SAN FRANCISCO – If Thursday marked the last time Madison Bumgarner ever started a game at Oracle Park as a member of the San Francisco Giants, the culmination of an 11-season stretch that featured three titles, it ended with a standing ovation.
The crowd of 36,862 here by the East Bay had just watched Bumgarner morph into his postseason self with the veteran southpaw dominating the New York Mets like he did in the 2016 wild-card game, allowing just one run in nine masterful innings in a marathon game the Giants ultimately won, 3-2, in 16 innings.
No one knows where Bumgarner will be pitching Aug. 1, and with this marking the Giants’ final homestand before the break, it’s possible Bumgarner may not start another game here, a thought seemingly not lost on the fans here.
“It means a lot,” Bumgarner said of the final ovation he received. “We’ve been through a lot here and been here a long time. That’s special.”
The trade deadline is 12 days away, and there appears to be more mystery and intrigue about Bumgarner than perhaps any other player that may be moved.
Bumgarner is simply not your average trade candidate.
He’s a franchise icon that helped win championships in 2010, 2012 and 2014. He produced moments that Giants fans young and old will recall with joy forever and pass down to generations. He’ll always be remembered as one of the greatest players in franchise history, no matter the jersey he wears down the stretch.
“We’re all fans of the game, and aware of what he’s been able to do for this city and fan base and this organization. Three-time World Series champion, he’s done everything he‘s needed to do,” Giants outfielder Kevin Pillar said. “There’s nothing else that this man can do for this organization and for this city.”
Bumgarner is also a pending free agent on a team that’s still just 48-49 after they rallied from a 2-1 deficit in the 16th to win on Donovan Solano’s RBI single.
The Giants are paying for their continued pursuit of championships, and need to infuse their system with talent. That type of talent could be attainable if the Giants can find the right trading partner with a team desperate for a starter.
Certain contending teams like the New York Yankees, Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers all lack that frontline pitcher that can go toe-to-toe with another team’s ace.
Bumgarner’s production this year is not ace-like with a 3.65 ERA through 21 starts, but any acquiring team would be hoping that he can turn back the clock in October.
There are few pitchers in MLB history who have been more clutch in the playoffs, and those players can be the difference between a title or going home early.
“Good players and great players, they’re able to perform under pressure as well as anyone. That’s part of what makes a great player,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said before Thursday’s game. “Sure, you’re talented, but guys that perform under pressure put themselves in another class and that’s what he’s so good at.”
The man tasked with making this tough call is Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, in his first year in the role.
Zaidi who has to weigh Bumgarner’s standing in the organization as a franchise legend, his team’s shortcomings, and the crowded NL wild-card picture.
For all their flaws, the Giants are just 2.5 games back in the wild card after winning six straight games. And Bumgarner has shown that if you get him in the wild card game, he is money, throwing shutouts in his two outings in 2014 and 2016.
“Every pennant race and opportunity you have to get to the playoffs has a ton of value, and has a ton of value to the fans and organization. We don’t like that lightly,” Zaidi told KNBR. “We’re in a good spot competitively. If there’s a way we can help the roster we’re open to it. We have to keep an eye on the future and the present.”
Bumgarner made it clear after the game he’s not concerned with the rumors.
“I don’t give a s---. I’m here to win games for this team and that’s what we’re doing,” Bumgarner said. “I’m trying to win games for the Giants and we’re trying to get in the postseason. We’re making a push. We’re coming.”
Bumgarner certainly gave scouts plenty to like Thursday, and there was a certain sense of appreciation that manifested itself through the night.
The lefty is lined up to pitch one last start at Oracle Park next week against the Chicago Cubs, but one grand trade outing could derail that scheduled starter.
As Giants PA announcer Renel Brooks-Moon started to introduce Bumgarner before the game, the fans drowned out her words to cheer their star.
Giants catcher Buster Posey said it dawned on him before the game this could be his final time catching Bumgarner in San Francisco, and the two produced a gem.
While Bumgarner didn’t pump 100-mph sinkers like his opponent, Noah Syndergaard, he kept the Mets off balance all night.
He induced 16 whiffs in his 94 pitches, and struck out six. He registered half of those strikeouts with his cutter.
Bumgarner’s fastball sat 90-92 mph, yet the Mets were unable to do much against him after back-to-back hits to start the game.
Like he did in that 2016 wild card game, Bumgarner induced plenty of early hacks that resulted in easy outs and his first nine-inning outing since 2010.
Bumgarner tried to lobby Bochy to let him start the 10th but to no avail.
Posey certainly appreciated the ovation Bumgarner received after limiting the Mets to five hits. The fans also chanted “Bum” for their starter in the seventh when he came to bat with the go-ahead run at third base in a 1-1 game.
“For what he’s done he deserves that [ninth-inning ovation] and even more,” Posey said after the game. “He’s going to go down, regardless if he stays or is traded, as one of the greatest Giants of all-time for what he’s done in the postseason. I’m sure he’ll be getting some more of those in years to come here.”
He added: “We’re hoping he stays here through the deadline and we can make a push.”
Whichever team employs Bumgarner on Aug. 1 will play out the final two months hoping they can get Bumgarner into a playoff game and reap the benefits.
He could be the final piece for some.
For others, that piece that gets them to the dance.
Once he gets there, he’s the last guy teams want to see.
Teammate Tony Watson watched from the other side of the diamond in 2014 as Bumgarner ended the Pittsburgh Pirates season in the wild card that night with a shutout. He knows what it’s like to have to face a postseason monster.
He and the rest of baseball will now wait to see what team will have the potential chance to use Bumgarner in the playoffs.
“That’s the type of guy you want on the mound in the playoffs, and hopefully he’s pitching for us here in a Giants uniform in October,” Watson said. “That’d be great.”
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