By Ben Leonard
AP photo: San Francisco Giant pitcher Madison Bumgarner pitches to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first inning on Wednesday night at AT&T Park
SAN FRANCISCO — Madison Bumgarner isn’t usually one to celebrate. The tall, broad-shouldered North Carolinian plays baseball the way Goose Gossage would like it — calm, quiet, and without flair, save for a snot rocket or twenty.
So when the good ‘ole Southern southpaw strutted off the mound after pumping his fist to raucous applause, you know it was something worth celebrating. In a wild west gun show, he had matched D’Backs’ ace Zack Greinke through six, and struck out one of the game’s most fearsome sluggers, Paul Goldschmidt, on a flaring fastball with runners on the corners to end the sixth keep the game scoreless.
The crowd was just waiting to erupt — they hadn’t had reason to all night long. The Giants had put runners in scoring position in three of the first five innings, but went 0 for 7 in those opportunities, not surprising from an ice-cold offense. In spite of that dry spell, it seemed like the Giants were destined to win — they just had to with Bumgarner on the hill, their stopper, who had retired the first eleven hitters he faced and was cruising.
But just after Bumgarner got the crowd going in the sixth, that feeling of destiny faded — he found himself shaking his head just a few batters later. One high fastball on the outer half, a pitch that had worked for him all night long, spelled doom for the Giants, when light-hitting catcher Wellington Castillo launched it into the bleachers to give the Diamondbacks a 2-0 lead, and eventually the 2-1 win, dealing the Giants their seventh loss in eight games. It sucked the life out of AT&T Park, and even surprised Bumgarner, who had been blowing by hitters with his high fastball all game long.
“Yeah, [it surprised me] a little bit,” Bumgarner said. “”I felt pretty good about the pitch I made to Castillo, even though it could have been a little higher….We had been going there for most of the night, and it was working good for us….Maybe it wasn’t just quite high enough. Maybe he made an adjustment, I don’t know. That’s the way the game is — a game of adjustments — and they got me.”
Other than that one pitch, Bumgarner didn’t need to make that many adjustments, yielding just five hits in seven innings, striking out eight.
The same cannot be said for the Giants’ offense, which scuffled once again in high leverage situations, finishing 1 for 11 with RISP, putting them at 3 for their last 30 in those situations. The one hit with ducks on the pond, an Angel Pagan single in the seventh, gave the Giants their first run in nineteen innings.
“We’re in a tough rut, but you’re going to go through this, no matter who you are, you go through them,” Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy said. “We had a great pitching effort today, but we were just missing timely hits…We had a couple chances early and we couldn’t get a hit. These things, they go in streaks…It’s a tough part of the game, but we’ve got a tough squad and a bunch of tough guys in there — they’ll bounce back. ”
One of those tough guys, Matt Duffy, had a bounce back day at the plate for the second day in a row after scuffling for most of the season. Duffy had been hitting just .196 coming into Wednesday, but was the lone bright spot in the Giants’ lineup, going 2 for 4 with a booming double to the wall and a slick diving catch to rob Chris Owings of a hit.
Other than that, it was tough going for the Giants against Greinke, who help up his end of the pitchers’ duel, going 6.2 strong innings while giving up just one run and striking out seven, frustrating a deep, potent lineup. Despite their struggles, ever-optimistic Giants’ shortstop Brandon Crawford felt that the team has the guys to break out of this slump:
“Everyone’s just kind of slumping at the same time right now,” Crawford said. “With this good of a lineup, you don’t typically see that. It’s something that we’ve dealt with before and I’m sure we’ll get out of it.”
That thought might be enough to get Bumgarner fist pumping once again. Just maybe.