Sometimes even the best of the best achieve a different level of perfection that maybe even they didn't think possible. If you ask the 25-year-old Bumgarner, he would almost certainly tell you his 143rd career start was a grind, a pitch-by-pitch effort to get it right.
The Giants needed this one, badly. They were coming off an ugly 3-2 loss in which they committed four errors. Jake Peavy balked home a run and lost his cool, and I'm guessing that in the hours after the game, neither Peavy nor plate umpire Doug Eddings was real proud of himself.
San Francisco began Tuesday having lost three in a row to fall five games behind the Dodgers in the National League West. If the season ended today, the Giants would snag the second NL Wild Card berth, but the Braves, Pirates and Marlins are within striking distance.
So every game counts. Down the stretch, San Francisco has six more with the Dodgers, three in Detroit and three against Milwaukee. If you look at the Giants a certain way, you see a team capable of playing deep into October.
To beat San Francisco means getting by Tim Hudson and Bumgarner, and plenty of teams have done special things with two guys that good at the top of the rotation.
If the Giants do get to October, everyone will be paying attention. They're trying to win the World Series for the third time in five seasons, and when you've got a core of players and a manager and organization that have had that kind of success, there's a inner core of toughness and confidence that makes them dangerous.
Bumgarner surely felt the responsibility of all that's going on around the Giants. That's what aces do. They accept the responsibility for being the guy who stops losing streaks, who pushes the reset button.
That's not what we saw. Rather, we saw a guy performing at a higher level than the rest of us can comprehend. Some of his teammates have been there. Tim Lincecum, for sure. Definitely Matt Cain.
Remember that night Michael Jordan turned to the scorer's table and shrugged as 3s kept falling from the sky? He's the best there ever was, and yet there were nights he did things that amazed even himself.
On a night when Bumgarner changed speed, location, movement, etc., so perfectly, on a night when he was able to do almost whatever he wanted to do with the baseball, there were points at which the Rockies simply had no idea what to expect.
This is pitching. Sure, it's that. But it's something else. On some strange level, it's the artistry that is pitching well at the big league level. It's never about velocity, although velocity is important. Location and movement and changing speeds have always been more important. It's figuring out what the hitter wants to get and giving him something else.
Bumgarner set a tone in the first inning by getting three outs on three different pitches. He threw a first-pitch strike to all three hitters, and then he worked off his fastball to make his slider and changeup that much better.
Bumgarner introduced his curveball in the second inning, throwing three of them in all, one for a swinging strike to Justin Morneau and missing the strike zone with the other two.
Again, everything begins with the fastball, its location and movement and velocity. It's where everything begins. Bumgarner threw six of them in the second inning, five for strikes.
And yet when he faced Michael MeKenry, Bumgarner went slider-curve-slider-curve. He finished the second inning with Matt McBride taking a 93-mph fastball.
At this point, after just two innings, Bumgarner had established that he would throw any pitch at any time. After that, it was a matter of how precise he could be. How many mistakes would Bumgarner make? Would someone, say, golf one off the ankles?
Bumgarner had retired 21 in a row when Morneau slapped a curveball to right field for a double, the only baserunner the Rockies would have all night in San Francisco's 3-0 victory.
Bumgarner had set Morneau up with three straight fastballs, getting a swinging strike, a foul ball and one that missed the strike zone. He figured he had positioned himself nicely for something else. Morneau adjusted. End of perfect game.
And that's the story. Bumgarner was able to throw all of his pitches at any time. He threw 103 pitches in all, 80 of them for strikes. Bumgarner faced 28 hitters. He had 0-2 counts on 15 of them. Bumgarner reached a three-ball count only once.
When Bumgarner finished his no-walk, 13-strikeout night, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said, "This game was probably more impressive than a lot of no-hitters."
Bumgarner pretty much put them where he wanted to put them. He finished the ninth the way he'd begun the first, by establishing that 92-mph fastball and mixing in just enough of the other stuff to keep hitters off balance.
Bumgarner struck out Charlie Culberson on a curve to open the ninth, then didn't mess around. Six of his final seven pitches were fastballs. Bumgarner got Charlie Blackmon on an infield pop and Josh Rutledge on a fly ball to right field.
There were no champagne showers. Bumgarner just missed that. But as he said, all that mattered is that the Giants had won. They did it because Bumgarner pitched one of the best games you will ever see pitched, a thing of beauty.