Ray Ratto

Ratto: Bumgarner's Young Arm Guided by Old Soul


Ratto: Bumgarner's Young Arm Guided by Old Soul


ARLINGTON, Texas -- Madison Bumgarner walked out of the interview room and into the tunnel that would return him to the Giants clubhouse when he faced his only moment of true jitters.

The tunnel was lined with members of the Giants extended traveling party, and they spontaneously applauded him as he ambled through the space theyd left for him. He was like a groom without a bride, the center of all attention, but he knew he had to do something, so he took off his hat and held it over his head in the international sign for Is this what you need me to do?

They did. He intuited it. Another moment in the fast-paced, slow-paced, doesnt-get-better-than-this world of M. K. Bumgarner, Reluctant Hero Du Jour.

He threw eight of the most brilliant, simplest, yet most baffling innings in recent World Series history, muffling the Texas Rangers in Game 4, 4-0. The Giants are one win away from bringing down the house and ending the third-longest streak without a title in baseball, and they couldnt have done it without the guy who wasnt good enough to start the season with the men he defended so well this evening.

Brilliant, because he allowed only three hits, started 19 of the 27 hitters he faced with a strike and in general got enough defense and a bit of luck to complete his best start ever.

At age 21.

Most baffling, at least to the Rangers, because there were so few danger points he faced through the evening. Only one hitter, Josh Hamilton, reached second base, and only two leadoff hitters -- Elvis Andrus in the first and the Michael Young in the fourth -- led off by reaching base, and lasted a total of four pitches before being erased on ground balls. Its hard to gauge a mans brilliance when he is challenged so rarely.

And simplest, because he caused nobody any worries at all, at any point. In a pressure-crushed event, a game which would essentially decide the fate of the World Series, Bumgarner was unmoved, untwitched, un-everything. Nobody had to sweat a moment.

Not Buster Posey, his catcher, who never had to convince him to throw anything and only went out once all night to talk to him, and only because were kind of supposed to. I mean, I didnt need to.

Not Dave Righetti, his pitching coach, who recalled only when he threw the 2-0 fastball to Hamilton (Josh, who grounded sharply to Juan Uribe, who couldnt handle it). I wanted to see what hed do, if hed try to overthrow a fastball or something, but he just got back to what hed been doing all night. Slider, changeup, keeping them off balance, running the ball in when he was supposed to. That (Vladimir) Guerrero at-bat went pretty well.

That was a seven-pitch strikeout.

Not Bruce Bochy, who admitted he asked Posey at the end of the eighth how much Bumgarner had left, heard that he wasnt quite as sharp, and quickly opted for Brian Wilson to close the game.

And his other decisions on this night? I didnt have one.

And not even Bumgarner himself, who has somehow trained himself at age 21 not to act like hes, well, 21.

I just keep telling myself to relax, he said, and Ive told myself so much that its starting to become second nature, and it makes it a lot easier on me and on the other players, I think, to see somebody thats relaxed out there throwing. Thats it, I guess.

Yeah, thats it.

It wasnt a perfect night, in fairness. Posey said, The first couple of innings, he yanked a couple of fastballs, but that was about it. And Bumgarners two-pitch retirement of Ian Kinsler to end the seventh bothered him a bit.

I was trying to get the ball up a little bit because I know he can spin on some balls and pull them down the line, he said. Actually, the pitch I threw him that he popped out on wasnt the one I wanted to make, but it worked out all right. It was a changeup that came back over the plate. I was trying to get it away.

Such sloth.

But in an era in which more men than women are willing to drive lost (and studies show that this is true), Bumgarners few moments of aberrant pitching amid such a masterpiece almost stand out as a relief. It shouldnt be this easy, not for a 21-year-old, not for a kid whose spring training was so baffling that he spent the first month and change in Fresno tidying up his mechanics, and most definitely not for a Giant.

Bumgarner actually demolished the T-shirt-exploitable concept of torture, because clinical dissections arent torture at all. They are science, and Bumgarner was as scientific as all hell Sunday night.

The Giants now send Tim Lincecum out to re-negotiate status questions with Cliff Lee Monday evening, with a World Series 27 outs away. Conventional wisdom likes Lee, but conventional wisdom has laughed at the Giants until this series, and has now been reduced to whistling in admiration at the pitching that has brought baseball to its knees.

And if there is a scene that explains it better than Madison Bumgarner sheepishly waving his hat at family, friends and supporters who just watched him smother the best team in the American League, we havent seen it yet.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy


Dusty Baker's postseason agonies and his Hall of Fame candidacy

Dusty Baker’s face tells a lot of different stories, but there is only one it tells in October.

Disappointment. Deflating, soul-crushing, hopeless disappointment.

With Thursday night’s National League Division Series defeat to the Chicago Cubs, the Washington Nationals have reinforced their place in the panoply of the capital’s legacy of failure.

But Baker’s agonies extend far further. His 3,500 games rank him 15th all-time, and only one manager above him, Gene Mauch, is not in the Hall of Fame. His 105 postseason games ranks seventh all-time, and his nine postseason appearances ranks sixth.

But his postseason record of 44-61 and no World Series titles curse him. He has been on the mailed backhand of eight series losses in 11 tries (plus a play-in game loss in 2013), and been marked by the media-ocracy as an old-school players’ manager who doesn’t wrap himself in the comforting embrace of statistical analysis.

He is now Marv Levy and Don Nelson – the good manager who can’t win the big one.

Only Levy and Nelson are in their respective halls of fame, and Baker probably won’t be. Having no World Series titles (his bullpen dying in 2002 being as close as he ever got) dooms him as it has doomed Mauch, although Mauch made his reputation as a brilliant tactician with bad teams.

But even if you take Baker’s worst metric – the postseason record – he still ranks in the 90th percentile of the 699 managers in the game’s history, though even then there’s the caveat of the 200 some-odd interim managers who you may choose not to count.

This is not to claim he should be in the Hall of Fame. This is to claim he should be discussed, if only to determine if reputations in the postseason are the only way managers are allowed to be evaluated. Because if that’s the case, Dusty Baker’s world-weary October face makes that conversation a very short one.


U.S. Soccer: Patriotism-fueled frontrunning born of inexcusable arrogance


U.S. Soccer: Patriotism-fueled frontrunning born of inexcusable arrogance

So Bruce Arena resigned as the U.S. National soccer team coach Friday. Big damned deal.

Oh, it is to him. He probably liked the job, and might have wanted to keep getting paid.

But whether he’s there or isn’t doesn’t matter. In fact, whether the people who hired him are there or not doesn’t matter either. U.S. Soccer is the definition of sporadic interest and patriotism-fueled frontrunning, of imbedded self-interest and general indolence, all born of inexcusable arrogance.

Bruce Arena didn’t bring that to the job, nor does he remove it by leaving. He’s just another head on a spike, like Jurgen Klinsmann was before him, and Bob Bradley before him.

But that would also be true if the head of U.S. Soccer, Sunil Gulati, quit or was fired too. Even the people bleating that the U.S. shamed itself by losing to Trinidad and Tobago display the same kind of blinkered ignorance and arrogance that dogs this sport in America.

Being in CONCACAF is a gift from the heavens, and the U.S. has decided as a national collective to replace that with actual achievement. Beating Germany in friendly is proof of long-term worth. The fact is, we don’t know how to evaluate America’s place in the soccer world except as an audience, let alone how much massive structural change is required to change that.

And change must be massive, and can’t be evaluated by the next cheap win or the next galling loss, or television ratings. America is good at watching soccer, good enough to catch on the actual chasm between its national team and development structure.

But that’s where it ends, because knowing what’s bad because you just watched it, or what is actually good (like, say, a UEFA or CONMEBOL qualifier) is light years from knowing how to fix a system built on the flawed concepts of work rate without creativity and money as a solution to crippling organizational problems.

So Bruce Arena does the decent thing given the circumstances, falling on a sword that should actually be a kebab skewer. But it makes no difference. The American soccer structure needs to get what it needs before it can get what it wants, and there are no more shortcuts to take in a short-attention-span world.