SAN FRANCISCO -- Madison Bumgarner has downplayed the most passionate moments of his 2014 season, joking that a yelling match with Yasiel Puig was just the left-hander offering his congratulations after Puig homered, and that an exchange of gestures with the Colorado Rockies dugout was simply a moment between two teams "that care."
But after he beat the Minnesota Twins 8-1 on Sunday, there was no hiding the relief on Bumgarner's face.
The left-hander's only previous start against the Twins came June 21, 2011, and was one of the worst in Giants history. Bumgarner retired just one of 10 batters he faced, giving up a career-worst eight earned runs. Joe Mauer was the only player in Sunday's lineup who played in that 2011 game, but that didn't matter to Bumgarner. When he took the mound, looked in at Buster Posey and saw a Twins jersey in the right-handed batters box, a chill went down his spine.
And a jolt went through his arm.
Bumgarner gave up just three hits and one run in seven innings, tying his season high with 10 strikeouts. He became just the fourth pitcher to strike out Mauer three times in one game. Did it feel good to get a measure of revenge?
"Yeah, definitely. I didn't forget about that," he said. "That's something that's tough to forget if you go through a start like that one. It doesn't matter who was out there and who is not now. It's the same team, and it sticks with you."
When fired up, Bumgarner doesn't need much support, but the Giants jumped all over Ricky Nolasco, anyway. Michael Morse drove in four runs, Hunter Pence homered, and Gregor Blanco had three singles.
"We've got a good team," Bumgarner said. "It's better than a lot of people realized at the start of the year. We play together. On paper, it might not be the best, but I'd put it up against anybody."
Actually, the Giants currently are the best on paper. With the sweep of the Twins, they improved to 6-0 in interleague play and kept their hold on the top record (32-18) in baseball. Their lead in the division was stretched to a season-high five games when the Colorado Rockies lost in Atlanta.
Sunday's win was yet again about balance, with the Giants pounding out 12 hits and allowing just four. Morse led the way with four RBIs and a career-high three doubles. The second one cleared the bases with two outs in the fifth and gave the Giants a 7-1 lead.
As Nolasco slumped back to the dugout, Morse stood on second, his face filling a 103-foot high-definition scoreboard directly behind him. The sellout crowd roared as Morse's walk-up music -- 1985 chart-topper "Take On Me"--blared through AT&T Park. With every step Nolasco took, the crowd grew louder. Morse finally was unable to hide his smile any longer. He shook his head, laughed and pumped his first.
"The fans here are the best fans in baseball," Morse said. "Moments like that make you feel so humble and happy."
Morse doubled again in the eighth, becoming just the fifth Giant to hit three two-baggers in a game at AT&T Park. Again he tried to hide his smile as the crowd rose and roared. Again he failed.
"It's just awesome, man," Morse said. "Every day feels like the playoffs here."
--Matt Cain threw on flat ground Sunday and said his strained right hamstring gets better every day, but the Giants still have not locked in a day for Cain's return to the mound. Cain was scratched from his Monday start after cutting short a bullpen session Saturday, but he said he was just being cautious.
"It wasn't bad," Cain said. "I wasn't able to throw the way I wanted to, (and) it wasn't worth pushing it. You want to be able to throw the way you're used to and not baby it."
Cain hurt the hamstring on the final pitch of his start against the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday but still hopes to avoid the disabled list. That bid is helped by the presence of Yusmeiro Petit, who stepped in when Cain went on the D.L. earlier this season with a cut on his right index finger. Petit will start Monday.
"You know what, that's really beneficial," Cain said. "He's a big help to us. He's able to save us. That's a big key to be able to miss one start and know he's going to pick you up for five or six innings."
--Posey went 1 for 4 before being removed on a double-switch and has just two hits in his past 24 at-bats. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Posey, who missed two games earlier in the week with lower back irritation, is fine physically and was not removed because of an injury.
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