SAN FRANCISCO -- Madison Bumgarner froze for a beat as he finished his delivery, and when he looked up he knew that was all the time Cody Bellinger needed. So as Bumgarner raced towards first, he decided to whip around and hold Kiké Hernandez at third.
That's when he realized Hernandez had been running on the pitch and would score easily.
Sometimes that's all it takes to wipe away a night's worth of good work, and Bumgarner couldn't hold an early 1-0 lead. But the Giants still won 2-1, and in the aftermath, they were able to appreciate the six best innings Bumgarner has thrown in a long time.
"For sure, that was a night and day difference from my last start," Bumgarner said. "And really probably any start this year."
This was easily the best Bumgarner has looked this year. He always has built velocity as the season goes on, and from the start of his first appearance in May, his fastball and cutter had a bit more zip. He hit a season-high 93.4 mph on a fastball to Hernandez in the fourth and averaged a season-high 92 mph for the night while throwing his fastball 59 percent of the time, the largest share since the 2016 NL Wild Card Game.
"The fastball had good life," catcher Buster Posey said. "It definitely had better life. You could see the velocity was up. It was good to see."
Bumgarner was perfect through three, but Hernandez, his old nemesis, started a 32-pitch fourth inning with a flare to shallow left. Justin Turner singled and a walk of Russell Martin loaded the bases. With the Dodgers threatening to erase the one-run lead, Bumgarner threw an 88 mph cutter past Max Muncy to leave them loaded. His cutter averaged 87.4 mph, also a season-high.
After two strikeouts in the fifth, Bumgarner again found himself dueling with Hernandez to open the sixth. The small-but-powerful Dodger has worked his way from utility man to starting second baseman, but at all stops he has hit Bumgarner like nobody else.
Hernandez entered the night with 21 hits in 42 at-bats against Bumgarner, and he followed the single with a hard double off the left field wall on the ninth pitch of his at-bat. Brandon Belt stopped Bellinger's smash down the first base line but Bumgarner was late getting over. He might not have beaten Bellinger to first, anyway.
"That guy is super-fast," he said. "It's unbelievable."
The moment cost Bumgarner a shot at the win, but he still came away feeling good about the way he threw after a frustrating first month. He made it to 114 pitches, his highest total since April 8, 2017, a start 12 days before he crashed a dirt bike. He got 18 swings-and-misses, his most since the 2016 season. Bruce Bochy said Bumgarner had a "great look about him." Bumgarner focused on the way the ball felt coming out of his hand.
"I've been feeling close, but just a touch off," he said. "All year I felt like it was right there but not quite what I was looking for. But I've been studying hard to get where I wanted to be."