In a muted Giants clubhouse, about a half-hour after a crushing, 6-5 walk-off opening-day loss to the D-backs, Giants coach Shawon Dunston passed Madison Bumgarner and couldn’t resist an attempt at levity.
“Hey, Bum…teach me how to hit,’’ said Dunston — the former two-time All-Star shortstop who finished with 1,597 career knocks. He sounded serious. Bumgarner could only chuckle.
A couple of minutes later, Buster Posey was told that his battery mate had become the first pitcher in MLB history to hit 2 home runs on opening day, and immediately asked: “Babe Ruth didn’t do it? That’s what we were calling (Bumgarner). We were calling him ‘The Great Bambino’ in the dugout.’’
Oh, and for 5.1 innings, Bumgarner also had a perfect game going — 16 up, 16 down, including 8 strikeouts.
For at least a day — and maybe a Monday off-day — this one will be remembered as a stirring comeback victory in Torey Lovullo’s debut as D-backs manager. And one that got away from the Giants.
But long after, this will be all about Bumgarner’s blasts — another memory added to his growing list that already includes a World Series MVP and three championship rings.
“Bum…what a day he had,’’ Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “They’re always tough (to waste). Any time you get a great pitching effort, and a great hitting effort…we’re disappointed how it ended.’’
You never get much in the way of self-platitudes from Bumgarner, and the loss dulled the moment even more. So here’s what he had to say about going where no other pitcher ever has gone before in a season-opener:
“I try to be pretty level-headed and even-keeled, but it’s obviously pretty special to get a chance to do that. But my job is out there on the mound, so that’s where my concern is at. It’s something you look back on when you’re done playing, and say that you did. But right now, I’m not really concerned about it that much.’’
Nonetheless, these weren’t just ordinary Chase Field-aided home runs. Bumgarner led off the fifth inning with a shot to deep left-center field off Zach Greinke to give himself a 2-1 lead. At the time, Bumgarner still had the perfect game intact.
The second came in the seventh off Andrew Chafin — a half-inning after the perfect game was spoiled, and Bumgarner quickly had surrendered 3 runs in a three-batter stretch — a Jeff Mathis ground-ball triple down the left-field line, a pinch-hit, opposite-field RBI single by Nick Ahmed, and then a long, two-run homer by A.J. Pollock.
But Bumgarner grabbed back the spotlight with an upper deck shot, pulled down the left-field line with a measured exit velocity of 112 mph. That’s Giancarlo Stanton territory. Both homers came on fastballs after Bumgarner had drawn a walk in his first at-bat when a 3-2 breaking ball from Greinke missed the zone. More understated Bumgarner:
“They both felt good. I’m trying to think along with these guys. I was fortunate enough to get a pitch I can handle both times. I might get that pitch 10 more times and might swing and miss or foul it off 10 times. Those were two good at-bats for me.’’
The Mets’ Noah Syndergaard hit two homers in a game last season against the Dodgers. Prior to that, you have to go back to Aug. 18, 2007, when former D-backs right-hander Micah Owings went deep twice.
“He takes it seriously,’’ Posey said about Bumgarner’s hitting. “He always has. So it’s not by accident.’’
Among Bumgarner’s 11 strikeouts were three hat-tricks — No. 2 hitter Chris Owings, No. 4 hitter Jake Lamb and No. 5 hitter Yasmany Tomas. Bumgarner’s velocity was up a tick from last season, and he was unusually sharp for an opener — the result, he said, of ongoing adjustments in his delivery.
“It definitely was coming out good today,’’ he said. “The struggle is once you get a hold of it, to keep it, and not lose it.’’
Added Posey, who has seen Bumgarner at his postseason best: “He was really good. The velo was there. It’s funny how things can change quickly, but he was really good.’’
Bochy let Bumgarner pitch another inning after the three-run sixth, and he got through it despite allowing 2 hits.
He was finished after 88 pitches — 66 for strikes — 3 runs and 6 hits allowed, but no walks and 11 strikeouts.
“I was hoping his spot would come up again so he could get one more at-bat and go for three (homers),’’ Bochy said. “He was going to hit.’’
Bumgarner took no issue with being lifted after seven innings, but you get the feeling he wouldn’t have minded going one more — especially considering reliever Derek Law gave up a game-tying run in the eighth.
“(Bochy) just told me I was done,’’ Bumgarner said. “I know the pitch count was 88. In the first game (of a season) that means something. We want to go out there and keep the ball, but he’s looking out for us.’’
By Tony DeMarco