By Matt Gelb The Philadelphia Inquirer
ARLINGTON, Texas — Madison Bumgarner, all of 21 years and 91 days old, stood behind the mound as the seventh-inning stretch during Game 4 of the World Series. First, ballpark officials had to wait for TV to begin “God Bless America.” Then, after an elongated rendition, troops were honored behind home plate.
Bumgarner took off his glove and clapped as the ceremonies ended. The San Francisco left-hander was six shutout innings into the most important start of his young life and far from done. This was his night.
“Every young kid in the country is looking up to him today,” Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt said after San Francisco’s 4-0 victory over the Texas Rangers.
That’s because, after eight scoreless innings from their fourth starter, the Giants are one win away from their first World Series victory since 1954, when they played at the Polo Grounds in New York. They have shut out the overpowering Rangers offense, the one that dethroned the defending champion New York Yankees, twice in four games.
Today, San Francisco will send its ace, Tim Lincecum, to the mound in Game 5 to try for the Series-clinching victory. He will be opposed by Cliff Lee, the Texas ace acquired at midseason from the Mariners to inject more than hope into the only franchise that had yet to win a postseason series. Now, Lee must win to prolong the ride.
History is against Texas. Of the 42 times a team has gone up by three games to one in the World Series, it has won 37 of those series.
And considering the way the Giants’ pitching has stymied the Rangers, the odds look even longer.
“That’s our fourth starter right there,” San Francisco’s Aubrey Huff said.
In this rotation of homegrown pitchers, Bumgarner, the youngest and least experienced one, bested the rest.
“That kid,” manager Bruce Bochy said, “I can’t say enough about what he did tonight. I mean, a 21-year-old kid on that stage pitching like that.”
All Bumgarner did was pitch the game of his life. He allowed three singles. No Ranger reached second base until the seventh.
More impressive is this: Bumgarner was the fifth youngest pitcher to start a World Series game, and the youngest since 1981. He combined with rookie catcher Buster Posey to form the only rookie battery to start a World Series game since the first game of the 1947 Series, when the Yankees started Spec Shea and Yogi Berra.
The rookie pitcher and catcher came up together, their final stop earlier this season at Class AAA Fresno before the call to the big leagues.
“We hit it off as pretty good friends,” Bumgarner said. “We’re always on the same page out there. I trust him 100 percent.”
Bumgarner, as he was in the first two rounds of the postseason, was remarkable. On the biggest stage, he has found comfort.
“I don’t know how,” Bumgarner said. “Just keep telling myself to relax. And I’ve told myself so much that it’s starting to become second nature. It makes it a lot easier on me and the players, I think, to see somebody that’s relaxed out there throwing.”
Game 4s can be messy. Most of the time, each team is trotting out its least-trusted starter. Texas had the option of throwing its best pitcher, Lee, on short rest but decided against it. Instead, Tommy Hunter started.
The results were predictable. During the regular season, Hunter induced swinging strikes on just 5.8 percent of his pitches (11th lowest among pitchers with at least 120 innings). Opposing hitters made contact on 87.2 percent of the pitches Hunter threw in 2010 (ninth highest among pitchers with at least 120 innings).
Most of Hunter’s pitches were flat, and struck hard by San Francisco hitters. He needed 21, 23, and 28 pitches to navigate the first three innings, respectively. In the third, Huff turned on a flat cutter and crushed it for a two-run home run. The rookie pitcher had all he needed. The Giants can become world champions Monday night in Texas.
And, if Affeldt is right, Bumgarner has inspired a lot of young pitchers out there.
“I didn’t expect this,” Bumgarner said, “in my wildest dreams.”