Madison Bumgarner after confrontation with Dodgers: 'Let me be myself'

Alex Pavlovic
NBC Sports BayArea

Madison Bumgarner after confrontation with Dodgers: 'Let me be myself' originally appeared on nbcsportsbayarea.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- Madison Bumgarner was ready. The Giants ace always is.

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This has become a bit of a routine in Bumgarner's career, a brilliant one marked by the occasional high-profile showdown with an opposing hitter who plays a different brand of baseball than the fiery left-hander. There's a disagreement, a few words yelled back and forth, a resumption of play -- usually without any drama -- and then a deadpanned postgame interview. 

Five years ago, after one of several dustups with Yasiel Puig, Bumgarner kept a straight face as he told reporters he was just congratulating Puig for his home run and bat flip and he wasn't sure what the Dodgers right fielder had said back because his Spanish was rusty. 

Bumgarner has been here before quite a few times, so he was ready on Sunday afternoon. He was standing at his locker when the clubhouse opened after a 1-0 loss and flashed a mischievous smile as he slid past a reporter and took his place in front of the cameras. He knew what he wanted to say about his yelling match with Max Muncy, but he cracked up right away.

"You know, my god, I can't even say it with a straight face," Bumgarner said. "I was going to say the more I think about it, you've got to just let the kids play, that's what everybody is saying, but ... "

Bumgarner trailed off as he fought to stifle a grin, but in those words, there was something serious, too, something baseball should consider as the game changes.

"Let the Kids Play" has become an official motto of Major League Baseball and a rallying cry for a new generation, one that is into bat flips, admiring home runs, celebrating strikeouts and a kind of flair that should make the game more popular for future generations. 

Bumgarner has seen the commercials, and he seemed to be posing an interesting question: If MLB would like the game to be more emotional, what about the kind of emotion that has driven Bumgarner since he was a North Carolina teenager unafraid to throw inside on much older hitters? 

That fire has guided Bumgarner through high school, the minors, and a decorated big league career. It has shown up in the biggest moments, allowing him to dig deeper than anyone could have imagined in Game 7 of the World Series. It was there Sunday, allowing him to pitch seven dominant innings against the league's best team, knowing his own team is 18 games out of first and likely will trade him in the next six weeks.

The fire was on full display when Muncy crushed a fastball 426 feet into McCovey Cove, dropped his bat, and took a few dramatic steps before starting a slow jog to first. When Bumgarner turned around, he saw that Muncy was still at the plate, and that's when he began jawing at the Dodgers slugger, telling him he needed to pick it up and get around the bases. 

"He struck a pose and walked further than I liked," Bumgarner said. "That's fine. If you want to do that, do it. But I'm going to do what I want to do."

For Bumgarner, that meant yelling at Muncy. He has done it before, so much so that it's a part of his reputation, and Bumgarner doesn't seem to mind one bit. If you want to Let the Kids Play their way, you have to let Madison Bumgarner Play his way, too.

"They want to let everybody be themselves. Let me by myself -- that's me, you know?" he said. "I'd just as soon fight than walk or whatever. You just do your thing, I'll do mine. Everybody is different. I can't speak for everybody else, but that's just how I want to play. And that's how I'm going to."

Bumgarner has been through this before, and over time he has learned to channel those emotions. He was spotless after Muncy's homer, getting through seven innings on just 86 pitches and stifling the league's best team for the second time in just over a month. 

The uptick in Bumgarner's stuff first showed during six similar innings on May 1 and the rise has continued. Bumgarner's average fastball velocity through the end of April was just 90.9 mph, but on Sunday it was up to 92.5. He threw 44 fastballs in his seven innings, none registering lower than 91.4 mph, which is not far off the average of 91.7 for his first 13 starts. 

"That's the Madison we've seen for a long time," manager Bruce Bochy said. 

What comes along with that type of stuff is the passion that has made Bumgarner this generation's best big-game pitcher. When you combine them, you have a player who will be highly sought after before the July 31 deadline, which made Sunday's sparring so bittersweet.

[RELATED: Muncy fires back at Bumgarner]

This was almost certainly Bumgarner's last start against the Dodgers at Oracle Park, and there's a good chance it was one of his final starts in San Francisco, period. The rivalry won't be the same without these types of moments, and Bumgarner seemed to enjoy the drama that was injected into what has turned into a disappointing season for the Giants. 

After he was done giving his side of the story, Bumgarner walked over to his locker, tugged a hat over his long hair and put sunglasses on. He didn't look up as he walked out of the room, but he said one more thing, just loud enough that it was heard.

"Let the kids play."

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