And the award goes to… Madison Bumgarner
He did it in the fifth inning of the last game played this year, with a high fastball to Lorenzo Cain that came out of his hand at 93 mph and rose, like a heron along water, up and over Cain’s bat. That pitch, that strikeout, gave 25-year-old Madison Bumgarner the record for most innings pitched in a single post-season with 48.2. By the time he was finished about an hour later, watching the final out of the Giants’ third World Series in the past five years fall into Pablo Sandoval’s glove, he’d stretched that innings total to 52.2, about a quarter season’s work for today’s average starter, all of them thrown in four incredible weeks.
This wasn’t just the individual performance of the year—it was the greatest post-season ever pitched. For more than a decade, Curt Schilling’s dominant 2001 October with the Diamondbacks—six earned runs over 48.1 innings in six games—had been the high-water mark. But Bumgarner did him one better: making seven appearances and allowing the same six earned in four extra innings. Bumgarner threw a third of the Giants’ October innings and allowed fewer runs than the Pittsburgh Pirates, who played just one post-season game.
But maybe most impressive was that just three days after his complete game, 117-pitch shutout in game five of the World Series—a masterful, four-hit, eight-strikeout performance—Bumgarner got back up, pulled a Giants cap over his shaggy black hair, and took the mound in game seven. It was a between-starts side session day for most mortal pitchers; Bumgarner figured he might as well throw those maintenance pitches in a game.
Of course, Bumgarner is far from the first pitcher to make three lengthy appearances in the World Series. It’s happened dozens of times before, during the age when pitchers threw 300-plus innings a season and sometimes took the mound on consecutive days. But that was also an age when cars were made of wood and didn’t have steering wheels.
This kind of pitching seldom happens in the modern era, when starters throw in the mid-90s and use close-to-maximum effort with every delivery. On the incredibly rare occasion it does happen, it never goes this well. Schilling made three World Series starts in 2001, but he gave up four runs in his 21.1 innings. Bumgarner gave up just one in his 21 frames. In fact, Bumgarner’s 0.25 ERA in 36 career World Series innings is now the best in the history of the game among anyone who’s thrown 25 or more. That’s better than Cy Young, Sandy Koufax, Mariano Rivera—everyone.
Madison Bumgarner is just a bearded kid from somewhere called Hickory, N.C., who likes his beer cold and his fastball high. He’s a throwback pitcher in a modern athlete’s six-foot-five body. He’ll hurl 93 up in the zone with wicked off-speed movement, and he’ll do it on short rest if you need it. He’ll hide under his hat in front of cameras and chug beers with his teammates after wins. He has three rings in his five seasons; he’s the best World Series pitcher in the history of baseball. And he’s only getting started.