Here is a link to my Giants-Pirates preview — my Wednesday column. The full text runs below:
PITTSBURGH — You’re the Giants and Pirates and you’re in the wild-card game and both of you have good teams. That’s expected.
But can you pitch?
Because I’ll tell you something, pal, this game is all about the pitching. This live-or-die game of knockout baseball is about the starting pitchers, about having an ace who makes bats miss balls, an ace who goes deep. It’s about your guy shutting down the other guys.
So, can you pitch?
The pitching matchup is beautiful. “Beautiful” is the right word with so much at stake so fast and each team throwing a beautiful pitcher. Edinson Volquez vs. Madison Bumgarner. It’s just wonderful.
You may not know about Volquez — more on Bumgarner in a moment. Who in the world is Edinson Volquez to be starting a game like this? Pirates manager Clint Hurdle could have pitched Gerrit Cole Wednesday — Cole throws searing heat. But Hurdle pitched Cole on Sunday trying to win the division and avoid Wednesday’s wild-card game. That didn’t work. Hurdle pitched Cole knowing he had Volquez hanging around. To be sure. Volquez said he spent all day Monday at his house sleeping.
He is from the Dominican and he’s 31 and in August 2013 he got released by the Padres. Digest that fact. The Padres, always nowhere, didn’t think Volquez was good enough for them. The Dodgers picked him up — that’s where he finished the 2013 season, losing his only two decisions for LA. His combined record last season was 9-12.
An ace? More like the joker. And this guy holds the Pirates’ future.
He wanted to be a Pirate this season because his friend Francisco Liriano came to the Pirates in 2013 and won 16 games, revived his career. Volquez wanted some of that revival.
He revived. His record this year was 13-7. He completed the regular season without allowing a run in 18 consecutive innings. His earned-run average in Sept. was 1.09, second lowest in the National League.
We’re talking reviver and survivor.
Hurdle talked about Volquez on Tuesday. You should know about Hurdle. Great guy. Enthusiastic. That word “enthusiastic” gets overused. Not in this case. Hurdle could sell you a car, a refrigerator, a vacuum cleaner, a pretzel. He tried to sell the media on Volquez. Hurdle has a long windup, gets to his subject in a roundabout way.
“Nobody’s got all the answers,” he said. “I mean, none of you do. I don’t. That’s the beauty of this thing, getting people out there and giving them an opportunity to perform, see where they take you. If it doesn’t get off the way you want it, we’ve found a way to help him (Volquez, finally) slow himself down. This man’s had lofty goals for himself this season regardless of what the numbers said last year.”
What’s the difference between Bad Edinson and Good Edinson?
“He’s a visual learner,” Hurdle said, again going roundabout. “We can take him and show him. ‘Try and maintain a certain pace and rhythm with the ball in your hand, not so much just to pitch in a hurry. Try and maintain a posture where you’re getting a pitch off every 14 seconds. You’re mindful of making the next good pitch.’”
Oh, that was the deal. Volquez was a fast worker. Call him a hurrier and a worrier.
“Towards the end of May,” Hurdle said, “he got in that place where, ‘I’m getting this together. I’ve just got to make pitches and I don’t have to do it in a hurry or emotionally.’ Been very consistent for the last four months.”
Here’s what it amounts to. Volquez stopped relying on power. “I used to be a strikeout guy,” Volquez said. “I decided to go more to contact. I wanted to stay in games longer. Before, I got in a lot of trouble trying to strike out everybody. That wasn’t working out for me.”
Let’s give Hurdle the last word on Volquez: “He has a personality that we don’t have a lot of in here. He’s a very exciting guy. He’s a livewire. It’s good. He can go to a place not many pitchers that I’ve had in 14 years have been able to show me. He’s probably changed our clubhouse a little bit.”
When someone told Volquez about Hurdle’s praise, Volquez asked, “Did he say I’m crazy?”
Switch to Bumgarner, not crazy. He won 18 games this season. He is the Giants’ best pitcher, by far.
Hurdle on Bumgarner: “I’ve been really impressed going back as far as 2010 pitching in the World Series. I saw a young man pitch as good a game as you ever want to see in a very heightened atmosphere with big-time sweepstakes. He’s one of the guys you expect to see when you’re in the playoffs.”
Bochy still calls Bumgarner “The Kid.” Bochy remembered watching film of The Kid when Bumgarner was in Triple-A. “He snapped,” Bochy said, “and he threw a ball out of the stadium. You saw it right then — he had the fire. He’s never changed, either.”
So, Bumgarner has fire. He has more. Listen to my conversation with Hunter Pence.
Me: What makes Madison Bumgarner unique as a player?
Me: Could you name one thing?
Pence: He’s left-handed.
Me: Is there another?
Pence: You said one thing.
Me: I did. I’m changing the rules.
Pence: His name is Madison.
Me: When you play right field behind him, how do you feel?
Me: Awesome is usually a cliché.
Pence: I’m giving you honest answers. I don’t understand where you’re going with the question.
Me: Well, he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball. You could say he has great command. You could say he’s confident, that he goes out on the mound and feels no one can beat him.
Pence: So, you want me to describe Madison?
Pence: OK, he’s extremely competitive. He’s a workhorse. He’s fiery. He’s exciting. And he’s really good. The word “beast” comes to mind.
Thanks, Hunter. Nicely done.
Bochy is trusting this season to Bumgarner, The Kid, The Beast. Aside from Clayton Kershaw, he is the best custodian of a season in the National League. He has won two World Series. He has pitched in seven postseason games and he’s just 25.
He has better control than Volquez and a superior pedigree. And he should win this game for the Giants because of who he is.
Back to Hurdle: “Good pitching stops good hitting. It always has and always will.”
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.