Major League Baseball’s World Series is over, with the San Francisco Giants claiming their third title in five years in seven games, to go along with their successes in 2010 and 2012, over a plucky Kansas City Royals squad.
The 3-2 Game 7 victory meant that they became the first team in 10 attempts to win a Game 7 on the road since the 1979 ‘We Are Family’ Pittsburgh Pirates did it, and the first to do so after losing Game 6 since the 1975 ’Big Red Machine’ Cincinnati Reds
As a whole, the series was fairly unspectacular with five of the seven games decided by 5 runs or more. But there were a number of intriguing subplots that wove it all together, some expected – the Royals defense and bullpen, the Giants bullpen and core of the lineup, the abilities of the two managers – and others that weren’t, like the widely condemned sheer boofheadedness of Giants rookie reliever Hunter Strickland and his reaction to giving up a two-run double to Royals catcher Salvador Perez in Game 2, that made it compelling; and Game 7 had all the tension you’d expect.
Ultimately though, this series and indeed the whole 2014 postseason will be defined by one man:
The 25 year-old Giants lefty pitcher wasn’t simply outstanding, he was unworldly. Consider these:
- He made six starts in the postseason, pitching at least 7 innings each time, and adding another five innings in relief in Game 7 on two days rest.
- He threw two complete game shutouts, blanking Pittsburgh in the wildcard game 8-0 and the Royals 5-0 in Game 5 of the World Series. Washington’s Jordan Zimmermann was the only other starter in the whole postseason to even make it to the ninth inning.
- The 52 2/3 innings he pitched in the postseason is a record, with his final numbers 4 wins, 1 loss (to Washington in the Divisional Series), 1 save, a 1.03 ERA (runs against per nine innings pitched), 28 hits and 6 walks given up, and 45 strikeouts.
- He pitched 16 innings in two World Series starts. His three counterparts (Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong, along with the quick trigger of manager Bruce Bochy) combined for 16 1/3 in the other 5. Peavy and Hudson became the first pitchers to get hooked before making it through the second innings in successive WS games since 1984.
- He also added to his remarkable World Series resume, which now resemble video game numbers: A 5-0 record plus the Game 7 save, 1 run given up (Salvador Perez’s homer in Game 1) in 36 innings of work adding to an absurd 0.25 ERA, while striking out 31 against 14 hits and just 5 walks. Oh, and now three championship rings.
- Also set unofficial records for number of spits and ‘snotrockets’ launched, especially in live TV interviews.
Bumgarner was, unsurprisingly, awarded the Worlds Series MVP (itself extremely cringeworthy TV featuring a hyperventilating Chevrolet regional manager), to go with his National League Championship award. He won’t win the Cy Young Award for the league’s best pitcher this year – Los Angeles’ Clayton Kershaw is the heavy favourite – as the voting is done before the postseason, but he’s established himself as one of the top-tier pitchers in the game.
The Giants set the tone in Game 1, plating three in the first inning including a two run homer by Hunter Pence that gave Bumgarner more than enough room to work with while his opposite, the Royals’ James Shields failed to make it out of the fourth in a 7-1 Giants win. The Royals bounced back in Game 2, despite rookie starter Yordano Ventura giving up a home run to the Giants’ Gregor Blanco to start the game. It was close until the sixth, when Kansas City scored five runs capped by Omar Infante’s two run homer and the bullpen trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland closed out the 7-2 result.
In San Francisco for the next three, it was the Royals that took Game 3 by 3-2 with a two-out RBI single by Eric Hosmer proving the decisive moment and the bullpen again shutting it down. The Giants responded by blowing out Games 4 and 5; rallying from 4-2 down in the fifth to score nine runs over the next three innings against the underbelly of the Royals pitching staff on a host of blooper and chopper base hits that even the Royals defense couldn’t get too, while Bumgarner went the whole distance with a complete game shutout the following night, backed by Brandon Crawford’s three RBI.
The pendulum swung the other way back in Kansas City, with the Royals climbing all over Giants starter Jake Peavy again to score seven runs in the second (a World Series record for most in a single inning), tacking on three more across the balance of the game to win 10-0, with young star Ventura pitching seven strong innings in a must-win game while also honouring his friend, St Louis Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras who was killed in a car crash in the Dominican Republic the day before.
That all set up Game 7, with the spectre of Bumgarner’s availability to pitch and when Bochy would use him looming largest of him. The Giants again took the early lead with two runs off Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie, but Kansas City answered with two of their own in the bottom half, with Bochy hooking his starter Hudson in favour of reliever Jeremy Affeldt. Rookie Giants second baseman Joe Panik snuffed out at Kansas City threat in the third with the defensive play of the series, stabbing a Hosmer grounder and flipping it from his glove to Crawford who then fired to first to complete the double play. The Giants took the lead for good when Michael Morse singled home his second run of the game and setting the stage for Bumgarner’s heroics, with some questioning Royals manager Ned Yost’s decision to leave Guthrie in to start the fourth against the Giants’ Pablo Sandoval, who scored the decisive run. There was some later drama, with Blanco misplaying Alex Gordon’s base hit with two out in the ninth and allowing him to reach third, but Bumgarner got Perez to pop out on the third base side, with Sandoval snagging the final out and setting off the celebrations.
Bumgarner’s supporting cast deserves their share of the credit. While the first three hitters, Blanco, Panik, and Buster Posey struggled, Pence and Sandoval thrived. Pence hit .447 (12 for 27) for the series and finished with the Game 1 homer, three doubles, five RBI’s (runs batted in) and five runs scored. Sandoval added to his October resume with free agency pending, running his World Series average to .429 (20 for 47), third-best all-time with a minimum of 40 at-bats, and in going 3-for-3 in Game 7, raised his career average in elimination games to a ridiculous .556 (15 for 27). Hudson, making the first World Series appearance of his 17-year career, was solid in Game 3 despite taking the loss. Lefty Affeldt was outstanding out of the bullpen, running his streak of scoreless postseason outings to 22, one short of the record held by former Yankees great Mariano Rivera, while Yusmeiro Petit delivered three shutout innings in Game 4.
The star of the series for the Royals was young starter Ventura, who delivered a solid outing followed by a superb one. Guthrie (Game 3) and Jason Vargas (Game 4) also delivered, but Vargas’ was wasted by the underbelly of the Royals bullpen and a series of bloop and chopper Giant base hits that not even Kansas City’s defence could get too. The back of the bullpen – Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland – locked away two of KC’s wins, though both Herrera and Davis were tagged for runs in their other outings, while Shields disappointed in Game 1 but was better in his Game 5 start. Of the position players both Hosmer and Mike Moustakas made huge strides throughout the whole postseason and started to deliver on their talent with Moustakas hitting 5 home runs. Veteran Infante proved his worth, while Lorenzo Cain showed he deserved to be considered as amongst the very best players in the game. In a side note rookie lefty pitcher Brandon Finnegan became the first person to appear in both a College World Series (for Texas Christian University) and a Major League World Series in the same year, having been drafted by the Royals in June and called up to the majors in September.
Of the two managers, the Giants’ Bochy again showed why he’s one of the game’s best, being unafraid to go to his bullpen early and making the little in-game tactical changes that can provide dividends. In hooking Hudson in the second inning of Game 7, he made it the shortest start in that situation since 1960, though having Bumgarner available probably made that an easier decision that it otherwise might have been. Inserting little-hitting Juan Perez into left-field for Travis Ishikawa, a first baseman with limited outfield experience, for Game 7 also came off with Perez making one defensive play Ishikawa would seem unlikely too. Also under the radar was his management of Game 6, choosing to conserve pitchers like Petit and burn Jean Machi and Tim Lincecum instead in preparation for possible scenarios in Game 7. The Royals’ Yost was far from overmatched and made adjustments he needed too, such as starting Jarrod Dyson over Nori Aoki in San Francisco after the latter misplayed a flyball in Game 2; but his detractors will focus on a botched double-switch in Game 3 and letting Guthrie start the fourth and failing to use right-handed hitters Jayson Nix and Josh Willingham off the bench against Bumgarner in the decider.
Bochy became the 10th manager to win at least three titles, the other 9 are in the games Hall of Fame. In the end the difference between the two was 90 feet – the distance between third base (where the Royals’ Gordon was stranded when Sandoval made the final out) and home plate – and the phenomenal pitching performance of one man.
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