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NLCS #1: The Mastery of MadBum

Madison BumgarnerWatching Madison Bumgarner carve up the Cardinals in Game One of the NLCS made me wonder whether major league baseball needs to rethink the process for choosing the MVPs and Cy Young Award winners. Instead of basing the selections on the regular season, has the time come to base the winners on the regular season and the post season. Too radical? Hey, we’re talking about a sport in which the two leagues play by two sets of rules in the World Series (DH in AL park, no DH in NL park). Ten teams now make the post season, and it’s possible for a club to play as many as 20 additional games. The post season is a superb test of the physical and mental talents of the contestants, and serves as a true test of who is the best. And think about this: We award players for the regular season, but there is no reward for the team with the best regular season record. The teams have to prove themselves in the post season to win any honors.

Clayton Kershaw is arguably the MVP, and a cinch Cy Young award winner based on the regular season. But if he’s that valuable, why is he watching the post season from his couch (that is, if he’s watching at all)? I’m wondering whether Bumgarner might have pulled away a few Cy Young votes from Kershaw with his 7-2/3 innings of shutout ball tonight if the post season was figured into the balloting. Baseball’s new commissioner should put this MVP-Cy Young award issue on his agenda.

Shutdown: Bumgarner followed in the tradition of the Giants post-season success in 2010, 2012 and this year of manhandling the heart of the order as the key to winning. The Cardinals two-through-five batters were 0-for-15. The post-season Giants pitching has been so dominant that they have held the opposition to nine runs in 63 innings. Bumgarner’s mastery earned him a major league record of 26-2/3 consecutive shutout innings in road post-season games, erasing the record of 23 innings by former New York Giants pitcher Art Nehf.

Art of pitching: The left-handed Art Nehf, at 5-foot-7, was quite a contrast to the hulking MadBum, but he knew how to get outs. Nehf established his 23-inning mark from 1921 to 1924 in the World Series, since that was the only post-season at the time. Nehf started the streak with a 1-0 shutout against the Yankees in 1921. To preserve the shutout, Nehf retired an ailing Babe Ruth in the 9th, who was pinch-hitting for Wally Pipp. Nehf blanked the Yankees 1-0 again in 1923 to run the streak to 18, with the only run of the game coming on a Casey Stengel home run. Nehf stretched the scoreless effort to 23 by blanking the Washington Senators for the first five innings in the 1924 World Series. The streak ended on a run-scoring groundout, but Nehf held on to defeat Walter Johnson 4-3. Bumgarner might not be through with Nehf yet. Bumgarner has six career home runs. Nehf  had eight, including two in one game. Top that, MadBum!

Candlestick balk: Bumgarner stumbled off the back of the pitching rubber in the seventh with runners at second and third in what appeared to be a balk, but the umpires called nothing. It might have been the biggest stumble off the mound since Giants 5-11, 165-pound reliever Stu Miller was “blown” off the mound in the 1961 All-Star Game at the Stick. Miller came in to face the dangerous slugger Rocky Colavito with one out in the ninth and two on when a powerful gust blasted the field. Miller slightly hesitated, enough for the umpires to call a balk, though urban legend has the wind burst plastering Miller up against the center field fence like a hot dog wrapper.

De-Fence: Drive for show, putt for dough. Defense wins championships. The Giants can’t get enough of the success clichés, except that in their case, the clichés are part of the business plan. Cards’ right fielder Randall Grichuk tried a Hunter Pence-like grab on a scorcher hit by Pablo Sandoval in the second, but the ball squirted out of his glove when he smashed against the wall. Pence held on in similar circumstances. Travis Ishikawa, a first baseman playing left field because the Giants still haven’t found a replacement for Barry Bonds, made an impressive diving grab of a sinking liner off the bat of Yadier Molina in the fourth. Meanwhile, the Cardinals muffed two fielding plays that led to Giants runs.

Personal foul? The Cardinals Kolten Wong bounced one to Brandon Belt who tossed the ball to Bumgarner racing to cover first in the 7th inning. Ball, Bumgarner and Wong all arrived at the bag around the same time and Bumgarner plowed into Wong just after making the tag. In today’s sensitive NFL, Bumgarner probably would have been flagged for unnecessary roughness and fined, but thankfully, physical contact is still permitted on such a play in the grand old game of baseball.

Wrapup: Fox Sports in-game interview with the Giants pitcher Jake Peavy dragged on way too long with no new insight, and was a distraction as the cameras bounced from Peavy to the game. Why do TV baseball producers think we want to watch these say-nothing interviews or kids eating cotton candy instead of the actual game? … Pre-game analysts pondered whether there was a big Giants-Cardinals rivalry. There might be, but interleague play has diluted potential rivalries against any team not in your division. The Giants play the Dodgers 19 times; the Cardinals just seven times, so little chance is left for passions and animosity to build. …The Giants activated Michael Morse for the NLCS in hopes he could get a few swings as a tryout to be the designated hitter in the four games at the American League park. .. The Cardinals added backup catcher A.J. Pierzynski to their NLCS roster. Boos will likely greet him among veteran Giants fans over Pierzynski’s volatile one-year stay with the Giants in 2004. His league-leading 27 double play ground outs earned him the nickname D.P. Pierzynski.


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