Madison Bumgarner departs the Dodgers rivalry ... for now

Tim Brown
·MLB columnist

LOS ANGELES — Madison Bumgarner in gray, against a blue backdrop, his delivery long and languid, his eyes ferocious. He is a good portion of the fight left in the San Francisco Giants.

Whatever exists in today’s version of Giants-Dodgers, an odd rivalry anymore in that the Giants win the World Series and the Dodgers the NL Wests, balances along Bumgarner’s shoulders, balls in Bumgarner’s stomach, and burns in Bumgarner’s disposition.

On a warm Thursday evening on the cusp of summer, he strode from the bullpen along the right-field line, his legs bowed and arms swung wide, as if expecting trouble. Getting it or bringing it, didn’t matter. This would be his 35th career start against the Dodgers, his 21st at Dodger Stadium, and perhaps, probably, likely, it almost had to be, his last in the rivalry as a Giant. The game was a good 10 minutes away. He’d already been booed. The T-shirts in the crowd directed him to “Go get it out of the ocean.” He’d lead a last-place team into something like a consequential game, but more honestly to a day closer to the trade deadline, toward a rebuild that won’t include him, toward a proud franchise’s long climb back to the Dodgers.

Next time through for Bumgarner, in August or September or October, it’ll be as a New York Yankee or Atlanta Brave or Milwaukee Brewer or Houston Astro, maybe a Minnesota Twin. Heck, maybe as a Dodger. Imagine.

More likely, there’ll be a general manager who will view the Dodgers as the team to beat in the National League, who will consider their long line of left-handed bats, who will consider they maul right-handed pitchers, and pay up for the left-handed, red-assed, postseason savvy Bumgarner as the reasonable remedy.

At 29 years old (30 in August), he will at season’s end be out from under the contract he signed more than seven years ago, that he has outperformed in every way. He helped bring three championships to San Francisco, all but carrying them to the third of those. And so it is time for the Giants and general manager Farhan Zaidi to put a name and a face and a game to whatever’s next, to get what they can for two or three months of the best of a bygone era. They are two or three drafts away. They are a handful of smart trades away and most of a roster away. They are a new manager away. There is so much to do, so much that will have to go right, so much to one day believe in again. This is how it looks when a franchise holds to long-standing heroes in a game that doesn’t last. That is, taking phone calls on those somewhat faded heroes before the first day of summer.

Bumgarner was not particularly effective Thursday night. He was 15-13 with a 2.52 ERA in his career against the Dodgers, 9-8 with a 2.34 ERA in gray, with a backdrop of blue. Pregame, in the fifth-floor dining area, the table reserved for scouts was full. It cleared by the national anthem. The talk in the dugout an hour before had centered on Bumgarner and the trade chatter, Bumgarner and the vibe here, Bumgarner and the inevitable. Bruce Bochy, himself preparing an exit, turned wistful.

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner, right, is taken out of the baseball game by manager Bruce Bochy during the fourth inning against the San Francisco Giants on Thursday, June 20, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner had a rough night Thursday against the Los Angeles Dodgers. (AP)

“He’s amazing, he really is, at keeping that maniacal focus,” Bochy said. “He showed it in the postseason how focused he can get. That’s where he is now. He’s not even thinking about where he would be going or could be going.”

As for the T-shirts, inspired by Bumgarner’s latest scrap with a Dodger, this one with Max Muncy, Bochy all but growled, “You poke the bear enough, you can’t be upset if he bites back.”

Then Bumgarner, pitching to win a baseball game and probably nothing more, but also pitching for his next destination and the return for the Giants, did not last the fourth inning. In his shortest start ever against the Dodgers, he allowed 10 hits and six runs (also the most ever against LA) in 3 ⅔ innings. He was hounded by boos when Bochy came to get him, 45 pitches and eight hits into the fourth inning alone, though those were coming no matter the outcome. Bumgarner’s cutter didn’t get all the way in on right-handed hitters. His fastball was up and over the plate. He walked off the field with his glove in his right hand, his head down. When he reached the dugout, his teammates let him be. He could be a bear.

He’d been one of the great performers and personalities in Dodgers-Giants for the better part of a decade. He pitched and the Dodgers tried to survive. He swung a bat and the Dodgers hoped it hooked foul. He snarled and the Dodgers printed T-shirts.

Now it is far more likely the Dodgers pick up their Bumgarner rivalry before there’s anything to the Giants again.

The Dodgers don’t play the Giants again until September. They do, however, play the Cardinals, the Braves, the Yankees, the Mets, the Rays, plenty of teams with a place for Bumgarner, and could again see Bumgarner in the postseason.

Maybe the Giants act quickly, jump a market that surely will offer Marcus Stroman, Matthew Boyd, Andrew Cashner, Mike Leake, that could hold Zack Wheeler and Trevor Bauer, and tease three or four months for Bumgarner, and get a player who can help them begin the climb from last place. Maybe they package him with Will Smith, the left-handed reliever and soon-to-be free agent, and get more.

That’s the thing about rebuilds, about holding on too long. It’s all the maybes. Get it wrong, and they multiply. Get it right, and one day, with any luck, you’re back in the fight.

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