Stout defense enables Bumgarner's gem
Giants rookie feeds off sharp fielding to inch Giants near title
With his aggressive offense-defense platoons, Giants manager Bruce Bochy has seemed to channel Earl Weaver at times this October. On Sunday, his team played a perfect Weaver game, all the way down to the too-often-forgotten defensive aspect of the game.
The Hall of Fame former skipper of the Orioles is best known for his fondness for the long ball, but true Weaver-ball had three tenets: pitching, defense and the three-run homer. The Giants got the pitching once again on Sunday night, that's for sure. They got a two-run homer -- close enough. But don't forget that middle leg of the tripod: defense.
The Giants were simply brilliant in the field en route to their 4-0 win in Game 4 of the World Series. Everywhere Texas hit a ball, a San Francisco defender was there. On the rare occasions that a Giant wasn't perfectly positioned, he got to the ball quickly and turned it into an out.
Madison Bumgarner turned in eight shutout innings, a historic performance for a 21-year-old rookie. But without his defense, the game might have looked a good bit different.
That's not a coincidence. Bochy put his best defensive lineup on the field for Game 4, in part because of Pat Burrell's struggles at the plate lately but also to maximize the number of plays made behind Bumgarner. It worked out beautifully. Even a late error by Juan Uribe doesn't diminish what the Giants did with the leather on Sunday.
In making out his lineup on Sunday, Bochy moved first baseman Aubrey Huff to designated hitter, using Travis Ishikawa as his first baseman -- and Ishikawa made some nice stretches for key outs. He used Uribe and Edgar Renteria on the left side of the infield, once again sitting Pablo Sandoval and Mike Fontenot, and Renteria summoned the Gold Glover he once was at shortstop.
Bochy went to his late-inning outfield from the start, flanking Andres Torres with Cody Ross (left) and Nate Schierholtz (right) rather than starting Burrell. And they made the plays, too, highlighted by Ross' catch at the wall in the eighth.
The usual guys did their jobs beautifully as well. Freddy Sanchez had a career game in the field at second base, while Buster Posey called a fine game and teamed up with Sanchez to catch Josh Hamilton stealing in the fourth.
World class in World Series
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"What a job they did," Bochy said. "Sanchez had a great game; Ross made a nice catch out there. The left side of our infield, I mean, they played very well. And when the pitcher pounds the strike zone the way Madison did tonight, it helps the defense and makes them that much better, and he did."
It's that symbiosis that stands out. The Giants didn't just catch the ball behind Bumgarner. He threw it where he was supposed to, showing superb location. That allowed Giants fielders to take advantage of their positioning. After all, when the ball is pitched where it's supposed to be, that increases the chances that it will be hit where it's supposed to be.
"I think we hit some balls where they were," said Texas manager Ron Washington, whose team played some pretty spiffy defense as well. "I don't think they could have envisioned that the pitches that Bumgarner made that we hit, that they would do that. But we smoked some balls, and the outfielders are pretty athletic. They made some good plays.'
The Giants' defense was airtight. It was the kind of performance that forces an offense to hit the ball out of the park if it wants to score runs, and the Rangers had no shot of doing that against Bumgarner.
"He did a great job," Washington said. "We couldn't get anything mustered on him, and when we thought we might get something done, he gets the ball down on the ground and gets a double play or gets outs."
Behind Bumgarner, the importance of such a performance increased. The left-hander struck out six on Sunday, and it's not as though he's a total finesse pitcher. But relative to rotation mates Tim Lincecum and Jonathan Sanchez, Bumgarner allows more balls to be put into play. He's more reliant on his defense than either of those two.
It started right from the top, with the Giants turning a double play in the first. Sanchez made a snow-cone catch on a screaming Jeff Francoeur liner in the second and made an impressive tag on a fielder's-choice play in the fourth. Posey's rocket of a throw one batter later, combined with Sanchez's quick tag, got Hamilton trying to steal, and it quickly began to look like this wasn't the Rangers' night.
Far too often, defense is framed as a matter of errors and fielding percentage, but that's a small part of what it's really about. Defense is about being in position and getting to balls, and the Giants did it all night on Sunday.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.