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In 'strange' matchup vs. Giants, Bumgarner comes out on top

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Madison Bumgarner is just a few starts from hitting 2,000 career innings, and for about three-quarters of them, he has looked 60 feet away and seen Giants catcher Buster Posey staring back at him, completely in tune with what's coming next.

For most of those innings, shortstop Brandon Crawford has been behind Bumgarner, reading the signs and subtly shifting his feet to prepare to help the lefty get an out. 

But on Tuesday night at Chase Field, Posey and Crawford watched from the rail of the visiting dugout. Neither was in the starting lineup for Bumgarner's second career game against the Giants and first with fans in the seats, but that didn't make it any easier for the 32-year-old left-hander.

"It's a strange feeling, you know?" he said on a postgame Zoom call. "Regardless of if they're in the lineup or not, just the uniform, the team, the organization. It's just a strange feeling."

It was a familiar feeling when the game ended. Bumgarner threw seven strong innings and picked up the 126th victory of his career, leading the Diamondbacks to a 3-1 win. It was a scene that has played out in so many Giants games over the last decade, except this time Bumgarner mowed hitters down as the opposing pitcher. He did so looking very much like the man who will one day have his number on the wall outside Oracle Park.

 

The velocity is never going to be what it was -- Bumgarner topped out at 91.6 mph and averaged 90 -- but when he's commanding the ball he can still pitch like an ace. The Giants stacked their lineup with right-handers, with lefty Steven Duggar being the only exception, and Bumgarner never blinked. He hit his spots and mixed it up effectively, throwing 34 fastballs, 26 cutters, 25 curveballs and 14 changeups. 

"We were moving the ball around (well), throwing all four pitches," Bumgarner said. "Everything was pretty good tonight and command was good. That's the main thing."

The outing lowered Bumgarner's ERA to 4.57, FIP to 4.21 and WHIP to 1.15 in what has been a disappointing second season in Arizona. He struggled early, allowing 17 earned runs in his first three starts, and then suddenly locked in for one of the best stretches of his career. 

Over six starts from April 18 to May 17, Bumgarner allowed just five runs and 14 hits in 34 innings. He struck out 39 and walked just six, turning back the clock just as Posey and Crawford were doing back in San Francisco. But Bumgarner's shoulder flared up and he missed six weeks, with the Diamondbacks rocketing toward the top pick in the draft as he rehabbed. 

Since returning, Bumgarner has a 1.80 ERA in four starts. He has gone seven in back-to-back starts for the first time as a Diamondback, and on Tuesday he became just the fourth lefty this season to record at least 21 outs against this Giants lineup. Gabe Kapler went as righty-heavy as he could, but it didn't matter. 

"I thought he hit his spots well, was very aggressive, threw a lot of strikes, and I think that's important against our lineup," Kapler said. "We're pretty good at fouling off pitches and getting to a pitch that we can handle, and he just continued to make pitches. He was able to get through our lineup several times and go pretty deep into that game."

Bumgarner threw those seven innings with a familiar look on his face. There were just 8,800 fans in the stands to watch him take on former co-ace Johnny Cueto, but it was clear this was a big night for him. There were no smiles or jokes with the opposing dugout. Bumgarner never got rattled or sneered. At his best, in the biggest spots, he has always been the calmest person in the ballpark, a completely flat expression on his face in tight moments, and that was the attitude he brought Wednesday. 

The mannerisms were familiar at the plate, too. Bumgarner went down to a knee as he took a massive hack at one pitch and he drew two walks against a staff that knows all too well what he's capable of. Cueto said he was "being careful" with Bumgarner. Catcher Curt Casali said Bumgarner's power came up in a pregame meeting. 

"I've seen enough highlights of him to have a little bit of fear in my mind, and definitely we were trying to be careful with him," Casali said. "But we just didn't pitch him aggressively tonight."

 

Bumgarner scored a run in the game-deciding rally, something that was also very familiar to the Giants watching in the other dugout. As he has been so many times in Giants games, Bumgarner was the most impactful player on the field, but when the 27th out was recorded reality came crashing back.

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The Giants remain the best team in the National League. With the win, the Diamondbacks got back to within 33 1/2 games of them in the NL West standings. They will twice make trips to Oracle Park over the final two months and a Bumgarner start would bring a different level of energy, but this is a team playing out the string, certainly headed for a rebuild. 

Bumgarner called the season in Arizona "more than tough," and at some point soon the Diamondbacks may need to move the final three years left on his deal. For now, Bumgarner said, he's only focused on trying to contribute every five days. 

"Whatever I can do to help, that's what I want to do," he said. "It's as simple as that, really."

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