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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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A World Series Earns Its Wings

In the end, it was the year of the pitcher…one pitcher in particular. It was the year of Madison Bumgarner. The towering lefty won the 2014 World Series Wednesday night, accompanied by 24 San Francisco Giants, several of whom he couldn’t have done it without. The rest will likely stare down at their third shiny bauble in five years and count themselves fortunate to work at the same place as him.

Bumgarner owns the lowest World Series ERA ever recorded. He owns a World Series MVP award. He owns a brand new Chevy Colorado, which was easier for him to receive than it was for the dude from Chevrolet to present. He owns the month that henceforth deserves to be known as Bumtober. He owns just about every hitter he’s faced since baseball shed its 20 also-ran teams and winnowed itself down to just two pennant-winners. Then Madison found himself an antitrust loophole and took ownership of the Kansas City Royals early, midway and late. Especially late. The ace starter who won Games One and Five was dispatched to the bullpen to lurk and loom until summoned to end the Royals’ hopes of being any more marvelous than they’d already been.

It was the fifth inning when Bruce Bochy (without rending of garments in the dugout about the decision) ignored previously established contours, deployed his singular weapon and never bothered looking for backup. How long could Bumgarner, two nights removed from a complete game shutout, go in relief? For as long as it damn took, apparently. Bumgarner didn’t depart the Kauffman Stadium mound until every last out was collected. He recorded a five-inning save. Not a five-out save, but a five-inning save. He saved Game Seven; the World Series; and baseball’s best for last.

Through six games, the highest praise one could offer for the most recent iteration of the sport’s showcase was it wasn’t yet over. There had been a lot of baseball but not a lot of superb baseball, except for when Bumgarner pitched. Game Seven was supposed to be different, if only on principle. Game Sevens are the Elysian Fields of our minds. They’re Jack Morris and John Smoltz; Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson; Roberto Clemente and Steve Blass; Ralph Terry and Bill Mazeroski; Bob Gibson and Mickey Lolich; Johnny Podres and Sandy Amoros; Craig Counsell and Edgar Renteria; Ray Knight and Jesse Orosco and don’t forget El Sid. Sometimes they’re less than all that, but we gloss over those episodes which don’t prove legendary. Plus they already happened. This Game Seven didn’t have the luxury of being filed away. It had to fill in its blanks and use ballpoint.

Bumgarner was this Game Seven’s calligrapher, what with those five shutout innings on top of all those other shutout innings, never mind his straight-up presence. For six months, baseball is about matchups: lefties replacing righties to face lefties who are pinch-hit for by righties and nobody throwing too many pitches and everybody knowing their roles. In a seventh game, though, you delete that outline if it’s not pushing your plot toward its desired outcome.

The Royals and Giants weren’t getting anywhere with their starters, Jeremy Guthrie and Tim Hudson. Hudson was completely hittable and replaced in the second by Jeremy Affeldt, no mean October reliever himself. Guthrie had a moment during which he seemed to settle down but his staying power proved evanescent. San Francisco defense — particularly a 4-6-3 double play begun by a Joe Panik flip and ended by a Samsung review — and the usual dash of Pablo Sandoval offensive kung fu shoved the Giants out in front, 3-2, in the fourth. Kelvin Herrera was, like Affeldt, brought on many innings before he was accustomed. Like Affeldt, he was fine as a fish out of rigidly defined water. Hell, the four Royal pitchers used struck out a dozen Giants.

But nobody’s buzzing about anybody who doesn’t share a first name with the capital of Wisconsin. Bumgarner is the talk of the town for the way he took over in the fifth inning and wouldn’t let go of Game Seven. Madison gave up a hit to his first batter. He gave up a hit to his penultimate batter — an Alex Gordon single that Gregor Blanco misplayed into the tying run suddenly materializing on third with two out in the ninth. He gave up nothing in between or after. With a chance to break Bumgarner’s spell, Salvador Perez popped to the Panda in foul territory and the Giants were champions yet again, just as in 2010 and 2012, though differently and maybe more so.

By my accounting, the Giants disappeared three separate ghosts this postseason. Just by making it to October as the so-called second Wild Card, they made up for being left out in 1993 when they won 15 more games but made the mistake of playing in the same division as the Braves at the end of the era when there was no consolation prize for coming in a strong second. By going on the road with a three-two lead and taking one of the two games they needed, they put their bitter loss to the Angels in 2002 behind them. And by stranding the opposing tying run on third in the ninth, nobody need ever again reference Charlie Brown’s anguish regarding Willie McCovey’s liner not being hit three feet higher, over Bobby Richardson’s glove, at the finish line of the 1962 World Series. Matty Alou didn’t score then, Alex Gordon didn’t score now.

I’m not a San Francisco Giants fan, though I play one in October. I’m happy for them. I’m happy for the organization, which is an odd thing to say on the surface, but twice, because of my activity with fellow New York Giants preservationists/nostalgists and the San Francisco front office taking such transcontinental sentiments seriously, I’ve gotten to meet some people who run their ballclub. “Classy” is the word I keep coming back to. As mentioned at the outset of October, I’m friendly with my share of Giants diehards and I’m pleased for them. The pains in the ass who take up too many seats at Citi Field when the Giants come to town I could do without, but I could say that about anybody who comes to our park and doesn’t root for our team. I’m sure they’d consider not being beloved outside the Bay Area a fair tradeoff for three World Series championships won in the past half-decade.

At the same time, I’m not a Kansas City Royals fan and I technically wasn’t rooting for them to win this round, yet the 2014 World Series was one of those instances when you really wanted to buy into the line about how “there are no losers.” There are, but there shouldn’t be. The Royals rekindled a great passion this year in their neck of the woods. It wasn’t just 1985, you know. Kansas City was a baseball capital for more than a decade. They were a likable staple of October and their followers always showed up. As processed through the television, the Royals fans are total champs.

From their Wild Card games through their LCSes, the Royals and Giants each gave us a nice MLB Network retrospective’s worth of highlights, and after leaving us a little restless through six World Series contests, provided us with a Seventh Game good enough to burrow into our guts. Which starter would fold first? Which reliever would ride to the rescue next? Was that ball gonna fall in? Are they gonna call him safe or out? For nine innings, the championship of our sport hung on the line and you couldn’t watch without a small knot in your stomach. Bumgarner’s triumph may have been inevitable, but only fully in hindsight. This thing could have gone either way, and if that doesn’t make for a superb Game Seven, I don’t know what does.

And now these two objects of our fleeting concerns and affections recede from our consciousness, reverting solely to the agendas of Giants fans and Royals fans, which is how it’s supposed to be. We’re supposed to care for a little while — I wouldn’t think of not watching all of it and blogging most of it — and then we’re supposed to withdraw. The postseason is methadone to the regular Met season’s more addictive harder stuff. It’s designed to transition us from a state of intoxication to cold turkey. The first day will be the hardest, but the night sweats will eventually dissipate. Our bodies know we can’t live in a constant state of baseball. Our brains don’t, but sooner or later they get the message.

October was fun. April will be even better. The intervening months we’ll figure out as we go along. We always do.

9 comments to A World Series Earns Its Wings

  • Dave

    Baumgarner wasn’t even the best pitcher in the league this year, until he picked a damn fine time to be. But shout out to Affeldt, he was to this Game 7 what Sid was to 86’s.

  • Lou from Georgia

    Well, Bumgarner’s performance redeemed this series. Pretty incredible. The whole time he pitched, I kept thinking of the 2015 Mets. Matt Harvey will be our Bumgarner next year. While his return to health is no sure thing, I see the same warrior mentality in him as in Bumgarner. Come on Sandy, make the moves to make it happen.

  • Kevin From Flushing

    Somewhere Whitey Herzog was exorcising his 1985 ghost as well with the overturned call (and by no means do I want to put goat horns on Hosmer, but DON’T SLIDE INTO FIRST).

    That was a performance that will live on forever. This morning, many parents will tell their children about it, who will in turn tell their children about it.

    Good on Bochy for not pulling him. Sure, Bumgarner made that an easy choice, but I can easily see some lesser managers going to their “7th inning guy” just because.

    • Rob

      It’s interesting that in an age where constant pitching changes have become the norm, that in a game for all the marbles that was a 1-run game for the last six innings, there wasn’t one mid-inning pitching change made after the top of the 4th inning.

      I know you can’t go all out every game all season like you can in the seventh game of the World Series, but games like last night show that managers don’t have to manage in the extreme risk averse, formulaic button-pushing way that has become the norm, either. There’s something to be said about recognizing the “hot hand.”

  • metsfaninparadise

    108 days (approx.) til pitchers and catchers report

  • nestornajwa

    Alright, that’s over. Now can we talk about Joe Maddon? Were the Wilpons too busy denying abusing a pregnant employee, or was it that $1 million they still owe Terry? I’m going with b, but never count out “management doesn’t care”. This is going to end up being a Jets/Belichek moment.

  • Retire 17

    It was a fun World Series for someone with no rooting interest, despite the fact that there were several blowouts. If the Giants had lost game 7, I wonder if Bochy would have gotten heat for not pitching Bumgarner on three days rest in Game 4.
    But the most important thing is thanks so much to Greg and Jason for another superb season of writing. You make one of the most enjoyable things in my life even more fun.