PHOENIX — This collection of Giants is a confident group, but also a somewhat stoic one. They have plenty of fun behind closed doors, but this roster does not generally flip bats or engage in raucous dugout celebrations or skip off the mound.
There was no hiding the emotion, however, when Madison Bumgarner hit his second homer Sunday. Some players in the dugout stared at Bumgarner, seemingly asking, “How the bleep did you do that?” Others smiled. Most laughed.
“For us in the dugout, we’re just kind of shaking our heads,” catcher Buster Posey said. “It’s not supposed to be that easy. He kind of makes it look easy, but there’s a method to his madness. See what I did there? Mad-ness. He works at it. He takes it seriously.”
Bumgarner worked religiously this spring to improve his approach against breaking balls, and that seemed prudent his first time up. With a 3-2 count, Zack Greinke threw him a slider and then missed with a curveball that sent Bumgarner jogging down to first. It is the way Bumgarner has been pitched, even by the game’s best, for a couple of years, but if you make a mistake with your fastball, he is still waiting to pounce.
Greinke did in the fifth, and Bumgarner blasted a low liner into the seats in left, the ball never getting more than 55 feet off the ground. In the seventh, Andrew Chafin fell behind 2-0 and served one up at 92 mph. It left at 112 mph, landing 422 feet away.
Bumgarner became the all-time franchise leader in homers for a pitcher (16) and extended his lead among active pitchers. He is the only pitcher to homer twice on Opening Day. He joined Giancarlo Stanton as the only MLB players to hit two homers at 112+ mph in one game during the Statcast era.
“I try to be pretty level-headed and even-keeled,” he said. “Obviously it’s pretty special to do that, but my job out there is on the mound. That’s what my main concern is.”
Bumgarner was pretty dominant there, too. The man who is forever flirting with his first no-hitter took a perfect game into the sixth. The game unraveled quickly, but Bumgarner tipped his cap to A.J. Pollock, who took him deep to left for a two-run homer.
The flurry did some damage to Bumgarner’s final line, but in his first start, at a park that plays the way Chase Field does with the roof open, he didn't do much wrong. Bumgarner was charged with three runs in seven innings. He struck out 11 and walked none while throwing 88 pitches.
The most important number may have come on the radar gun. Bumgarner does not often worry about velocity, but an increase is a sign of proper mechanics, and after maxing out at 93.0 mph in 2016, he hit 94.3 on Sunday and repeatedly pounded fastballs that registered in the 94 mph range.
“This is the best I’ve felt in a long time,” he said. “That’s the adjustment in my delivery that I’ve been working on for a long time. It definitely was coming out good today.”
After many of his starts the last two seasons, Bumgarner has insisted that his mechanics were not nearly as perfect as he wanted them to be. Asked on Sunday, he smiled and offered only that, “I’m a lot closer than where I was.”
“The struggle is once you get it, to keep hold of it and not lose it,” Bumgarner added.
If this version of Bumgarner — with slightly cleaner mechanics and increased velocity — shows up all year, the Giants could once again have a Cy Young Award winner atop their rotation. If he keeps hitting for power, you’re talking about a potential MVP. Bumgarner has consistently added to his value on the mound with wondrous moments at the plate, and seven innings into his 2017 season, he’s already 40 percent of the way to his career-high for homers. In his first plate appearance, he added a walk.
“I was hoping his spot would come up again (before he was taken out) so he could get one more at-bat to go for three homers,” manager Bruce Bochy said.
The idea of a pitcher hitting three homers should be absurd. But teammates won’t rule anything out with Bumgarner, not after a day like Sunday. They’ve learned to stay out of the way and simply enjoy the show.
“I just laughed,” first baseman Brandon Belt said. “You expect him to get one every once in a while. You don’t expect him to get two the first day. There’s not much you can say. I just laughed. It’s pretty cool to watch a pitcher do that.”
Bumgarner’s first multi-homer game put him in elite company. He joined Bob Elliott, Willie Mays, Matt Williams and Barry Bonds as Giants who have hit two homers on Opening Day. Speaking after a tough loss, he shrugged all that off, saying he tries to think along with the pitcher but he was fortunate to get pitches he could handle.
“That’s something you look back on when you’re done playing,” he said of his historic day. “Right now, I’m not concerned about that.”