By Daniel Rathman
When play began last night, visitors were 0-9 in Game 7 of the World Series since 1982. But the 2014 Giants had a horse in their stable that none of the nine road clubs that preceded them could ride.
San Francisco inched out to a 3-2 lead in the top of the fourth inning on Wednesday, and Jeremy Affeldt protected that razor-thin margin in the bottom half of the frame. That’s when Madison Bumgarner got up in the bullpen. And after the Giants went down in order in the top of the fifth, their ace put the team on his back and carried it to the finish line.
Here are five things you didn’t know about the game.
1. While Bumgarner will be remembered as the hero, the Giants could not have downed the Royals without the 4-through-7 hitters in their batting order: Pablo Sandoval, Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt and Michael Morse.
Long before Sandoval squeezed Salvador Perez’s foul pop for the final out of Game 7, he sparked both of San Francisco’s run-scoring rallies with a hit-by-pitch in the second and an infield single in the fourth. Both times, Pence singled to move Sandoval into scoring position. In the second, Belt singled to load the bases ahead of sacrifice flies by Morse and Brandon Crawford. In the fourth, Belt sent a productive fly ball to right, enabling Sandoval to move to third, wherefrom he scored on Morse’s ensuing single.
Sandoval later added an opposite-field double off of Wade Davis, his record-breaking 26th hit of the postseason. Pence and Belt became the first duo to collect at least one knock in every game of a seven-game World Series since Hank Bauer and Billy Martin of the 1956 Yankees.
If Wednesday marked the last time Sandoval, an impending free agent, will ever don a Giants uniform, he could not have chosen a better way to go out.
2. As the 4-through-7 hitters did the heavy-lifting, the top three batters in the Giants order combined to go 0-for-12 with five strikeouts, and the bottom two went 0-for-6 with five more.
Joe Panik, who’d struck out just three times in the postseason before Game 7, took home a hat trick, but he atoned for it by starting an outstanding double play. Panik’s middle-infield partner, Crawford, also fanned thrice, but he chipped in a sac fly. Buster Posey, who went 0-for-4 with a pair of punch-outs, made all of his contributions in the squat, putting down the signs for the San Francisco staff.
The 2012 National League MVP, Posey went yard in the sixth inning of the deciding Game 4 of the Fall Classic at Comerica Park. That long ball off of Max Scherzer remains his most recent postseason extra-base hit.
Worn down from a long season of catching, Posey was batting .302 at the end of the NLCS, but all of his knocks were singles. He went just 4-for-26 in the World Series, and all four of those hits only got him to first base, too. At least early on, Posey didn’t lack for hard-hit balls, but he never split a gap or parked one into the seats.
Posey’s fourth and final at-bat on Wednesday was his 69th of the playoffs. When he grounded out to second against Davis in the eighth, he usurped David Eckstein’s perch atop the “leaderboard” for most at-bats logged in a single postseason without an extra-base hit.
3. Royals manager Ned Yost caught a steady stream of flak throughout the regular season and early in the playoffs for his bullpen management — in particular, his reluctance to use Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland before their respective seventh, eighth and ninth innings. With no tomorrow to worry about, Yost pledged a “quick hook,” announced that Herrera would be the first man out of the Kansas City bullpen and declared that any of the big three relievers could be asked to go more than one inning.
Home starter Jeremy Guthrie put a dent in that plan by lasting only 3 1/3 innings, and Herrera came on and promptly surrendered what would prove to be the game-winning single by Morse. Fortunately for the Royals, that was the last thing the hard-throwing righty did wrong in Game 7. Herrera got out of the fourth, then breezed through the fifth and sixth, racking up four strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings. Davis did his part, too, with a pair of goose eggs in the seventh and eighth, and Holland held the line in the ninth.
But by time Herrera settled in, it was already too late. Bochy’s hook came much sooner than Yost’s, as he pulled Tim Hudson — the oldest pitcher ever to start a World Series game — with two outs in the last of the second. Jeremy Affeldt did what Herrera could not do: He stranded two runners. And then, like Herrera, he proceeded to work two more innings, eventually earning his first-ever World Series win.
In bridging the gap from starter to closer, Affeldt extended his streak of scoreless postseason appearances to 22, so close, yet — with the Fall Classic over — so far from Mariano Rivera’s record of 23.
4. The Royals went 11-4 in October. In the past, whenever a team won 11 games in the playoffs, it was rewarded with the world championship. Not this year.
Yost’s squad was the first wild-card team to reach and win three games in the World Series since the league went to the one-game playoff format to determine which of each circuit’s two wild cards would advance to the Division Series. Hence, with last night’s 3-2 defeat, the Royals became the first team in major-league history to win 11 postseason games without winning it all.
By the same token, the Giants are the first team ever to require 12 wins to capture the title. They, too, earned a spot in the Division Series with a wild-card-playoff win, on the strength of Bumgarner’s four-hit shutout. San Francisco’s first and last postseason victories both ended with its ace on the hill.
5. That wasn’t the plan coming in, of course. Bochy was only counting on 40-50 pitches from Bumgarner, which, he probably reckoned, would get the southpaw through three innings, or — if he were supremely efficient — some or all of a fourth.
Bumgarner, who threw 117 pitches in Sunday’s Game 5, did not immediately have his best stuff or his crispest command, but he settled in quickly and was so relaxed that the telecast caught him yawning in the dugout as the Giants batted in the top of the seventh. He retired the side on nine pitches after the seventh-inning stretch, and after three frames on the bump, the 25-year-old’s pitch count was only 36.
Bochy let Bumgarner come back for the eighth, and 16 pitches later, he was back in the dugout. Fifty-two was over the skipper’s prescribed limit, but Bochy did not dare take the ball away from Bumgarner and place it in the hands of Santiago Casilla. Instead, he sent Bumgarner back out for his 14th inning in 75 hours. And 16 more pitches later — the last six of them under the stress of a runner at third, after poor outfield play by Gregor Blanco and Juan Perez turned a two-out Alex Gordon single into a triple — the Giants had their third championship in five years.
Bumgarner is seventh player ever to be named NLCS and World Series MVP in the same year. He’s the first pitcher in major-league history to throw a shutout and record a multi-inning save in the same World Series. He eclipsed Curt Schilling’s old record of 48 1/3 innings and kept right on rolling, all the way up to 52 2/3. And he became the first pitcher since Sandy Koufax to author at least four shutout innings in Game 7 of a World Series while pitching on two days rest.
But none of those facts or records guaranteed a championship.
For Bumgarner and the Giants, this one is the most important: He will forever be regarded as the hero in the first World Series Game 7 victory in the history of the franchise.
Daniel Rathman is a writer and editor for Baseball Prospectus. He has previously been a new media intern for New England Sports Network and served as editor-in-chief of The Tufts Daily during the spring of 2012. Daniel is also a second-year urban planning student at the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at New York University and a research assistant at the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management.