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CBSSports.com National Columnist

Bumgarner gives Giants viable Game 7 option, reason to relax

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ARLINGTON, Texas -- With one night's work, San Francisco rookie Madison Bumgarner shouted his name into the pantheon of baseball greatness and heard it come echoing back in the affirmative.

But he did more than that. Bumgarner won Game 4 of the World Series, a 4-0 San Francisco victory, which by itself is enough. He gave the Giants a 3-1 series lead, putting them one victory from the title, a victory that two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum will try to nail down on Monday night.

But Bumgarner did more, even, than that.

What Bumgarner did Sunday night transcends yesterday. It transcends today and even tomorrow. It goes right to Thursday, when Game 7 is scheduled. Thanks to Bumgarner, the Giants can relax about Game 7, assuming this series goes that far. And maybe it won't. I'm not saying the Giants can't close it out Monday behind Lincecum here in Arlington, or Wednesday behind Game 2 winner Matt Cain should the Series return to San Francisco for Game 6.

What I'm saying is this:

Until Bumgarner did what he did on Sunday night, the Giants had no options for Game 7. No viable options, anyway. That start falls on the scheduled day of lefty Jonathan Sanchez, but considering how awful Sanchez has pitched in his last two starts -- knocked out in two innings of Game 6 of the NLCS, then the losing pitcher in Game 3 of the World Series -- there's no way he'd start Game 7. But until Sunday night, what other options were there? Lincecum on two days' rest? No. Nine innings of bullpen work? Possibly.

The rookie, Madison Bumgarner, on three days' rest? Upgrade that option from "maybe" to "absolutely."

Giants manager Bruce Bochy didn't say that, but he didn't have to. He didn't want to talk about Game 7, or even Game 6. So, fine. We can talk about it here. And what's obvious to say is this: If this series goes to a seventh game, Madison Bumgarner will start it for San Francisco. All because of Sunday. When the rumors became fact. When Bumgarner, the No. 10 overall pick in the 2007 MLB draft, went from stud prospect to stud, period.

"That kid, I can't say enough about what he did tonight," Bochy said. "I mean, a 21-year-old kid on that stage, pitching like that ..."

A few moments later, Bochy reconsidered his terminology.

"He's a man," Bochy said of Bumgarner.

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At 21 years and 91 days, Bumgarner became the fifth-youngest pitcher in Major League history to start a World Series game, joining a list that includes former 26-game winner Bullet Joe Bush (20 years, 316 days), Hall of Famer Jim Palmer and former Cy Young winner Fernando Valenzuela (both 20 years, 356 days), and four-time All-Star Johnny Podres (21 years, 4 days).

Quite a list. Bumgarner belongs, and not just because of his birth certificate. He belongs because he's a star in the making, maybe even a star right now. He is a young Andy Pettitte, is what he is, but that's getting ahead of things. For now, he's the guy who held the powerful Texas Rangers' lineup, DH and all, to three hits in eight innings. He walked two. Struck out six. Let one guy get to second base all game.

It was a precocious outing for a 21-year-old, but Bumgarner is a precocious young man. Not sure where he's going, but wherever it is, he's in a hurry to get there. He made his MLB debut in 2009, got married this Valentine's Day, then moved into the Giants' rotation on a permanent basis in June. He did all that at age 20.

Now that he's 21, what has he done for us lately?

He won Game 4 with eight scoreless innings. He struck out Vladimir Guerrero all three times he faced him, each whiff more embarrassing than the last. He was throwing 92 mph in the eighth. He froze the last batter he faced, Game 3 homer-hitting hero Mitch Moreland, with a huge curveball to end the eighth.

And he gave the Giants a viable option, and a reason to relax, should this series go to seven games.

That's all he did at age 21.

"I didn't expect this in my wildest dreams," Bumgarner said.

Not after he started the season in Triple-A, and probably not even after the way he started Game 4. Bumgarner walked Rangers leadoff batter Elvis Andrus on four pitches, but that was no omen. That was a fluke. He walked just one more batter the rest of the way, and held the Rangers' first four batters -- including American League MVP candidate Josh Hamilton -- to 1-for-11 production. And that hit was an infield single by Michael Young.

After throwing 106 pitches, Bumgarner would be available -- and surely would get the call -- for Game 7 over the struggling Sanchez. There is precedent for such a move, and it's not a terrible precedent. It was 1997, when Indians manager Mike Hargrove chose rookie Jaret Wright to start Game 7 of the World Series on three days' rest over struggling star Charles Nagy. The Indians didn't win that game, but it wasn't Wright's fault. He allowed one run on two hits in 6 1/3 innings.

It should have worked in 1997. It's worth a shot in 2010.

Then again, the World Series might not even get to a Game 7.

Madison Bumgarner did that, too.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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