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Madison Bumgarner seizes the moment

From Arlington, Texas

Anyone think Madison Bumgarner was going to wilt under World Series pressure?

If so, have you been watching?

Bumgarner stands 6 feet 4 and looks like an old soul. It is hard to believe he turned 21 only three months ago given how easily he dissected the Texas Rangers in Game 4 of the World Series.

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Baseball can be cruel for hitters when pitchers know where the ball is going, and Bumgarner seemed to throw just about every one of his 106 pitches where catcher Buster Posey set his glove. He became the fourth San Francisco starter to give up no more than three hits in the Giants’ pitching-dominated postseason run, which has them one step away from a championship after a 4-0 victory Sunday night.

“It’s certainly been pitching as advertised,” Rangers Manager Ron Washington said. “Those guys pound the strike zone, have good velocity, they can spin the ball, change speeds. They’ve done a great job. We’ve got to figure out a way to put some runs on the board against them.”

The Rangers can only hope that their ace, 32-year-old Cliff Lee, clean shaven since losing Game 1, can handle the sometimes suffocating World Series pressure as well as Bumgarner did. The Rangers’ survival depends on Lee reversing his loss to Tim Lincecum in Game 5 on Monday night.

Texas might have been wise to give Lee a crack on three days’ rest rather than going with No. 4 starter Tommy Hunter on Sunday. But Lee has somehow avoided having such responsibility thrust on him in his march toward the free-agent market, where many believe the New York Yankees or someone else will give him a contract nearly as big as CC Sabathia’s seven-year, $161-million deal.

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Washington said he never discussed the possibility of working on short rest with Lee, which leads to this question: Why not?

Bumgarner-Hunter was a mismatch evident long before Aubrey Huff clubbed an 86-mph fastball 404 feet into the right-field bleachers off Hunter. A team already trailing a best-of-seven series two games to one couldn’t afford a disadvantage in Game 4, but there the Rangers were.

Sending a starter out on short rest is a risk worth taking only in desperate situations, and Washington apparently didn’t consider this one; or maybe he knew Lee didn’t want a chance at three starts in the Series. In either case, shame on Texas if it felt it didn’t see Bumgarner coming.

“I can’t say enough about him,” Giants Manager Bruce Bochy said. “A 21-year-old kid on that stage, pitching like that he had it all working.”

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Bumgarner was pitching for the fourth time in the playoffs, including two scoreless innings of relief in the National League Championship Series clincher against Philadelphia, and the Giants have won every time. This will not surprise his minor league teammates who watched him compile a 34-6 record during his quick climb to San Francisco.

“He didn’t throw one pitch at the same speed,” Washington said. “He moved the ball around. He kept the ball on the ground. He kept his defense engaged. They made some good plays. The kid did a great job.”

Lee was in this situation at this time last year. The well-traveled Rangers pitcher won Game 5 of the 2009 World Series to keep Philadelphia alive, sending the teams back to New York but only delaying the final outcome.

He is facing a tougher situation this time around. He’s going against a fully rested Lincecum, not A.J. Burnett on short rest, and he’s trying to shake off a loss.

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Lincecum won back-to-back Cy Young Awards in 2008 and 2009. But it’s hard to imagine he’ll be better than Bumgarner.

“This is what you want to do every year,” Bumgarner said. “We’ve got the team to do it, a lot of great guys in the clubhouse.”

progers@tribune.com


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