Why is the World Series such a great event? One reason is that, every year, without fail, someone seizes control of his own destiny and makes the most of the chance. Last night, that was Madison Bumgarner.
Watching Bumgarner meticulously pick apart the Royals for nine innings in his last start of the season was one of those coronation-type moments. The reality and depth of his October career have already been established — he beat the Rangers as a 21-year-old in the 2010 World Series and has just gotten better from there. But this season has cemented him in that higher plane of October warriors, starting with his dismantling of the Pirates in the Wild Card game and right through to last night’s Game 5, pushing the Giants to the brink of another World Series trophy.
The event of the moment seems to carry more weight than it really should; the here and now always registers more deeply because the present is what matters. Bumgarner’s name starts getting tossed in with Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson and Randy Johnson, and before long, fans and analysts are engraving his Hall of Fame plaque in their minds.
But instead of lashing back against it — “he’s only 25 / it’s a different game now / please stop taking pleasure in this” — there’s something to be said for actually enjoying that moment and that history as it unfolds. Early this season, Bumgarner was asked to assume the mantle of staff ace for the Giants as Matt Cain went down injured and Tim Lincecum continued his slide from grace, and he did it without blinking.
Madison Bumgarner is certainly no illusion. He went 18-10 with a 2.98 ERA and 219 strikeouts in 217.1 innings this year, and for the past two years has maintained that nearly strikeout-per-inning pace. He pitches in a pitchers’ park, but he does it nearly as well as anyone. And while that regular season success fills the gaps and leads to lots of memories accumulated over the summer, it builds to moments like last night, where the American League champions could hardly find a base, never mind a run. And again, he’s only 25 years old. We could just be at the start of something here.
And considering his age, and the news from last night, it’s hard not to think about how fragile this all is. During Game 5, news came out that the St. Louis Cardinals’ young outfielder, Oscar Taveras, was killed in a car accident along with his girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo, in the Dominican Republic. He was 22 years old and had nothing but bright lights ahead of him, in baseball and otherwise.
It’s naïve, because life is cold and ruthless, but 22-year-olds shouldn’t die. Just a couple of weeks ago, Taveras was creating his own October fireworks, hitting a pinch-hit home run to tie Game 2 of the NLCS and keep the Cardinals in business. It was a huge moment, and it seemed like the first of many.
But that’s not how it goes. We get this moment to enjoy the little things we might never see again. Last night, Bumgarner got his, and it should just be taken for what it’s worth. They’re not really connected beyond the fact that they play the same game for a living. But they’re both a reminder to appreciate youth and life and the present tense. They get to live the moment, we get to watch along at home and suspend our own realities in the process.
We should all take this moment for everything it’s worth. It’s the only one we’re guaranteed.