-- KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The bullpen gate opened in the bottom of the fifth inning, and here he came.
It was Madison K. Bumgarner, on his way to the office, to a lonely pitcher's mound in someone else's stadium. To a place where he could do those amazing things that he does.
Where he could save a game. Save a season. Save the San Francisco Giants. Rewrite the October history books. And, when his day's work was done, lug his team to the summit of a mountain that few groups of men have ever scaled.
It was Game 7 of the World Series. But really, it had turned into Madison Bumgarner's game. And Madison Bumgarner's October. And, especially, Madison Bumgarner's World Series.
"How it ended today pretty much summed up the Giants in the World Series," said his friend and teammate Jeremy Affeldt. "That guy carried us. He flat-out carried us."
How it ended Wednesday night was how the Giants' championship season had to end. With October's most dominant figure dominating one more time. This time as an emergency reliever, doing what no one had ever done in any World Series ever, in an epic 3-2 win over a Royals team that was able to triumph this October over everyone but him.
The Giants would have been happy to get a couple of innings out of Bumgarner in this game. He gave them five. Five? Seriously? Five innings? Of two-hit shutout relief? On two days' rest? In Game 7 of the World Series?
Right. Five. That isn't just how legends are made. That is how major motion pictures are made.
"I don't think I really have words to describe it," Affeldt said, as incredulous as the rest of us. "To throw seven [innings] and then throw nine and then, two days later, to throw five? You're in the World Series. You're pitching against the best hitters in the world. In Game 7. ... That can't happen. I don't think it will ever happen again. I just don't. I don't even know if we're real right now. I don't even know if I'm talking to you after that happened."
Oh, but it was real, all right. As real as the World Series trophy these players were reverently passing around their locker room. As real as the Mumm Napa Brut they'd spent the past 20 minutes uncorking. As real as the confetti that will be floating in the California sky later this week as the Giants parade through San Francisco for the third time in five years.
So let's try to digest what just happened here. The Giants of Mays, McCovey and Marichal won zero World Series. The often star-studded Giants teams that took the field from 1923 through 2009 won two World Series in 87 seasons, none of them after heading west for San Francisco in 1958.
And then came this group. A group that found the keys to the magic carpet. And rode it to three World Series titles in five years -- a feat no National League team had accomplished since the 1942-44-46 St. Louis Cardinals.
Those 2010 and 2012 Giants teams defied expectations, too. But at least those teams had a classic October-style foundation, with one of the best rotations on the planet ready to be rolled out in one series after another.
This team, on the other hand, didn't have a rotation like that. It also arrived in October with no Matt Cain, no Angel Pagan, no Marco Scutaro and, for all intents and purposes, no Tim Lincecum. It was a team that went eight games under .500 over its final 98 games. And it was, essentially, the 10th seed in a 10-team postseason field, the NL's second wild card, grateful to be allowed to even make the tournament.
It had a left fielder ( Travis Ishikawa) who had never started a big league game in left field until the third-to-last game of the season. It had a No. 3 hitter ( Buster Posey) who was so worn down by the grind of catching that he got no extra-base hits in 69 postseason at-bats. It had an emergency leadoff hitter ( Gregor Blanco) who hit .153 in October and .143 in the World Series. And it had a rotation that would record the incomprehensible total of 49 outs in the five World Series games not started by its ace.
So how did this team win the World Series? Even in a locker room drenched with champagne, that was a tough question to answer.
"Standing here right now, I honestly don't know," Hunter Pence said. "I don't know how we won."
OK, so let's tell him how they won. They won because they employed a right fielder named Hunter Pence, the energizer and part-time motivational speaker who hit .444 (12-for-27) in this World Series.
They won because they employed Pablo Sandoval, the hit machine who smoked three more hits in Game 7 to raise his career World Series batting average to .426 (20-for-47), the third-best of all time among players with at least 40 Fall Classic at-bats.
They won because their manager is a guy named Bruce Bochy, who booked his future journey to Cooperstown by becoming the 10th manager in history to win at least three World Series, and only the second (along with Connie Mack) to win three World Series in five years for a team not known as "the Yankees."
But let's be honest here. You don't need to break down the video to understand the real reason this team won the World Series. The real reason could be summed up kind of like this:
He'd already performed the job of suffocating No. 1 starter, in Games 1 and 5 of this World Series. But then, for his final act of October heroism, came this -- only the third five-inning save in any baseball game, regular season or postseason, in the past quarter-century. Insane.
"Just when you don't think there's any more room for him to grow, he takes it to another level," said reliever Javier Lopez, one of the many members of the Giants' bullpen whose presence was rendered moot by Bumgarner in Game 7. "I don't think we've even scratched the surface of what this guy can do. And he wants the ball, whether it's starting or relieving. He's taking everybody's job."
The starting pitcher on this night, Tim Hudson, got exactly five outs, the shortest Game 7 start by any pitcher on any team since Bob Turley got three outs in 1960. And no matter who was lurking in that bullpen, no matter that the game was still tied (2-2) when Hudson faded down the dugout steps, and no matter how aggressive the manager planned to manage on this night, that's a crummy formula for winning a game like this.
No team had won a Game 7 in which its starter failed to make it through the second inning since 1947. But Affeldt galloped to the rescue and got them through the fourth inning, with his 22nd consecutive scoreless postseason outing, the longest streak in history by pitchers not named Mariano Rivera. And then ...
It was time for You Know Who.
And as Madison Bumgarner sauntered in from the bullpen, something about his aura struck his center fielder, Gregor Blanco.
"He was just so calm," Blanco said.
Right. As always. And he spread that calm to everyone around him. He grabbed the resin bag and juggled it. He kicked at the dirt on the mound until he'd sculpted it precisely to his liking. And then he did what he has been doing all month:
He took over this game.
"I never take anything for granted," Blanco said. "But I've got to say, to have Madison on the mound was a big relief."
And why not? Bumgarner gave up a single to the first hitter he faced, Omar Infante. And that was that. For the next hour. He buzzed through the next 14 Royals to reach home plate. And only four other pitchers have retired that many hitters in a row in any winner-take-all World Series game ever played. But the other four were all starters, of course.
So out he went, inning after inning. For the sixth. For the seventh. For the eighth. This was Madison Bumgarner's Randy Johnson moment. Except that in Game 7, 2001, the Unit was asked to get only three outs. The Giants' ace was asked to get 15.
"But he was so confident," Pence said, "and doing so good that there was like a momentum switch. Obviously, you could see he was locked in. But you could also feel it. You could feel how good he was."
The ace took a raucous crowd of 40,535 very loud people and neutralized them. He took a Royals offense that had piled up 10 eye-popping runs the night before and switched off their ignition.
And for the Giants, a game that seemed very much in doubt suddenly seemed to be in total control. All because the man on the mound was oblivious to the forces that had done in every road team in the previous nine Game 7's, stretched out over the previous 35 years.
He was never supposed to go out there for the eighth. He was never supposed to go out there for the ninth. But as the outs and the zeroes kept mounting, it became clear to everyone: It would have taken a court order to get Bruce Bochy to yank Madison Bumgarner out of this game.
"If Boch would have told Bum he was done," Affeldt chuckled, "I think he would have had two pitchers standing on the mound out there in the ninth inning."
Down went Eric Hosmer for the first out in the ninth. Down went Billy Butler for the second out in the ninth. Bumgarner jumped ahead of Alex Gordon, 0-and-1. The end was obviously near. Except it wasn't.
Gordon looped a soft, sinking liner toward left-center field. Blanco sprinted toward it, listened to his brain tell him he was going to catch it, then realized his brain had lied. He tried to hit the brakes and keep it in front of him -- "but it was too late," he said.
Suddenly, the baseball hip-hopped past him and toward the wall. Gordon roared around second. Left fielder Juan Perez juggled it on the track. And for one brief moment, every Giant on the field had the terrifying thought that Gordon was going to circle the bases and score -- until he pulled into third and stopped.
"I just watched the highlights," pitching coach Dave Righetti reported afterward. "And it looked like he tripped a little coming around second. It looked like he lost his stride. But suppose he'd stayed on stride. I wonder what would have happened."
Well, we'll never know. And the Giants will never have to wonder again. Because Madison Bumgarner had to get one more out. And he got it. When Salvador Perez's pop-up returned to earth and landed in Sandoval's mitt, the improbable journey of the 2014 Giants was complete. And the legend of Madison Bumgarner was born.
His career World Series ERA was down to 0.25, the lowest by any pitcher in history with at least 25 innings pitched. His ERA in this postseason, over a record 52.2 innings, had shrunk to 1.01, the best of any pitcher with 40 or more innings in any postseason.
His five-inning save was four outs longer than any save in World Series history. And his two wins, a shutout and a save -- in the same World Series -- represented a feat never accomplished by any other pitcher since saves became an official statistic more than four decades ago. Not by Johnson. Not by Schilling. Not by Maddux. Not by Morris. Just him.
"It hasn't sunk in yet," Bumgarner would say later, when asked what it felt like to make World Series history. "There's not been near enough time to think about it."
But there will be plenty of time to think and sink in the days and weeks and months ahead. For Madison Bumgarner, life will never be the same. And for that team he plays for, another parade is waiting.
"I'm guessing that some of these guys won't have to pay for a meal in San Francisco for a long time," Righetti said. "And one thing I know for sure is, Madison Bumgarner won't."