By the time he stepped to the plate for the first round of his rematch with Madison Bumgarner on Thursday night, Max Muncy had already stirred the pot. Only 11 days had passed since Muncy took the Giants’ ace deep at San Francisco’s Oracle Park, splashing a solo home run into McCovey Cove.
“Don’t watch the ball,” Bumgarner snapped as Muncy briefly admired his drive that afternoon.
“If you don’t want me to watch the ball,” Muncy shouted back, “go get it out of the ocean.”
Thus, the rivalry’s latest touchstone moment was born, a one-liner instantly immortalized on Twitter and T-shirts alike, such as the one Muncy wore to the park Thursday.
But in spite of his wardrobe choice, Muncy wasn’t in a fighting mood this time. Instead, he let his bat do the talking, driving home the opening run of the Dodgers’ 9-8 win against the Giants.
Muncy went 1 for 3 against Bumgarner on the night and 1 for 4 overall before exiting the game with a contusion after fouling a ball off his ankle. It was hardly surprising that Muncy-Bumgarner II lacked the climactic thrill of the original. While “Mad Bum” was a natural in the role of instigator the first time around, Muncy’s rendition of “Mad Max” was a break from his normal character.
“It caught me by surprise a little bit,” said Muncy’s high school coach, Rob Stramp, who had grown accustomed to seeing the slugger operate with an opposite attitude.
Muncy led by example on his Keller High baseball team in Texas. He happily obliged to playing all over the diamond and coolly delivered “prodigious” home runs, as Stramp described them. In Muncy’s three years on varsity, the coach never once caught him barking at an umpire or opponent.
That measured gravitas carried over to his all-conference career at Baylor.
Former Bears assistant Steve Johnigan remembers Muncy’s approach, especially at the plate, being so meticulous and mature that sometimes the coaching staff “learned from him.”
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is the latest to witness the mild-mannered mentality that has helped Muncy flourish. The utility man has 52 home runs and 125 RBIs in his 11/2 seasons with the Dodgers.
“He’s not letting things that are out of his control affect him,” Roberts said last weekend. “It doesn’t matter where I hit him in the lineup, where he plays, if he doesn’t play, he’s ready to come off the bench. ... For me, he’s getting to another level where he’s focused on each moment.”
Beneath that inconspicuous facade, though, Muncy has long possessed a quiet confidence, too.
“He’s got a little fire in him,” Johnigan said. “He’s so quiet sometimes, you kind of wonder, ‘Is it there?’ Oh, it’s there. He’s churning inside. You’ve just got to find it.”
That’s the side of Muncy that Bumgarner tapped into, an occasional competitive edge that has become the perfect yin to Muncy’s otherwise composed yang. On Thursday, he reverted back to the latter.
“There’s a confidence and a swagger, but there’s a good balance to it, which I love,” Roberts said. “The T-shirt says it all. Go get it out of the ocean.”