Throughout the course of the 2019 season the San Francisco Giants and their loyal following have found themselves in unfamiliar territory. For the first time since moving to 24 Willie Mays Plaza, the Giants looked to be sellers at the trade deadline - and then July happened.
The Giants have caught fire and have thrown a wrench into what seemed to be a foregone conclusion, and with the July 31 deadline quickly approaching the Giants find themselves in quite the predicament. Do they lay it all on the line with an enchanting squad of aging veterans and unproven youngsters that has gone 16-4 in July? Or do they believe the team that started out the 2019 campaign at 36-47 is the Giants’ true identity?
Making matters more stressful for first year Giants’ General Manager Farhan Zaidi are the ramifications of this decision. All year long the Giants have been expected to empty their cupboards to the highest bidder, with some of their best players reportedly available. If executed properly, this plan could potentially take years off the Giants’ “rebuilding process,” and be instrumental in replenishing an underwhelming farm system. If the San Francisco front office decides to stay put at the deadline (or even buy a piece or two) it could set the franchise’s restoration project back several seasons.
Of all the players drawing interest from teams looking to upgrade at this year’s trade deadline, the beloved Madison Bumgarner has been the Giants’ player most commonly discussed, and arguably the most talked about trade piece in all of Major League Baseball. This is not a sentiment that sits well with Giants’ fans, myself included. So, when the opportunity presented itself to attend Tuesday night’s game and pay my respects to one of the most iconic players in Giants’ history, in potentially his last home start, I decided to go for it.
“An Unforgettable Evening at Oracle Park” features analysis of the Giants’ trade deadline situation, a series of tributes to Madison Bumgarner and specifications on how to recreate the five key pitches that decided the outcome of Tuesday night’s game on a MaxBP Pro Machine.
Pre-Game - As we approached Oracle Park on Tuesday Night, it was only fitting to be greeted by a three story banner of Madison Bumgarner that read, “It doesn’t get more SF.” I couldn’t agree more and decided this was an ideal location to unveil the first Bumgarner inspired sign, “Please don’t do it Mr. Zaidi.”
The sign drew looks from fellow Giants fans entering the ballgame, along with a few comments, mostly positive; however, when a member of the Giants’ camera crew spotted the sign, they opted not to acknowledge it. This was indicative of how many of the Giants’ staff members would react to the signs - from the camera crew to the ushers. The very thought of losing the “snot rocketing” kid from Hickory, North Carolina was obviously not an idea they wanted to entertain.
It's no secret to the Giants’ organization how important Bumgarner is to the franchise, and the thought of seeing him walk out the door is demoralizing. A Bumgarner departure would essentially be a “white flag” moment, signifying an end to the greatest era in the San Francisco Giants’ 61-year history. But with all due respect to the Giants and their staff, I was there to acknowledge the proverbial “elephant in the room.” If there was any chance this was Bumgarner’s final home start in San Francisco, I was determined to pay homage.
1st Inning - The visiting Chicago Cubs wasted no time getting after Bumgarner. Javier Baez smoked a one-out double to left field on a 2-0 fastball, setting the stage for one of the Cubs’ best run producers, Kris Bryant:
MaxBP Pitch #1, Madison Bumgarner, left-handed, curveball, 78 MPH - After swinging and missing on the first pitch of the at-bat, Bryant deposited a 1-0 curveball (78 MPH) on the outer-half of the plate to centerfield for an RBI single, giving Chicago an early 1-0 lead. This pitch can be simulated on a MaxBP Pro Machine by setting the machine on the left-handed curveball option, approximately 30 feet from home plate. With the flick of several switches, a hitter can practice hitting this pitch type, speed and location until their hands are blistered and raw.
3rd Inning - The Giants evened the score in the bottom of the 2nd inning on a Alex Dickerson’s leadoff double and Mike Yastrzemski’s sacrifice fly. So, Bumgarner looked to build on the Giants’ momentum by shutting the Cubs down in the third inning.
The Giants’ left-hander retired the first two Cubs’ hitters, before running into some trouble. Giants’ nemesis Javier Baez reached on an infield single and proceeded to steal second base, setting the stage for another RBI single by Bryant. The Cubs’ next batter, Anthony Rizzo, stepped up to the plate and was promptly hit by a pitch. Already possessing a 2-1 lead, the Cubs looked to break the game open with two runners on base, two outs and Albert Almora Jr. at the plate. Bumgarner wasn’t having any part of it, as he retired Almora Jr. on a ground out to third base.
There wasn’t anything particularly special about the play, but it was classic Bumgarner, he kept the Giants in the game. So, I decided to bust out my second Bumgarner tribute sign. Simple and sincere, “Thanks Bum, We Love You.”
4th Inning - Pablo Sandoval led off the bottom of the 4th inning with a groundout to second base. With the Giants trailing 2-1 and the bases empty, left fielder Alex Dickerson looked to even things up all on his own:
MaxBP Pitch #2, Yu Darvish, right-handed, fastball, 96 MPH - The Cubs' right-hander got ahead in the count, 1-2, with a slider, fastball, cutter combination; but, didn’t fare as well with his out pitch. Dickerson “went with” the fourth pitch of the at-bat, a 96 MPH fastball on the outer half of the plate and sent it over the left field wall for a home run, tying the game 2-2. This pitch can be simulated on a MaxBP Pro by configuring the settings to Fast + Turbo and standing approximately 30 feet away. This setting will allow a hitter to practice hitting off 96 mile per hour heat.
Later in the 4th inning - After Dickerson tied the game with his opposite field home run, continued to rally with a Brandon Crawford infield single and a Mike Yastrzemski walk. With two men aboard and a chance to do some damage, the Giants sent Kevin Pillar up to the plate:
MaxBP Pitch #3, Yu Darvish, right-hander, cutter, 85 MPH - Pillar wasted no time with this opportunity and laced the first pitch he saw from Darvish, an 85 MPH cutter on the inner half of the plate, off the left-center field wall for a 2-run double. This pitch can be recreated on a MaxBP Pro by setting the machine to righty curve, utilizing the cutter option, and standing 25 feet from the machine.
5th Inning - As Bumgarner took the mound with a two-run lead in the fifth inning , there was a noticeable buzz throughout the ballpark. The red-hot Giants were making an unlikely playoff push and the people of San Francisco were enjoying every minute of it. So, you could imagine the reaction I got from some folks when I displayed my third sign of the night - in arguably the rowdiest section of the ballpark - the left field bleachers.
With a sign in hand that read, “Thanks Mad you’ve been a good Bum” my intention was to celebrate one of the more peculiar nicknames in baseball today “MadBum.” Apparently some fans didn't share the sentiment.
“We aren’t trading him!” Shouted one fan.
“He isn't gone yet!” Hollered another.
Mixed in were a few obscenities I’d better not mention.
Obviously, this was the worst received sign of the evening and I made a quick escape from an awkward situation. To add insult to injury, as I walked past the Giants’ camera man stationed beyond the left field foul pole, he looked at my sign and me, and shook his head. At this point I’m thinking, “Maybe these signs weren’t such a good idea.”
8th inning - Trailed 4-3, and with Bumgarner out of the game, the Cubs staged another rally against the Giants' stingy bullpen. Reyes Moronta retired the first batter of the inning, but then allowed a one-out double to Bryant. Moronta recorded the second out of the inning on a come backer, but issued a two-out walk to Daniel Descalso. This led to a “lefty on lefty” match-up between the Giants' Tony Watson and Jason Heyward:
MaxBP Pitch #4, Tony Watson, left-hander, sinker, 92 MPH - Heyward wasted no time in his affair with the Giants' left-handed specialist, hitting a sharp ground ball past the dive of Giants’ second baseman Joe Panik, and evening the score at 4-4. Eliminating the possibility of a Bumgarner victory in the process. To recreate this sinking pitch on a MaxBP Pro, a hitter should stand approximately 30 feet away and have the machine configured to High + Turbo while utilizing the Drop 3 option.
9th inning - The way the Giants’ homestand had been going I was fully prepared for a long, late evening at China Basin; however, I had one more sign to unveil and figured I’d better do it while I had the chance. A little weary from my last experience in the bleachers, I decided to go somewhere a little more secluded.
So, I set up shop at one of the most underrated areas of Oracle Park, the four orange Candlestick Park seats beyond the center field wall. My fourth and final sign, “MadBum is Gold, Larry! Gold!” was a plea to longtime Giants’ Chief Executive Officer Larry Baer, who has been at the helm of the Giants’ organization since 2012.
For pop culture enthusiasts, it’s also a famous line from “Seinfeld.” When Jerry provides fellow comedian Kenny Bania some assistance on his material, Bania replies,”That’s Gold, Jerry! Gold!”
Meanwhile, neither team scored and it was looking to be a long night.
13th inning - Giants' outfielder Kevin Pillar nearly sent everyone packing in the 10th inning when his drive to left-center field was within inches of becoming a walk-off home run; however, he settled for a long double and the Giants couldn’t take advantage of the scoring opportunity. So, the Giants and Cubs traded zeros until the bottom of the 13th inning, when Pablo Sandoval stepped to the plate against Cubs’ reliever Brad Brach:
MaxBP Pitch #5, Brad Brach, right-hander, fastball, 92 MPH - For over a decade now Giants fans have come to trust the “Kung Fu Panda” to be a clutch performer and “bad ball hitter,” and on Tuesday night he lived up to both. On the very first pitch, Sandoval deposited a 92 MPH fastball (that was several inches below the strike zone) into the first row of the left field bleachers for a walk-off home run.
To simulate this pitch on a MaxBP, the settings should be placed at High + Turbo and the batter should stand approximately 30 feet from the machine. Finally, the machine should be slightly tilted to a downward angle. This will give an athlete the opportunity to practice hitting a ridiculous opposite field home run that is several inches below the strike zone.
Postgame - When it was all said and done, Tuesday’s ball game was one of the best sporting events I’ve ever experienced. Oracle Park felt like a playoff atmosphere and it was an opportunity to see some iconic Cubs’ players that will be remembered for bringing their franchise a long awaited championship; however, the highlight of the evening was watching the Giants rally behind their fearless leader Madison Bumgarner.
As for the Bumgarner tribute signs? Aside from a few Giants’ staff members and some fans in the bleachers, they were well received and appreciated. When my friends and I displayed all four signs late in the game, we got a nice ovation from the crowd in our section, many of whom took pictures. It was a pretty cool moment.
Following Tuesday night’s game, Bumgarner delivered two headline worthy quotes ”Winning solves everything” and “This is the best stretch I’ve ever been a part of.” Those are lofty remarks coming from a guy who has played a major role in three World Series titles, including his historic performance in 2014 that lead to a World Series MVP. It sure doesn’t sound like someone who wants a change of scenery. This got me thinking about the future of this unparalleled group of Giants and what kind of feelings they might have toward this front office moving forward - if they do decide to sell.
For example, on August 11, the Giants will pay tribute to the 1989 National League Champions that lost 4-0 in the Bay Bridge (World) Series to the Oakland Athletics. It won’t be long until this group of Giants is being celebrated in similar fashion. Will the Giants' brass be able to look Bumgarner, Sandoval, Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt in the eyes if they blow this thing up? Can Zaidi, Baer and Co. really pull the rug out from under this beloved group during this epic last hurrah? Are they willing to break the heart of future Hall of Fame manager Bruce Bochy in his final season?
I understand the thought process of sacrificing some valuable assets now for more talent and depth in the future, but I wouldn’t have the heart to do it. Not to this team. And considering the fact that Zaidi grew up in the Bay Area as a die-hard Giants fan, this is no doubt a painfully difficult decision for him. To me the deciding factor is the legacy this team leaves behind. The front office should hold on to Bumgarner and Co. for one last dance and give these guys the opportunity to walk away from San Francisco on their own terms. They’ve earned it.
With a massive series against the Padres in San Diego this weekend, and the trade deadline less than a week away, Giants' fans will soon know the fate of their team. And while a lot can happen in a week's time, it looks like the San Francisco front office may be leaning toward letting the Giants pursue another “Orange October."
In the past couple of days, several reports have surfaced claiming that the Giants will hold on to Bumgarner. One particularly promising article published on the sfgate website was titled, “SF Giants ‘all but certain’ to keep Madison Bumgarner."
That sounds like music to the ears of Giants' fans.