SAN FRANCISCO – Depending on your team of choice the number can be comforting or frightening.
That is 23.
It represents the number of innings that Madison Bumgarner has failed to yield a run in a game which the Giants could be eliminated from the playoffs. He added nine to that total last Wednesday when he shut down the Mets in the National League Wild Card playoff game at Citi Field.
The streak includes five innings in relief against the Royals in Game 7 of the World Series in 2014 along with a complete game in that season’s NL Wild Card playoff game. In those 23 innings, he has struck out 20 batters while walking just three and allowing ten hits.
When Joe Maddon was asked to sum up his thoughts about Bumgarner’s dominance, he had to turn back the clock a couple of decades.
“It’s like when I was a kid. I could only relate it to that,” said Maddon of Bumgarner’s exploits. “I was a Cardinal fan growing up, and seeing Bob Gibson do what he did in the ’60s and then Mr. Kaufax, what he did. So you have to kind of draw the parallels or the comparisons from when you were a kid.”
Those memories become a reality for Maddon as his team faces Bumgarner in his fourth outing in an elimination game since 2014 on Monday in Game 3 of the National League Division Series. In order to advance to the National League Championship Series his team will likely have to break that streak and become the first in four playoff starts to score off Bumgarner.
Don’t think that the pitcher – who was MVP of the 2014 World Series and has three championship rings with the Giants – hasn’t heard it before. Bumgarner is choosing to selectively listen to the praise being thrown his way.
“Well, you can’t,” said the starter when asked about not getting caught up in his building reputation as an elimination game ace. “As soon as you start buying into that, that’s probably going to take a turn. So I’m just going to go out there and keep going at it the way I have, and whatever happens, happens.”
Jake Arrieta might be saying the same thing as he takes the mound in the top half of the innings Wednesday night at AT&T Park. This time last year many wondered if Arrieta would allow another run in a masterful finish to the regular season and then complete game shutout in the NL Wild Card Game at Pittsburgh.
Things are a bit different now after Arrieta slumped a bit to the end the 2016 season. A 2-3 record and 4.60 ERA in the month of September dropped his season ERA to a more pedestrian 3.10 ERA. As a player who pays meticulous attention to his craft the pitcher has the desire to improve as the postseason begins but he still takes pride in that 18-8 record he sported in 2016.
“Well, from a numbers perspective, I would have liked maybe to be a little bit better. But at the same time, like you said, took the ball every five days, had a lot of great things throughout the season to be excited about,” said Arrieta. “Some things that I’ve wanted to work on to improve on, obviously, especially in this point in the season.
“But at the same time, I’ve prepared the same way from start to finish and really like the process and trust the stuff moving forward and know that it’s more than good enough to have a lot of success for this team in the postseason.”
While Bumgarner’s recent streak takes most of the attention Arrieta has a pretty impressive streak of his own. Since the start of last season the pitcher hasn’t lost a game in California. That included a win earlier this year against the Giants at AT&T Park along with an opening day win in Anaheim.
He also had a no-hitter at Dodger Stadium in 2015 but there is something about San Francisco that appeals to the competitive pitcher.
“It’s a great city. The fans here are tremendous. Obviously the home crowd’s going to be really, really amped up and extremely loud, and that’s expected here,” said Arrieta. “You love to see that. Especially in this atmosphere in the postseason.
“With what this team’s done, there’s a lot of excitement. And it’s going to be — there’s going to be a lot of adrenaline flowing tomorrow, and the crowd’s going to provide a lot of that. You just look forward to moments like that.”
Just as fans look forward to a pitching match-up like the one on Monday night.