at once.
It was a wonderful season — we finally even got rid of Jeter — and as we spin toward winter, I’m with that considerable more accomplished Maine writer/baseball nut on this sentiment:
I’m always bummed out on the day baseball goes back into hibernation.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) October 30, 2014
But there’s a small blessing, too. The offseason is now here, and it’s going to be busier and more fascinating than usual.
While the Giants savor and celebrate, the Red Sox will again begin building and restoring in an effort to do what San Francisco has done, to regain what we had just one long year ago. So let’s waste no time — fire up that hot stove.