Giants lefty brings splendor back to World Series final game
By Marty Noble
NEW YORK -- Beginning with Carlton Fisk's 12th-inning waving grandeur 39 years ago, penultimate games have encroached on the territory that once was the exclusive property of Game 7s. Fisk's home run ended a Game 6, and Reggie executed his hat trick in a Game 6 two years later. The magnificent Mets-Astros struggle in the 1986 National League Championship Series also came with one "if necessary" game on the schedule as did Kirby Puckett's game in '91 and Joe Carter's "touch 'em all" swing in '93. The work of art Tom Glavine inflicted on the Indians in '95 happened when the Braves still had a Game 7 safety net at their disposal. And the Bill Buckner game in '86 allowed the Mets to reach a Game 7 that was touched by anticlimax.
Indeed, more than a few Game 7s have lacked the tension, distinction and splendor those penultimate games provided.
And then the Giants and Royals struck a mighty blow for Game 7s Wednesday night, reclaiming for the final scheduled game a sense of supremacy. With Madison Bumgarner playing the role of Braveheart, Game 7 of the 2014 World Series not only took its place with the Bill Mazeroski game, Jack Morris' masterpiece and Johnny Podres' shutout in Game 7 lore, it provided enough images and prompted enough superlatives to challenge the capacity of cyberspace.
Al Michaels suggested the Red Sox's Game 5 comeback against the Angels in the 1986 American League Championship Series was one for the ages, and it was. The Giants' victory Wednesday night and the astonishing exploits of Bumgarner made for a game for all ages and for all time.
If the final act of Game 7 didn't increase your heart rate, see your cardiologist. Or a mortician. It provided extraordinary theater and a level of sweet and extended tension that only baseball delivers.
Gear up to celebrate the Giants' World Series title
The final score was 3-2, the score I favor. Forty-something years of writing game stories taught me that 3-2 games often provide just enough offense, a need for effective relief pitching and, of course, the tension of one-run competition. And Bumgarner enhanced the program to the nth degree.
Bumgarner's World Series and postseason were quite remarkable before Bruce Bochy summoned him to pitch the fifth inning. And the question of his short-rest availability for Game 7 had afforded the series a 72-hour back story that made for rich speculation and ongoing interest. Then the majesty of his performance surpassed all that had developed.
Pitching in relief, Bumgarner was closing in on the requirements for a quality start when he achieved the 27th out and struck a blow against those who believe pitch counts are the end-all.
Bochy's trust in the Series MVP was comparable to that Cardinals manager Johnny Keane demonstrated in Bob Gibson in the final game of the 1964 regular season. Gibson, who had pitched eight innings Friday night, was pitching his fourth inning of relief Sunday because, Keane said, "I had a commitment to his heart."
The commitment, Gibson's ferocity and his right arm put the Cardinals in the World Series. By the end of the Series, Gibson had pitched five times (39 innings) in 13 days. Sounds downright Bumgarner-esque.
Bochy had a commitment to his pitcher, too, one reinforced by what he witnessed in Bumgarner's first four relief innings. Even when a single by Alex Gordon and a two-base misplay by Gregor Blanco put the Giants' lead in two-out jeopardy in the ninth, Bochy trusted his pitcher's resolve.
Bochy's decision to keep closer Santiago Casilla in the bullpen in favor of Bumgarner was either brilliant or a no-brainer. Perhaps no personnel decision in a Game 7 has been so conspicuously effective since Walter Alston inserted Sandy Amoros in left field in Game 7 in 1955. With his glove on his right hand, Amoros reached the opposite-field fly ball Yogi Berra had launched into the left-field corner at Yankee Stadium with two runners on base and the Dodgers leading by two runs.
Bumgarner's "I want the ball" attitude was filled with confidence and resolve. When the Hall of Fame displays artifacts from the most compelling World Series since 1991, it ought find a way to exhibit the intangibles that distinguish Bumgarner from the garden-variety Game 7 heroes.
Display his heart alongside the bat Luis Gonzalez swung to beat the Yankees in 2001, the spikes worn by Craig Counsell when he scored the decisive run for the Marlins in the bottom of the 11th inning in 1997 and the helmet Mazeroski wore when he hit the only Game 7 walk-off home run in World Series history in 1960.
All were Game 7 accomplishments. Bumgarner's was the best of 7.
Marty Noble is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.