This was Game 4 of the National League Division Series at Turner Field, but Madison Bumgarner is young enough to have a fresh memory of the last time he helped his team win a game with huge implications.
As he basked in the glory of the Giants' 3-2 clinching victory over the Braves on Monday night, the 21-year-old left-handed starter couldn't help but make the comparison to leading South Caldwell High to a thrilling victory -- capped off with his inside-the-park walk-off homer -- over Wilmington Ashley for the state title.
"This is obviously the biggest game I've ever thrown," Bumgarner said in the din of the Giants' celebrating clubhouse. "But in high school, throwing in the state championship game, at the time, that's a big game to a high school kid. I think that actually made a difference tonight."
Bumgarner certainly made himself right at home on the grand stage of pitching in a clinching playoff game in the Major Leagues. He earned the victory with six sharp innings of work against the Braves, allowing two earned runs on six hits while striking out five and walking one.
Plus, he's 21 now, so the champagne was legally poured on his head after a tremendous outing that set the stage for the Giants clinching a trip to a series that'll take him from his hometown of Hudson, N.C., to big games in Zebulon and Atlanta and soon Philadelphia -- home of the two-time defending NL champions.
That Bumgarner threw 85 pitches that led to a berth in the NL Championship Series came as no surprise to his teammates or his skipper.
After all, manager Bruce Bochy handed him the ball for Game 4, and did so for numerous big starts down the stretch as Bumgarner finished off his rookie season with a 1.13 ERA in his five September starts.
|B. Saberhagen||10/3/1984||K.C.||Det.||20 y, 175 d|
|J. Bush||10/9/1913||Phi.||NYG||20 y, 316 d|
|F. Valenzuela||10/6/1981||L.A.||Hou.||20 y, 339 d|
|J. Palmer||10/6/1966||Bal.||L.A.||20 y, 356 d|
|J. Podres||10/4/1953||Bro.||NYY||21 y, 4 d|
|M. Bumgarner||10/11/2010||S.F.||Atl.||21 y, 71 d|
|R. Ankiel||10/3/2000||Stl.||Atl.||21 y, 76 d|
|CC Sabathia||10/13/2001||Cle.||Sea.||21 y, 84 d|
|K. Wood||10/3/1998||CHC||Atl.||21 y, 109 d|
|C. Bender||10/10/1905||Phi.||NYG||21 y, 158 d|
|S. Avery||10/10/1991||Atl.||Pit.||21 y, 179 d|
|C. Kershaw||10/8/09||L.A.||Stl.||21 y, 203 d|
|B. Ruth||10/9/1916||Bos.||Bro.||21 y, 246 d|
|F. Morales||10/4/2007||Col.||Phi.||21 y, 253 d|
Said veteran first baseman Aubrey Huff: "This kid just surprises me to no end. He just goes out there, and it doesn't look like he has a care in the world. He reminds me of a young Andy Pettitte."
He'll need a few more postseason starts like Monday's to reach the level of the Yankees' postseason stud, but Bumgarner got off to an excellent start on his own playoff career.
And don't tell anyone, but he wasn't as cool, calm and collected as he appeared to be.
"There were definitely some nerves going through my body before the game, and I was trying to take some deep breaths and relax," Bumgarner said. "That's something I had to fight through all day -- the anxiety stuff. I just tried to relax and try to make pitches, so when things got a little rough, I just stepped off and tried to get back at it."
Working with fellow rookie Buster Posey, Bumgarner got out of most of the trouble he got into, and really just had one pitch that got away -- a curveball to Brian McCann that pushed the Braves ahead, 2-1, in the sixth.
"I was just trying to get ahead, but he was all over it and put a pretty good swing on it," Bumgarner said.
Other than that, it was relatively smooth sailing for the rookie starter, as he recovered from a manufactured run, and when the Giants rallied for two runs for the winning margin in the seventh, he became the winning pitcher.
He went into the game as the youngest player to start a game for the Giants at 21 years and 71 days younger than Jerome Williams (21 years, 304 days) was when he started Game 4 of the NLDS vs. Florida, taking the loss. Now, he's the youngest to win one.
Ultimately, Bumgarner rewarded the Giants handsomely for handing him the ball in a game they might have had ace Tim Lincecum start on three days' rest, although that was more likely had the Giants entered Game 4 trying to stave off elimination.
"It was a huge honor to get this start," Bumgarner said. "We had Lincecum ready, so it definitely made me feel good they thought enough of me to give me a chance to pitch this game."
By the end of the evening, he was part of a raucous celebration in the visitors' clubhouse at Turner Field -- barely more than three years after finishing his prep career.
"It's surreal," Bumgarner said. "I'm sure it'll sink in sometime in the next few days, but it's pretty unbelievable that we're going to go play for the National League championship."
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.