The 2014 World Series will always be remembered for Madison Bumgarner and his seemingly unflappable left arm. He pitched the final five innings in a 3-2 win for the San Francisco Giants, as they claimed their third World Series title in five years. And this one was even more unlikely than the previous two.
The Giants won only 88 games in the regular season, nabbing the last wild-card playoff spot in the National League. But fueled by exceptional performances from unexpected sources — again — San Francisco once again is singing, "We Are the Champions" deep into the twilight of a fading Indian summer.
San Francisco beat two long-time trends in this game: It is the first time since 1979 that a team won Game Seven of the World Series on the road, and it's the first time since 1975 that a team lost Game Six on the road but recovered to win Game Seven and claim the title.
And all it took to break those long-term trends was superhuman efforts from two key players on the Giants roster.
Bumgarner & Pence, Inc.
The one they call MadBum exceeded his previous single-season, career-high total in innings pitched by 46 2/3 innings this October — and those 46 2/3 innings were the best ones he pitched all year. Teams never let young players extend their career-high IP like this, because their arms fall off.
Bumgarner threw 270 innings in total this year, and he was lights out when he should have been losing feeling in his extremities.
Yes, he must be just that good. His World Series pitching records may last as long as former Giant Barry Bonds' home-run records, and that will always give San Francisco fans something to crow about, even if the team falls below .500 again next season like they did after their last World Series title in 2012.
But don't forget hitting heroes like right fielder Hunter Pence. He scuffled this regular season to the tune of a .777 OPS, but in the Series, he started hitting like Bonds. Pence must have taken the spring training tips the former Giant superstar shared last March to heart: Pence's World Series OPS was a stellar 1.167 — very Bondsian, actually.
Pence's career OPS is just .809, but in two Fall Classics for the Giants now, it's just under the 1.000 mark (.996). It's no wonder he's beloved in the City by the Bay.
Thanks to these two high-rising October stars, San Francisco has another World Series flag to fly at AT&T Park.
Royals Fall Short of the Throne
In the ninth inning, the Kauffman Stadium crowd was ready to believe: The Royals had a man on third, and the Kansas City team leader was at the plate with a chance to tie or win the Series. But catcher Salvador Perez popped out to end the game — and the season.
Kansas City played well enough to win, but in the end, the hitters couldn't solve Bumgarner and his magic arm. Sometimes you just run into a player that's hotter than you are.
The Royals and their small-payroll roster have nothing to be ashamed of, at all, however. The Giants outspent them by $60 million or so, and as is the baseball norm now, that money talks a lot in October. No small-payroll team has won the Series since 1997, and Kansas City took the big spenders all the way to the ninth inning of Game Seven before losing out.
History will show the Giants won the 2014 Fall Classic, but the Royals might have won the hearts of underdogs all across the nation.
Perhaps next season, it will be small-payroll teams from Oakland and Pittsburgh who give us a thrilling World Series.
And wouldn't that be something?
for more features.