Throughout the postseason, Robert O'Connell will contribute brief sketches of small, significant moments from the last few games of 2014.
Madison Bumgarner was his own monument Wednesday night. Just three days after throwing 117 pitches in a complete game shutout, the San Francisco left-hander threw 68 more in Game 7, these coming in five innings of scoreless relief that preserved a one-run Giants lead. With each pitch, Bumgarner not only furthered his team’s cause but seemed to tilt the parameters of the game, until by the eighth and ninth innings odds had become inevitability (however bucked against by Alex Gordon). His cutter was an assassin’s dart, his curveball a celestial truth. He worked neatly on the mound, sat still in the dugout, and opened a desert between the Royals and their third run.
In his first inning, though, he was imperfect. He entered in the fifth, the score 3-2 Giants, and gave up a leadoff single to Omar Infante. Alcides Escobar performed the Yostian rite and bunted Infante over. Then it was Nori Aoki, whose .083 World Series average seemed in the moment wholly irrelevant. Kauffman was loud, the tying run ripe, and Aoki—all crouch and swipe—exists to drop a baseball into some compromised seam of a loud park. He would beat out a swinging bunt, maybe, or the Giants’ middle infielders would bump heads and a dribbler would pop into the outfield past second base.
Aoki worked the count to 2-1, and Bumgarner threw a cutter, away but a little elevated. Aoki sliced at it, and the ball headed for left field, spinning, making a crescent shape. In the air, it looked like a hit. If it had landed, it would have taken an abrupt left turn and bounced around in foul territory while Infante scored and Aoki stepped to second behind him.
Juan Perez, in left, had been shading Aoki towards the foul line. He broke quickly and ran in a hard line perpendicular to it, and nabbed the ball mid-stride. Everyone in the park was a kid with a balloon, and Perez had just popped them all. The next batter, Lorenzo Cain, struck out.
Perez’s play was both an essential, if introductory, ingredient to Bumgarner’s iconic turn and a reminder, amid the high drama, of the littler pleasures we’ll be without for the next few months. Memories of Bumgarner’s performance will center on the physical toll of it and the patterns of his pitches, but here, before things got mythic, was another of the clusters of intuition that characterized this Series. A sharp swing, a dangerous ball, a dashing outfielder, a tidy glove. Curved and straight lines. We’ll keep the Series MVP in mind through the winter, and we’ll get reacquainted with this stuff in April.