ST. LOUIS -- All autumn, struggling aces have littered baseball's postseason landscape. Clayton Kershaw. Jon Lester. Max Scherzer, and others. At a time of year when pitching tends to rule, not every team's ace has done what aces do.
Then there's Madison Bumgarner. Unhittable Madison Bumgarner. Unflappable Madison Bumgarner, immune to the league-wide struggles around him. The Giants left-hander added 7 2/3 shutout innings to his postseason resume on Saturday, lowering his October ERA to 0.76, while leading the Giants to a 3-0 National League Championship Series Game 1 win over the Cardinals.
"He's so good at what he does," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "I mean, this kid, since he's come up here, he's just gotten better."
No longer a kid, Bumgarner is, in reality, standing smack in the middle of his prime, blossoming into one of the game's best clutch pitchers. This postseason alone, he has averaged nearly eight innings per start, striking out 23 batters -- just shy of one per inning -- with a total of three walks. Saturday's effort sliced his career postseason ERA to 2.58, good for 12th all-time amongst pitchers with at least nine playoff starts. The left-hander is sandwiched between Lester and Orel Hershiser on that list, ahead of Hall of Famers such as Jim Palmer and Whitey Ford. Giants legend Christy Mathewson tops them all.
Bumgarner has joined them by being darn near perfect since the end of San Francisco's title run two years ago, racking up a stream of 26 2/3 scoreless playoff innings on the road.
"There are stats for everything nowadays," Bumgarner shrugged in his North Carolina drawl.
Yet what Bumgarner did in Game 1 on Saturday was about more than numbers. After giving up a leadoff single to Matt Carpenter in the first inning, the left-hander retired five in a row and 10 of the next 11 batters he faced.
Bumgarner did not face serious trouble until the seventh inning, when Yadier Molina and Jon Jay both singled with one out. But Bumgarner tagged Kolten Wong out on a ground ball for the inning's second out, crashing into him in a play that was eventually reviewed and confirmed. Then he narrowly avoided balking in a run -- replays showed he moved his front foot before stepping off the rubber, which by rule would be a balk -- before striking out Tony Cruz to end the inning.
"I don't think I balked," Bumgarner said, explaining how he escaped the seventh. "I knew that was a big inning for us. I had to go out there and make some pitches. I had to bear down."
"His command was really good tonight," Carpenter said. "He was using his heater to both sides of the plate, bounced his curveball to lefties when he wanted to, and had a pretty good slider/cutter pitch as well. He also threw some changeups, which I didn't know he had. He did a good job."
All-time postseason ERA leaders amongst pitchers with at least nine career playoff starts.
Bumgarner did, in essence, what so many top starters have been unable to this postseason. At the end of Saturday's play, Kershaw, Lester, Scherzer, Adam Wainwright, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, David Price and Justin Verlander -- an octet of aces if ever there was one -- were a combined 0-9 in playoff games. Wins and losses may not mean anything, but that speaks to how frequently the game's best pitchers have struggled in October.
Not Bumgarner. Not this postseason.
Not any postseason, really.
"He's so consistent," Giants catcher Buster Posey said. "That's the big thing with him, and I know that's what he takes pride in as well. ... Whether he's giving up hits or setting a lot down in a row, he tries to look the same."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.