Madison Bumgarner is a throwback from another time. A player from two towns over who inspires barbershop whispers, his exploits tracked in weekly newspaper agate. As his legend grows through gossip and half-truths, it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s been exaggerated.
Does he really train by chopping down trees a la Paul Bunyan? Does he really wander the wilderness killing snakes? Does he really go steady with a girl also named Madison Bumgarner?
Is he as unhittable as they say?
As the legend grows so too does skepticism. No one can be this good. No one can be at his best when it matters most with such consistency.
And then he comes to town for the big game. The townspeople pack the bleachers with equal parts resignation and hope that their boys will be the ones who prove Bumgarner is human. It’s immediately apparent that he’s not like the rest. There’s something special about his left arm, sure, but it’s the unseen that captivates the eye.
He has the kind of guts that make old sourdoughs nostalgic for a simpler time when men were men and muscles were built doing chores, not in a fancy gym. As the sea rages around him, his port is the mound.
His opponents’ optimism evaporates before he throws a pitch. The sinking feeling of inevitability sets in. All the stories are true. He’s Madison Bumgarner and he’s been sent to rip hearts from chests and bats from sweaty hands.
Bumgarner put a team from the city that never sleeps into hibernation Wednesday night with a four-hit complete game shutout. He’s gone 23 consecutive postseason innings without allowing a run. A third of his last nine playoff starts have been complete games and he’s posted a 0.79 ERA during that span.
But no stat speaks louder than this.
In his last eight postseason road starts, Bumgarner is 8-0 with a 0.50 ERA. He doesn’t just break hearts, he does so in public places that have special meaning to the dumped, prolonging the pain. It stings even more because he won’t want to talk about it.
“I wish I had an answer for you,” he said in response to a question about his October greatness. “I don’t.”
The words only come easy for Bumgarner when they’re backed with anger in the heat of battle. On multiple occasions he barked at home plate umpire Mike Winters about the strike zone — including once from the batter’s box. Bumgarner breaks with convention because, well, he defies convention.
The game ends. The team from two towns over, led by an unhittable pitcher, boards the bus and heads for home. The townspeople now know. The stories were all true. The agate had no typos.
Madison Bumgarner is no myth. He’s real — and spectacular.