Going into the top of the eighth inning on Saturday night, Madison Bumgarner was six outs away from throwing a perfect game. Bumgarner, generally no slouch at the dish, had just stranded runners on first and second by striking out on three straight pitches to end the bottom of the seventh. The Padres, who have been no-hit in each of the previous two seasons by the Giants (more specifically, by Tim Lincecum) had off-season acquisition Justin Upton due up next with Jedd Gyorko on deck and the pitcher's spot in the hole.
To this point, Justin Upton had been the only Friar to give the ball even a little bit of a ride. Leading off the top of the fifth, Upton worked the count full before getting hold of one of Bumgarner's sliders:
Back in the second inning, Bumgarner started Justin Upton off with a fastball for a strike. In the fifth, Bumgarner went with the curveball for a ball. What would he go with next? Place your bets.
Posey signaled for the slider and Bumgarner delivered one over the heart of the plate but low for a ball.
More than 70 percent of Bumgarner's sliders end up in the bottom ten quadrants of the zone. That is exceptional control from the reigning World Series MVP. Those spots make it a great knock-out pitch but not necessarily an excellent first pitch. However, Bumgarner's slider does generate just over 55 percent ground balls. After that big fifth inning flyball, Bumgarner and Posey probably wanted to work at keeping the ball low against the Padres slugger.
The next pitch looked something like this:
That ends up being a belt-high fastball on the outer-third of the plate for a called strike. Also known as where not to throw a fastball against a team's best slugger. Even if the team is the Padres (no offence). Granted, Bumgarner and Posey might know something about Justin Upton that I don't. Let's take a look at his zone profile by isolated power.
That's his most dangerous zone! Maybe Bumgarner was trying to work that outside corner; we'll give him the benefit. And maybe Upton just wanted to see what was next after taking the first pitch for a ball. After all, he's not going to overcome an 8-run deficit with one swing. However, if Upton sees that pitch again, you can bet it has a good chance to get crushed.
Wait, what?! Bumgarner caught Justin Upton looking on what looks like the exact same pitch. Looks like it might have caught a bit more of the edge of the plate but still. So goes the 2015 San Diego Padres season.
After a slider in the dirt made the count 2-2, Bumgarner goes back to the fastball and it just barely misses the same spot.
Good call by the home plate umpire and an even better job of not swinging for Justin Upton. He seems pretty resigned to try and work a walk in this at-bat. A true leadoff man approach of just seeing as many pitches as possible. If you're a teammate of Justin Upton, it might be worth reminding him that he is holding a bat right now though; perhaps he has just forgotten.
It's a full count now. The payoff pitch.
An elevated fastball. This one must look good. Right over the heart of the plate, it's good enough for Upton to swing aaaaaand... foul it off. Bumgarner seems to just be in attack mode. Fire fastballs in dangerous spots and BABIP will sort out the rest.
Bumgarner goes to the fastball again, and Justin Upton is starting to time them a bit better now. The last one fouled up. This one fouls off his foot. Maybe I shouldn't guess anymore but I suspect the fastball wouldn't be thrown next.
That's a great spot for that slider and Justin Upton just barely gets a piece of it to keep the at-bat alive. Looked like a protect-mode swing while he waits for his next fastball. There's no way he gets another one though, does he?
Of course he does. And he gets away with his worst one yet. That's letter-high and over the heart-of-the-plate. Here's a gif of the entire sequence:
Oh, pitch number nine. How you must taunt Justin Upton in his nightmares. If Madison Bumgarner can get away with mistake pitches like these, maybe he is destined to pitch a perfect game.
Or, you know, maybe not. The pinch-hitter lesser Upton makes Bumgarner pay for his mistakes just four outs away from perfection. Then again, it wasn't even a mistake pitch. Posey was asking for it right there. Anytime someone says 'oh, this lineup is so good, who's in this?' The answer invariably comes back 'Melvin Upton Jr.'.
Bumgarner had to settle for an absolutely dominant one-hit shutout with a Bill James Game Score of 94, tied for eighth-best in 2015.
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Michael Bradburn is a Featured Writer for Beyond the Box Score. Contact Michael with your #MandatoryViewing candidates and he'll try his best to break it down. You can follow him on Twitter at @mwbii or reach him at email@example.com.