Madison Bumgarner is a cyborg.
That's the only plausible explanation for what transpired Wednesday night at Citi Field, and what he's done every time he's taken the ball in the postseason since the 2012 World Series. It's the only way to explain his unflappable demeanor, the only way to understand his unperturbed post-game interview following a game that would have most pitchers screaming out of their eyeballs, the only way to account for his supernatural sense of calm when the stakes are highest.
He is not a human being, but rather a scientifically engineered pitching machine, designed to snuff out the hopes and dreams of everyone he faces, without showing even a flicker of emotion.
How else can we process a four-hit complete-game shutout on the road to open the playoffs, an exceedingly rare feat in the age of pitch counts and super bullpens? Even once we acknowledge the depleted nature of the Mets' injury-weakened lineup, who carves through the first three innings of a playoff elimination game in 21 pitches?
Next, consider what Bumgarner did to Yoenis Cespedes, the Mets' best hitter and one of the most potent offensive threats on the planet. Watching the four matchups between Bumgarner and Cespedes felt like witnessing Lucy holding the football, waiting for Charlie Brown to come sprinting in and land on his ass. The football in this case was an onslaught of high fastballs. Like his good-grief counterpart, Cespedes simply couldn't resist.
You guys, I think the Giants might have a plan for Cespedes. pic.twitter.com/Mw4xer5gCy— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) October 6, 2016
In the first, a high Bumgarner fastball ended with Cespedes popping out to short. In the fourth, Yo swung right through high heat for strike three. In the sixth, Bumgarner added an extra layer of torture, throwing a sweeping, tantalizing curve to ring up strike two, then whiffing Cespedes again on yet another dose of high heat. In the ninth, Cespedes looked like he might finally get the best of the Giants ace, getting ahead in the count 2-0. Then Bumgarner threw him another high fastball...and Cespedes popped out weakly again, this time to Hunter Pence in shallow right. Those four at-bats brought nothing less than annihilation, a master of his craft making a bona fide superstar look like a Little Leaguer.
The entire game offered a microcosm of the many ways Bumgarner can beat you. After ringing up those first nine, lightning-quick outs, he had to throw a few more pitches later in the game. But the Mets' death felt inevitable all night long. Their hitters might've felt proud to push Bumgarner's pitch count to 28 in the fourth...yet they never even advanced a man beyond first base in that inning. Leadoff double by T.J. Rivera in the fifth? Just break Jay Bruce's spirit with a strikeout, induce a weak grounder by Rene Rivera, intentionally walk automatic out James Loney for some light amusement, then whiff your mound counterpart Noah Syndergaard to escape a threat that was never really a threat.
Bumgarner did show a speck of frustration in the sixth, staring incredulously at home-plate umpire Mike Winters' non-strike call on a perfect 1-1 curve. But any disappointment got snuffed out in about 0.2 seconds, with Bumgarner working around an Asdrubal Cabrera walk for yet another scoreless frame. Syndergaard carrying a no-hitter through 5 2/3...T.J. Rivera making it to second with two outs in the eighth...a pack of rabid raccoons charging the mound mid-pitch...no real or imagined challenges were ever going to rattle him. (Winters missed far too many seemingly easy calls on the evening for both teams, including a laughable eighth inning that nearly drove Mets reliever Addison Reed to become the first baseball player ever to suplex an umpire in the middle of a game).
Conor Gillaspie came out of nowhere to deliver a game-winning, three-run homer in the ninth, following the likes of Cody Ross, Marco Scutaro, and Travis Ishikawa as the latest Giant to deliver a spectacularly unlikely playoff moment. But with all due respect to Gillaspie and the rest of those great underdog hitters, you got the sense that Bumgarner could pitch 19 innings and hold off until Crazy Crab himself finally delivered the big hit; he was going to win eventually, one way or another. When Denard Span squeezed the final out of the game to seal the Giants' 3-0 victory, the jokes were already flying over Bumgarner coming back to pitch Game 1 of the NLDS at Wrigley Field Friday night. Except people weren't entirely joking.
Bumgarner's playoff resume has officially reached mythical levels. In 97 1/3 career postseason innings, he's flashed a 1.94 ERA. The Citi Field beatdown was his third playoff shutout, one short of the record held by inner-circle Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson. He ran his postseason consecutive scoreless inning streak to 23 innings. In his past 53 playoff innings on the road, he's allowed three earned runs. In his past nine postseason games, covering 68 2/3 innings, he's allowed six earned runs...good for a 0.79 ERA. The best Bumgarner stat of all: In road playoff games, Bumgarner has allowed zero hits with runners in scoring position. Zero. Not one.
Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Curt Schilling, Mariano Rivera...go ahead and rank Bumgarner right there with the best playoff pitchers of all time. Go ahead and warn your Cubs fan friends too: The Giants are a real threat to even the strongest team in baseball, and Bumgarner's so good, so durable, and so resilient, he could rip a team's heart out and end its season almost by himself.
Yet for all those unimaginable numbers and feats, it's his creepy tranquility that might be the scariest. When everyone in the Giants dugout lost their minds as Gillaspie circled the bases, Bumgarner reacted like a man mildly pleased to get a little extra starch at the drycleaners.
Peavy said Bum was calm in a crazy dugout after Gillaspie HR. Bum simply walked up and said, "Conor, I appreciate the hell out of that."— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) October 6, 2016
Buster Olney's story was the clincher. Reporting from the field midway through this latest pitching masterpiece, the ESPN reporter described Bumgarner's trip to the ballpark ahead of Wednesday night's game. The big lefty waited for the last bus to the stadium, hopped on, settled into his seat, pulled his hunting cap over his eyes...and fell asleep. At a time when a lesser pitcher might be refunding his lunch all over himself, here was Bumgarner, catching some z's before firing nine transcendent innings that put the Mets' season to sleep.
Actually, saying he slept isn't accurate. The cyborg merely powered down for a few minutes, before crushing its next victim.