San Jose Mercury News
PITTSBURGH - Vin Scully's voice jumped and he let out a short gasp as Madison Bumgarner viciously swung through a 92 mph fastball at the letters.
"I think the last pitcher who swung that hard was Babe Ruth," the legendary Dodgers broadcaster said.
The most impressive part of the moment wasn't Bumgarner's mighty cut, the firm fastball Zack Greinke threw or Scully's amused call, but rather that it existed at all. Having already thrown 108 pitches, Bumgarner was allowed to hit for himself with one out in the eighth inning of a late September game that the Giants trailed by a run.
Manager Bruce Bochy couldn't think of any other pitchers he has had who would have hit in that situation. But Bumgarner had earned the chance, not just with a two-run blast earlier in the game that supplied the only Giants runs and gave him four homers for the season, but with a .258 average and competitive at-bats from opening day through his final start.
"It was a compliment to the year he had with the bat," Bochy said.
There are many reasons why Bumgarner was Bochy's no-brainer choice to start Wednesday's wild card game in Pittsburgh, which had not ended by press time.
The left-hander had a 2.98 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 219 strikeouts, a resume that puts him among the best in the game. But Bumgarner's 18 wins were due to more than just his arm. He fields his position well and has become a forceful controller of the running game. And then there's the thunderous bat, one that isn't out of place when Bumgarner occasionally hits in the same batting practice group as Hunter Pence, Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval.
Among pitchers with at least 50 plate appearances, Bumgarner led the way in average, runs (10) and RBIs (15, tying Juan Marichal's San Francisco record). He became the second pitcher in MLB history to hit two grand slams in one season, and his .470 slugging percentage would have ranked 14th among National League position players had he qualified, ahead of players like Freddie Freeman and Ryan Braun, and teammates Pence and Sandoval.
"Some things are hard to explain," the 25-year-old said, smiling.
After big days at the plate, Bumgarner never has a difficult time explaining what happened, saying he just swings as hard as he can.
"The more times you hit the ball hard, the better off you are," he said.
The Giants pitchers played "pepper" in spring training and do situation drills during batting practice, although Bumgarner doesn't always worry about moving the runner over.
"His situational hitting is, 'Let me try to hit it 20 rows deep,'" fellow starter Tim Hudson said, laughing. "That's the situation he thinks about."