SAN FRANCISCO -- Madison Bumgarner concluded his graceful waltz through August with his fanciest footwork of the month.
Bumgarner displayed his characteristic dominance Thursday with 12 strikeouts in six innings during the Giants' 9-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs. But San Francisco's ace most impressively maintained control of himself on foot, not on the mound.
Covering first base on Kyle Schwarber's third-inning grounder to the right side, Bumgarner took a route to cover the bag that was entirely instinctive yet looked as if it could have been choreographed. First baseman Brandon Belt ranged to his right to field the ball and made an off-balance, slightly wide throw to Bumgarner. Without breaking stride, Bumgarner kept moving nimbly toward first and touched the base with his right foot, inadvertently yet smoothly completing a 180-degree turn in the process.
"That was one of the better plays we've had all year," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "That was a difficult play. When you're going full bore ... [to] not only catch the ball but to have the wherewithal to know where the base is. That shows you how athletic the guy is."
Bumgarner modestly indicated that the play involved more luck than skill. When a reporter suggested that he must have known the bag's location, the left-hander chuckled self-deprecatingly and said, "Yeah, we'll go with that."
Bumgarner added, "You obviously have an idea when you're running there, but that was a tough one. I just tried to put my foot where I thought it was, and I happened to be right that time. It's usually not going to be that way."
Yet even Bumgarner couldn't find fault with his pitching as he bowed out of August with a 5-0 record, a 1.43 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 37 2/3 innings spanning five starts. He has accumulated 10 or more strikeouts in three of his last four outings. He also improved to 6-2 with a 2.44 ERA in 10 career appearances against the Cubs.
"I didn't realize he threw that many breaking balls," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He had a real good hook and the cutter, sporadically used his fastball. He got us to chase and he got us to chase down, but that's because the pitch is such a quality pitch."
Bumgarner attributed his proficiency to pitching mechanics that have inoculated him from the flaws that weaken other moundsmen.
"That's the main thing, having my delivery right and everything else falls in," said Bumgarner (16-6), who's tied with Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta for most victories in the Major Leagues.
Right fielder Marlon Byrd, San Francisco's recent acquisition who backed Bumgarner with a third-inning, three-run homer, has enjoyed playing behind the man who made their previous encounters difficult. Byrd, 5-for-21 (.238) lifetime off Bumgarner, praised his new teammate's "aggressiveness -- being able to go hard in and soft away while being able to hit a spot.
"He knows exactly what he's doing. He has a plan."