Madison Bumgarner punctuated his World Series performance for the ages by pitching the San Francisco Giants to their third championship in five years with a 3-2 win over the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday night.
The big left-hander came out of the bullpen to throw five scoreless innings on two days' rest, saving a Series pushed to the limit. And by winning Game 7 on the road, Bumgarner and the Giants succeeded where no team had in 3 1/2 decades.
"I wasn't thinking about innings or pitch count. I was just thinking about getting outs, getting outs, until I couldn't get them anymore and we needed someone else," Bumgarner said in a monotone that made it sound as though he was talking about batting practice.
A two-out misplay in the ninth almost wrecked it for him.
Bumgarner had retired 14 in a row when Alex Gordon sent a drive to center field. The pitcher pointed his glove in the air, thinking it could be the final out, but the ball fell in front of Gregor Blanco for a single.
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Blanco allowed it to skip past him to the wall, and left fielder Juan Perez kicked the ball before throwing to shortstop Brandon Crawford in short left, holding Gordon at third.
"When it got by him, I had a smile on my face. I thought maybe I could score, but he got to it quickly enough," Gordon said. "I just put my head down and ran, almost fell around second base, was just waiting for Jirsch (third base coach Mike Jirschele) to give me the signal. It was a good hold. He had the ball in plenty of time."
From there, Blanco hoped for the best.
"We just need one more out. We got this. Let's do it," he thought to himself.
Bumgarner, the Series MVP, retired Salvador Perez on a foulout to third baseman Pablo Sandoval near the Giants' dugout. The 25-year-old ace was immediately embraced by catcher Buster Posey, and the rest of the Giants rushed to the mound to join the victory party.
Most of the San Francisco players tossed their gloves high in the air as they ran to the center of the diamond.
"What a warrior he is, and truly incredible what he did throughout the postseason," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "I just told him I just can't believe what he accomplished through all this. He's such a humble guy, and we rode him pretty good."
Three days after throwing 117 pitches in a four-hit shutout to win Game 5, Bumgarner tossed 68 more and dropped his record-low career Series ERA to a minuscule 0.25. He's allowed one run and 14 hits in five outings covering 36 innings.
"Yeah, it was hopeless," Royals manager Ned Yost said.
Bumgarner initially was credited with the win. But nearly an hour after the final out, the official scorers awarded it to Jeremy Affeldt, who was in the game when San Francisco took the lead.
Hunter Pence herded his teammates into the center of a clubhouse that was ready to pop. As the Giants hollered and hugged, he kept asking: "Is everybody here? Is everybody here?"
They were, wildly shaking their bottles of bubbly. And with that, Pence shouted the command.
Pence and Panda, champions again.
A day earlier, after the Royals romped 10-0 to force a deciding game, Sandoval - nicknamed Kung Fu Panda - didn't seem concerned. As he bopped out of the locker room, he shouted to his pal Pence, "Love you, my ninja!"
Popular for their personalities, they endeared themselves to Giants fans with their production against the Royals.
Pence hit .444, scoring seven runs and driving in five. In the winner-take-all game, the all-out outfielder got two hits and scored a run.
Sandoval batted .429 in the Series, scoring six and driving in four. He went 3 for 3 in Game 7, doubled and scored twice.
Whether Giants fans get to see him play at AT&T Park next year is uncertain. At 28, the two-time All-Star third baseman can become a free agent and cash in big.
"As far as what happens, I don't know," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "It's obvious I love this kid, too."
"I've had him since he came up, and hopefully something gets done. But these are things that take care of themselves in the winter," he said.
Sandoval completed a three-year contract that guaranteed him $17.15 million, and the Giants have a history of paying to keep their core together.
Sandoval earned his third championship ring. In 2010, he lost his spot to Juan Uribe in the World Series and played just once in the five-game win over Texas. In 2012, he hit three home runs against Detroit in the opener.
"Well, his role in the first one, it diminished. We put Juan at third base," Bochy said. "But the last two, you know, great players, they have a way of rising to the occasion."
"He did that. You could see a difference in Pablo once his postseason started. His focus, his third base play was as good as I've seen from any third baseman. That's what I'm proud of about him, is how he made himself such a good defender," he said.
Sandoval wound up with the final ball, catching a foul popup by Salvador Perez with a runner on third base to end it. As he gathered underneath it, Sandoval said there was no time to consider what the grab would mean.
"You don't think," he said. "You just catch it."