SAN FRANCISCO -- We know what greatness looks like when we see it.
And on a spectacular October evening at AT&T Park, it looked exactly like the wavy-haired, 6-foot-5 dominator who took the mound for the San Francisco Giants.
It was on that mound, along the shores of McCovey Cove, that Madison Bumgarner pitched his team to within one game of winning its third World Series in five magical years.
But that's not all.
With Bumgarner, we have come to realize now that this isn't just about one night, even on a night when he pitched the first complete-game shutout in any World Series since Josh Beckett rocked Yankee Stadium in 2003 and the first by a Giant since Jack Sanford in 1962.
No, this is about an entire month's work, an entire postseason's work now. It's about a man who has spent October elevating his stature not just to a place alongside Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright and King Felix Hernandez, but to a place alongside the October legends.
Alongside Orel Hershiser and Chris Carpenter, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, Bret Saberhagen and Fernando Venezuela. And that's just from the division-play era. We'll leave it up to you to decide whether it's time to bring Bob Gibson or Sandy Koufax or Christy Mathewson into this conversation.
And if we take another step back, if we start adding up what this man has done in his three trips to the World Series, we have something special and historic to contemplate. And even the guys he plays with have begun to grasp it.
In the ninth inning Sunday, as Bumgarner was finishing off the 5-0, four-hit, complete-game shutout of the Kansas City Royals that gave the Giants a 3-2 lead in this World Series, Giants relievers Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt leaned against the dugout rail.
"And me and Javy were saying, `Is this guy human?'" Affeldt said with a laugh.
Human or superhuman? It can be tough to tell sometimes. But then the sight of history is always hard to comprehend when you realize you're watching it.
Nevertheless, Bumgarner has spent this October, spent his entire career, making history. So now we'll let you try to digest it, because at age 25, he has already done things few pitchers have ever done, or ever will do:
• This was his fourth World Series start. He's won all of them. And how many other pitchers in the history of baseball have won four World Series games before their 26th birthday? That would be none. Zilch. Just him.
• But let's take age out of it. No pitcher in the past half a century had won the first four World Series starts of his career at any age. Last to do it: Lew Burdette, for the 1957-58 Milwaukee Braves, at age 30-31.
• And in those four starts, Bumgarner has given up a total of one run. And that one came on a solo homer last Tuesday, in a game he led by seven runs at the time. So he's 4-0, with a 0.29 ERA, allowing 12 hits in 31 innings, in his World Series career. That's absurd. Not to mention unprecedented. If he were to retire back to the farm in North Carolina next week, that would be the lowest World Series ERA of any pitcher in history with 25 innings or more.
• Sunday also marked the second complete-game shutout he has thrown just in this postseason. The other was in the wild-card game in Pittsburgh. That makes him only the fourth pitcher in the division-play era to fire more than one shutout in a single postseason (joining Beckett in 2003, Randy Johnson in 2001 and Orel Hershiser in 1988), the fourth left-hander in history to do that in any era (joining Whitey Ford in 1960, Sandy Koufax in 1965 and the Big Unit in 2001) and the first Giant to do it since Mathewson twirled three shutouts in the 1905 World Series. Whoah. How 'bout that list?
• And, finally, in Bumgarner's six starts in this postseason, he has placed himself alongside Schilling (in 2001) as the only pitchers ever to make a half-dozen starts of seven innings or more in the same Octoberfest. And Bumgarner's 1.13 ERA in those six starts (47.2 innings, 26 hits, 6 earned runs) would rank No. 3 among pitchers who threw at least 40 innings in one postseason -- behind only Hershiser (1.05) in 1988 and Schilling (1.12) in 2001. Wow.
But those numbers, mind-blowing as they are, shouldn't be viewed in a statistical vacuum, because there is so much more behind them. Those numbers alone don't adequately capture what Madison Bumgarner has meant to the team he pitches for.
So let's spell that out for you. The Giants have reached the brink of another parade by winning 11 games in this postseason. Five of those games were started by their ace. Six were started by all their other pitchers combined.
And that's why the great Juan Marichal, an ace from another Giants era, stopped by their clubhouse Sunday night, looking for the ace of this era, Asked what he thinks when he watches Bumgarner pitch, Marichal summed him up in nine succinct words: "When I watch him, I know we're gonna win."
Marichal said he watched Bumgarner on this night with his 32-year-old son, Juan Antonio, and had just one prediction:
"I told my son that he was gonna go nine," Marichal said. "I told him that before the game, during the game and when [closer Santiago] Casilla came to the bullpen. I said, `Don't worry. Casilla is not going to be pitching in this game.'"
Yeah. Good call. Even though Bumgarner's pitch count had reached 107 after eight innings, he marched back to the dugout with the sort of look in his eye that told his manager: "Don't even think about it." So Bruce Bochy motioned toward the bullpen. Casilla sat back down. And this was Madison Bumgarner's game. As it should have been.
"I would have felt worse," said Bochy later, "if I had taken him out and something would have happened."
But just because nothing happened, just because Bumgarner zipped through a 10-pitch 1-2-3 ninth to finish off his masterpiece, we shouldn't take that for granted either, because what we were seeing in the ninth inning of this game doesn't happen anymore. You know that, right?
Put it this way: Bumgarner has pitched two complete games in this postseason. No one else has pitched any. And only one other starter, Washington's Jordan Zimmermann (against the Giants), has even thrown a single pitch in the ninth.
For that matter, Bumgarner has now gone beyond seven innings four different times in this postseason. Everyone else who started a game -- for the nine other playoff teams -- has combined to do it five times. So what we've been watching is a true ace not just for this age but for any age. With this dude, said his clubhouse neighbor, Tim Hudson, "losing is not an option."
"So to be able to watch those [last] three outs," Affeldt said, "I feel privileged and blessed to say I was on a team with this guy. And to watch that game that took place was pretty cool, because you don't see that that often. ... You just don't see that kind of performance anymore. You're going to say, 'Man, let me tell you what I saw.'"
Well, what he saw and you saw was the single most important player (not pitcher) on anybody's team this October. What he saw and you saw was a man who has enhanced his standing in the sport in a way that figures to change his career forever.
And what he saw and you saw was a man who has been so good, in baseball's most exhausting month, at the end of a 265-inning journey, that his teammates barely know how to describe his awesomeness anymore. Literally.
His first baseman, Brandon Belt, did at least give it a try Sunday night -- and then realized he's running out of ways to say the same thing every single time his favorite ace takes the mound.
"He's been good," Belt began. "He's awesome. He's, um, I mean, I don't know what else to say. I'm sorry."
And the truth is, there's no more he has to say, because Madison Bumgarner has already said it, with every pitch he's thrown in one of the most dominant October runs of all time.
We know what greatness looks like when we see it. And boy, have we been seeing it. And with a potential Game 7 looming Wednesday in Kansas City, we might not even have seen the last of Madison Bumgarner in 2014. So don't touch that dial.