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MadBum's first start vs. Giants different in 'strange year'

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This is the day you had circled, and Madison Bumgarner did, too. It was going to be a game unlike anything we've seen since the Giants started winning championships a decade ago, but as Bumgarner prepared to finally face his original team this weekend, there was very little fanfare. 

In a year in which just about everything has changed for society, that holds true for Madison Bumgarner vs. the San Francisco Giants, as well. 

There will be no fans in the seats for this one, nobody to give a standing ovation to the guy in opposing colors. Buster Posey won't get an at-bat, having long ago opted out of the season. Brandon Crawford won't, either, because the Giants are surprisingly in a position to fight for a playoff spot, and that means platoons outweigh a matchup of friends. Hunter Pence has been released and Pablo Sandoval is struggling too much to be an option from the right side.

Even Bumgarner is different. He returns to San Francisco with a 9.35 ERA and serious questions about his velocity after a back strain handed him a rare trip to the Injured List. There's one thing about this matchup that hasn't changed, though. Bumgarner has always been good at compartmentalizing, and that remains the case. 

"I feel like I'm pretty good at pushing all that stuff aside," he said on a Zoom call Friday afternoon. "I think I'll be able to go out there and treat it like any other start tomorrow, the same as I would if it was a postseason start or whatever. I feel like I'm pretty good at staying even keel."

 

That trait helped Bumgarner do the impossible six years ago in the postseason, but it would have been tested in a normal 2020 season. Even Bumgarner would have been forced to break from character for a moment when he received a standing ovation as he took the mound at Oracle Park, or his first plate appearance. Now, he won't even get to bat. 

The Diamondbacks have Josh Rojas as their DH. On the other side, the Giants have Austin Slater back and ready to lead off against a familiar lefty. Slater is one of seven right-handed hitters in the lineup, the lone exceptions being Mike Yastrzemski (who hits lefties well) and Brandon Belt (the hottest hitter on the planet right now). On Friday night, Belt downplayed the looming matchup. 

"I think there's just going to be energy more so because we know we need to win ball games right now," Belt said. "I don't think there's really a concern on who is on the mound that night, it's just more of we've got to go out there and we've got to win ball games right now."

Bumgarner said he has reminisced a bit over the last few months, but mostly when watching games. 

"I spent the last 10 years here," he said. "You don't just forget about it. You think about it."

His concern on Saturday, though, may be similar to Belt's. Bumgarner's first year in Arizona has turned into a nightmare, with his performance slipping and the team falling out of the race. He has a fair amount to prove on Saturday night, more to his new fans than his old ones. That's the concern right now, but hopefully one day next season, there will be a chance for nostalgia. 

Tim Lincecum never returned to face the Giants in a different uniform. Pence didn't, either. Matt Cain retired as a Giant, and Posey, Crawford, Belt and Sandoval are still here. A star of those title teams has never had a chance to return like this, so hopefully at some point we all get that moment when Bumgarner looks in at the batter's box and sees Posey digging in, trying to hide a smile, as 40,000 fans hold their breath. This year, that wasn't in the cards. 

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"It's such a strange year, you know. Everything is different right now," Bumgarner said. "I look forward to things getting back to normal, and not just in sports, but in the world. Maybe next year we'll be able to do that. I don't know. I hope so. I look forward to seeing him back out there too."