Bob Lutz

Bob Lutz: One left arm reduces a storybook ending by a final chapter

San Francisco pitcher Madison Bumgarner (40) celebrates after Game 7 of the World Series. He was named series MVP.
San Francisco pitcher Madison Bumgarner (40) celebrates after Game 7 of the World Series. He was named series MVP. Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Royals were supposed to win this World Series. Everybody felt it except for a country kid from Hickory, N.C., who doesn’t seem to feel much of anything.

Madison Bumgarner was a human stop sign in this World Series. After pitching superbly in two starts, he strolled out of the bullpen on two days rest and pitched five nearly-perfect innings in the Giants’ 3-2 win in Game 7 on Wednesday night.

There was hope in the ninth for the Royals when Alex Gordon’s two-out hit got past center fielder Gregor Blanco, allowing Gordon to cruise into third. But Bumgarner got Salvador Perez to chase a couple of pitches high out of the strike zone before Perez lifted a foul pop to third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who fell to the ground as the baseball nestled in his glove to celebrate the Giants’ third world championship in five years.

Even with that acumen, even with incredible resiliency, even with Bumgarner, it didn’t feel like the Royals would miss a chance to win this Series. Not after beating the Giants 10-0 in Game 6. Not with a rested bullpen. Not with a lineup that had broken loose in that Game 6 with a bunch of hits.

But Bumgarner went all Cy Young in this World Series. The question concerning him going into Game 7 wasn’t whether Bumgarner would pitch, but for how long.

Turns out it was five innings, 68 pitches. He gave up a hit to the first batter he faced, Omar Infante, then retired 14 in a row before Gordon dropped a single in front of Blanco.

When the ball rolled to the wall, it looked like there was a chance for Gordon to circle the bases. And wouldn’t that have been something? But he stopped at third, wisely so, and hoped Perez would figure out a way to get him home with the tying run.

The story of this amazing Royals season had already written itself, and it was to end with a dogpile near the pitcher’s mound and players pinching themselves to make sure it was real. A franchise that hadn’t been to the postseason in 29 years and had become a laughingstock in baseball had finally come full circle.

It was, finally, Kansas City’s time.

Except it wasn’t.

It’s Bumgarner’s time. He won two games in the World Series, saved a third, and looked like he could have pitched all night Wednesday, just three days after tossing 117 pitches in Game 5.

Game 7 started with veterans Jeremy Guthrie and Tim Hudson on the mound. Predictably, neither lasted long. They’re old war horses, veterans who tried to reach back for more than they have.

The Giants got to Guthrie for two runs in the second. He settled down in the third, but San Francisco put the first two runners on base in the fourth and Kelvin Herrera came out of the bullpen. He limited the damage to one run.

The Royals’ bullpen was exquisite. Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, so dominant all season, pitched 5 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, striking out nine. They gave the Giants no breathing room.

Kansas City knocked Hudson out of the game with two outs in the second, scoring twice and leaving a couple of runners on. First, Giants manager Bruce Bochy went to left-hander Jeremy Affeldt, and the veteran lefty kept the Royals scoreless for 2 1/3 innings.

Bumgarner started the fifth. And he finished the ninth.

The fine people of Kansas City were ready to tear up the town. Instead, Bumgarner had them in tears.

As Perez’s foul pop went up, then came down, the spirit inside Kauffman Stadium was zapped. There was disbelief. Anybody who believes in the power of momentum is giving that a second thought.

Perez held his bat on his shoulder as he watched Sandoval get under the foul ball. There was nothing else he could do. Gordon walked to the dugout.

As Giants players celebrated the happy end to a grueling season and postseason, their Kansas City counterparts were once again compromised by Bumgarner.

He pitched 21 innings in the World Series and allowed one run. He pitched 52 2/3 innings in the postseason and allowed seven runs. A disgruntled Royals fan, tired of hearing Bumgarner accolades, lashed out that he was no Cy Young.

Actually, he is. At least he was in this World Series.

Good ole Cy pitched in four games of the 1903 Series for the Boston Americans against the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was a best-of-nine in those days and Young was 2-1 in his 34 innings with a 1.85 ERA.

Bumgarner was 3-0 in this one with an ERA you need the Hubble Space Telescope to find. You have a better chance of finding extraterrestrial life than you do of finding a rally against Bumgarner.

At least the Royals did finally get something going, thanks to Gordon’s hit and Blanco’s misplay. The game sorely needed some drama and Bumgarner isn’t one to create much conflict.

“You still have that hope in the back of your mind like in the ninth inning there,” Kansas City manager Ned Yost said. “You get something going, something happens … and you get the game tied. But (Bumgarner) going five innings was, you know – I mean, what a series.”

It was a special season for Kansas City and so unexpected. The Royals have been improving for a few years now, but they were a World Series surprise.

It’s a team that didn’t have a 15-game winner, or a hitter with 20 homers or 80 RBIs. Guthrie, their starting pitcher in Game 7, was 83-100 during his career and twice led the American League in losses.

But the Royals had a great back of the bullpen and the kind of intangibles numbers can’t measure. They won their first eight postseason games and swept through the Athletics, Angels and Orioles before running into the Giants.

Before running into the human stop sign. Before running into the best pitcher the postseason has seen in years.

It was Bumgarner’s time. The Royals, and everyone he faced, were helpless against him.

Reach Bob Lutz at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @boblutz.

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