Kansas City, MO (SportsNetwork.com) – Madison Bumgarner watched as Pablo Sandoval worked his way under the ball.
Moments later, the San Francisco Giants ace was swarmed by teammates near the mound after punctuating one of the great postseason performances in any sport.
Some of them stopped first to congratulate Sandoval, who was on his back after catching the last out.
And on the edge of the celebration, Buster Posey dropped to his knees, a smile on the catcher’s face that showed both happiness and relief.
This is some dynasty, and it almost unraveled on an error.
Bumgarner pitched five scoreless innings out of the bullpen and the Giants held on to beat the Kansas City Royals 3-2 in Game 7 on Wednesday night, capturing their third World Series title in five years.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, after Bumgarner had retired 14 batters in a row, Alex Gordon sliced a hit into left-center field that bounced past Gregor Blanco and went to the wall, suddenly giving the Royals a sliver of hope.
Left fielder Juan Perez bobbled the ball on the warning track and Gordon made it all the way to third on a two-base error.
“I’m not sure what happened. I didn’t see it,” Bumgarner said. “But I was starting to get a little nervous. He was digging around a little bit and it’s a big outfield.
“It was a little nerve-wracking.”
But Bumgarner threw six fastballs to Salvador Perez, who popped up into foul territory near third base, where Sandoval squeezed it before falling onto his back with his arms in the air.
“Relief,” said Bruce Bochy, who has managed each of these three championship teams. “Because anything can happen — a bloop, a wild pitch. There’s a man on third base there and (Bumgarner) just made some great pitches.”
Bumgarner pitched on two days’ rest after throwing a four-hit shutout in Game 5 on Sunday for his second win of the series. He was named World Series MVP, to no one’s surprise, after throwing 21 innings and giving just up one run, nine hits and one walk.
Sandoval, due to be a free agent, reached base four times in Game 7 and scored twice, including the go-ahead run on Michael Morse’s single back in the fourth inning. Sandoval had three hits, giving him an MLB-record 26 this postseason.
The Royals, trying to win a title for the first time in 29 years, came up a win short. They forced Game 7 with Tuesday’s 10-0 blowout, extending their magical season for another day, but scored their only runs Wednesday in the second inning.
“You work all year to climb to the top of the mountain and then ‘Boom!’ You fall back down and have to restart next season,” Kansas City manager Ned Yost said.
The wild-card Giants, an 88-win team that finished six games behind the rival Dodgers in the NL West, rode a Bumgarner shutout to an 8-0 win in Pittsburgh on Oct. 1 and finished their title run two days shy of Halloween.
Bumgarner’s wins in Games 1 and 5, and his five-inning save in the clincher, cemented his role at the age of 25 as a postseason star on a Giants team that has carved an odd dynasty into recent baseball history.
The Giants have made the postseason only three times in the last 11 years — winning the World Series each time. Wednesday’s celebration followed titles in 2010 over Texas and 2012 over Detroit.
They snapped a nine-game losing streak by road teams in World Series Game 7s, becoming the first team to win that way since the 1979 “We Are Family” Pirates, who clinched in Baltimore.
“Still can’t believe it,” first baseman Brandon Belt tweeted hours later.
Belt and Hunter Pence had two hits apiece, including back-to-back singles in the second inning after Kansas City starter Jeremy Guthrie grazed Sandoval with a pitch leading off. Morse and Brandon Crawford followed with sacrifice flies for the Giants’ first two runs.
Hours later, the Giants celebrated in customary fashion by spraying champagne in the locker room.
So used to their backs being against the wall during their three title runs, the Giants got their eighth straight win in an elimination game — including six on the road.
After beating Pittsburgh in the NL wild-card game, they never sniffed another elimination test until the World Series. They closed out Washington in four games in the NL division series and needed just five games to beat St. Louis.
They won the pennant on Travis Ishikawa’s dramatic ninth-inning homer on Oct. 16 at AT&T Park in a game that saw them snap a streak of 242 consecutive plate appearances without a homer.
Big moments came from all over the lineup, of course, but the Giants produced little in the way of big blows over the past week, winning Games 4 and 5 with 28 hits, including 24 singles. They scored 15 straight runs before Kansas City’s seven-run rally in the second inning of Game 6 on Tuesday, when the Giants were shut out over seven innings by rookie Yordano Ventura.
They had eight more hits in Game 7 — all but one of them a single.
It was the eighth World Series title in franchise history.
“That was a phenomenal series,” said Yost. “They played great baseball. And Madison Bumgarner, man. What can you say about him?”
The Royals, perennial down-and-outers in the AL Central, snatched a wild-card spot to reach the playoffs for the first time since winning the World Series in 1985. Building a brand as an underdog favorite, they won their first eight playoff games against the Athletics, Angels and Orioles before running into Bumgarner in Game 1 last week.
Their 10-0 win in Game 6 — a party from nearly start to finish for the 40,000 fans in attendance — was the most lopsided World Series shutout since Kansas City’s 11-0 win over St. Louis in Game 7 in 1985.
“It hurts to come as close as we came,” said Yost. “As magical as our run has been, to end up losing the ballgame by 90 feet is tough.”
That magic which produced extra-inning wins in the Royals’ first three playoff games — and four of their first five — wasn’t reproduced against the Giants. Their three wins in the series came by 16 runs. That includes Friday’s 3-2 victory in Game 3, when the Royals took a 2-1 lead in the series on the backs of bullpen stars Kelvin Herrera, Brandon Finnegan, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, who combined to throw four no-hit innings in the game.
Herrera, Davis and Holland all pitched on Wednesday after Guthrie (1-1) went 3 1/3 innings. The Royals got to 39-year-old Tim Hudson, scoring two runs in the second inning on Gordon’s double and Omar Infante’s sacrifice fly.
Hudson, the oldest pitcher ever to start Game 7, got just five outs and Jeremy Affeldt (1-0) threw 2 1/3 innings to pick up the win, running his streak to 22 consecutive appearances in the postseason without allowing a run, one shy of the record held by Yankees great Mariano Rivera.
Bumgarner finished with 270 innings pitched in the regular and postseason and ran his career World Series record to 4-0 with a 0.25 ERA.
Bochy said he avoided Bumgarner in the dugout, the way players do when a pitcher is throwing a no-hitter.
“I was staying away from him every inning because I was hoping he wouldn’t say, ‘I’m starting to get a little tired,'” Bochy said. “Because there’s no way I would have taken him out unless he told me that.
“We just got on his horse and rode it.”
Sandoval broke the old postseason hits record of 25 shared by Marquis Grissom (1995), Darin Erstad (2002) and David Freese (2011) … Hudson, who is MLB’s active wins leader with 214, also pitched Game 3 on Friday. He is without a postseason win since Game 2 of the 2001 ALDS, when he pitched Oakland past the Yankees … Royals great and 1985 World Series MVP Bret Saberhagen threw out the first pitch … Home teams are now 18-19 in World Series Game 7s.