LOS ANGELES — Perhaps the simplest explanation is the correct one.
Maybe Madison Bumgarner had just reached the end of the rope Monday night. It was humid at Dodger Stadium and Bumgarner had thrown 97 intense pitches, grunting and grinding his way through one of the better lineups in the National League. During an unusually terse session with reporters, Bumgarner offered little insight into his early hook, but at one point he did admit he was “running low, for sure.”
So perhaps it was that simple. Bumgarner had done his job, and manager Bruce Bochy felt it was time for the bullpen to handle the rest.
Except … this is Madison Bumgarner, the poster child for endurance in today’s game. His legend is built on going the extra mile when the Giants need him most, and often times there’s no discussion to be had. Bumgarner demands the ball in big spots. Monday night’s game was the last stand for a Giants team still with hopes of winning the NL West, and Bochy turned a one-run lead over to a bullpen that had already lost four games in September when leading after eight.
The move did not make sense in the moment. There was little additional clarity afterward. Why did Bochy pull Bumgarner -- who had allowed one hit and struck out 10 -- in a one-run game that turned into a 2-1 walk-off loss to the Dodgers.
“I talked to Bum,” Bochy said. “We talked.”
There was no expanding on what was discussed.
“I didn’t take him out for a pinch-hitter,” Bochy said to a follow-up question. “I said we talked. I’ll leave it at that.”
The manager, normally forthcoming, let the decision hang in the air, and since the move came moments after Bumgarner nearly came to blows with Yasiel Puig, the imagination tends to run wild. Bumgarner insisted he did not get hurt in any way as he went toe-to-toe with Puig, his longtime nemesis. His history says he would have wanted the eighth, especially after a moment that fiery, and perhaps his history with Bochy points to another explanation.
Bochy has pulled Bumgarner a few times this season when it seemed he might have another frame in that wondrous left arm, and afterward he often talks of protecting the franchise cornerstone. Bumgarner was due up second in the top of the eighth, and it’s possible Bochy was concerned about retaliation. Bochy was in no mood to expand one way or the other, which was sort of a theme for a team that’s reeling at an unimaginable speed.
Bumgarner was short on details when asked what exactly happened with Puig, a player he nearly fought in 2014.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “I got him out. He tried to stare me down or something. That’s what it looked like to me.”
Bumgarner had fielded a soft grounder down the first base line and thrown to first. He slapped his glove and then made eye contact with Puig. Bumgarner told Puig not to look at him. Puig asked Bumgarner why he was looking at him, with both players mixing in expletives. It took off from there. One player who ended up in the middle said it was as simple as it looked: Two players stared each other down. They then tried to come to blows.
“There’s a lot of history,” Bochy said. “They’re not going to go out to dinner. They’ve been going at it for a while. It doesn’t surprise me anymore.”
Neither did the ending. The Giants blew a save for the 30th time. Seven of them have come this month.
“Those last three outs, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such a tough time getting it, but we’re having it,” Bochy said. “It’s a shame because we played great. Guys did a great job. We manufactured a run.”
Eduardo Nuñez did so with his legs, but the Dodgers found a way to battle back against the Closer by Committee. Derek Law gave up a single and then Javier Lopez gave up a single. Hunter Strickland was greeted by a Justin Turner knock that tied the game. Adrian Gonzalez lined a double off Hunter Pence’s glove in deep right, giving the Dodgers the win and cutting their magic number to win the division to seven.
Just as there were few answers about the decision to pull Bumgarner, there appear to be few answers for the ninth. Bochy has tried half of his bullpen regulars. Nothing has worked, and the frustration has certainly boiled over. In a quiet clubhouse, one player could be heard taking a bat to a piece of exercise equipment. Law came back out to the field and ran laps until 11:30 p.m. The rest took the long walk to a waiting team bus, searching for answers that might never come.
"We’ve got to absorb these," Bochy insisted. "I will say, we’ve absorbed a few.”