Published October 25, 2012
SAN FRANCISCO – Gregor Blanco began sprinting in before he even heard the crack of Miguel Cabrera's bat.
With speedy Austin Jackson running from first base and San Francisco only up a run in the third inning, the left fielder committed all the way. He sprinted forward, then cut to his left, and stretched out to make a diving grab that robbed the Triple Crown winner of a hit. Blanco's elastic catch kept the Giants in the lead at a critical point in San Francisco's 8-3 victory in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday night.
"I just said to myself, 'We cannot let them start a rally,'" Blanco said. "They have great hitters. If you let them have confidence with their offense, it's going to be trouble for us."
Thanks to Blanco, the Giants never let that happen.
The same man who made a diving catch on the warning track in right-center field to rob Jordan Schafer and save Matt Cain's perfect game on June 13 against Houston came through in the biggest moments again.
In the sixth, Prince Fielder flipped his bat as soon as his slicing line drive zipped off his bat — then stopped his sprint when Blanco made another diving grab. Blanco, sprawled out on the grass, raised his right glove hand and brought the home fans roaring to their feet, a familiar site at AT&T Park.
"I had some funky spin on it, and that was so impressive because not only did he dive, but he had to stay with the path of that ball," said Giants starter Barry Zito, who shut out the Tigers until Cabrera's RBI single in the sixth. "Blanco is just such a huge part of this team in every way."
Has been all season.
The 28-year-old from Venezuela, who got most of the playing time in left field when Melky Cabrera was suspended for 50 games, also ran down a hard-hit ball by Allen Craig in left-center in the third inning against St. Louis in Game 7 of the NL championship series. But no matter how many spectacular snags he makes, Blanco — and just about everybody else in San Francisco — will always remember his perfect-game saving catch.
"Any ball that is close to him, I've got a good feeling he's going to dive and catch it," said Cain, the Game 4 starter. "He makes a lot of diving catches and, maybe most importantly, knows when to do it."
Madison Bumgarner joked before his last World Series start that the pressure of pitching on baseball's biggest stage felt similar to his high school championship. After all, he was only 21.
Two years later, the lefty has little room for laughs.
That tends to happened after two terrible postseason starts, getting passed over in the rotation and having his mechanics and fatigue questioned. Bumgarner will get another chance — and perhaps his last this postseason — at redemption when he tries to pitch the Giants to a 2-0 Series lead starting opposite Detroit Tigers right-hander Doug Fister on Thursday night.
"That wasn't fun at all," Bumgarner said of his previous start. "But watching everybody fight back and then pick me up, and everybody is picking everybody up right now, that's what's special about our team."
The North Carolina native finished 2-0 with a 2.18 ERA in the 2010 postseason, including a Game 4 win at Texas in the World Series when he allowed only three hits in eight innings. He struck out 18 and walked only five in four appearances — three starts — to help the Giants to their first World Series since moving from New York in 1958.
This season, the southpaw won 16 games for the NL West champions but has struggled mightily in the playoffs with an 11.25 ERA. He lasted just 3 2-3 innings in his last start, giving up six earned runs in a 6-4 loss to St. Louis in Game 1 of the NL championship series. Barry Zito took Bumgarner's spot in Game 5 for the first of three straight San Francisco victories.
Bumgarner's velocity has decreased slightly in both starts, making his off-speed pitches less deceptive. He spent the extra time working on his mechanics with pitching coach Dave Righetti before games.
Even with his starter's struggles, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said he is confident Bumgarner — who signed a $35.56 million, six-year contract through the 2017 earlier this year — can turn things around against the hard-hitting Tigers.
"He's done well, and he's dealt with the adversity that you have to deal with as a player," Bochy said. "The good ones bounce back. They're resilient. We certainly feel that way with Madison. I don't care how good you are, occasionally, you're going to have to deal with some adversity. But he's a tough kid. We forget sometimes, he's only 23 years old, and he's already done a lot in his career. But he can handle things thrown at him, and he's a guy that doesn't get his confidence shaken.
"It may not go well, but he still wants to be out there on the mound," Bochy said.
SECRET HANDSHAKE: Don't dare try to talk Detroit slugger Prince Fielder into offering any specifics about his signature handshake with Tigers Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.
It's not going to happen — even though he knows everybody is clamoring to learn it from the leader himself.
"It doesn't have a name but it definitely is awkward when I see a grown man wanting to do it while I'm walking down the street," Fielder said. "It's just something me and Miguel do, and it's top secret. It's borderline weird, 'Hey, come on,' and I'm like, 'Hey, come on, I'm an adult.' It's cool, it's funny. It just feels weird sometimes."
The complicated move features the two players reaching out their right hands for a low handshake, then another backward slap before a high-five that's followed by them bringing both of their arms out as if to form a 'W' above their heads. Next, they move their right hands together as if sprinkling dust — then come together in a warm embrace. Cabrera might pat Fielder's head just to punctuate things.
Would Fielder just walk everybody through it already? It's the World Series, after all.
"I can't do it," Fielder said, grinning. "It's top secret."
Even grizzled manager Jim Leyland said he's fine with the playful antics.
"They say I'm old school. I'm really not. I'm old, but I'm not necessarily old school," Leyland said. "But I don't really get into that, whether it's our team or the other team. I kind of don't really look, to be honest with you. But it's kind of a new wave of baseball and entertaining to some people. "
CATCH 'EM ALL: Buster Posey can get comfortable in his squat behind home plate in the World Series.
Unlike in the last two series and several games down the stretch, Giants manager Bruce Bochy plans to keep the All-Star catcher in his usual spot for every game — even though he has the option of a designated hitter in Detroit.
Hector Sanchez caught Barry Zito in Game 4 in Cincinnati in the division series. He also started behind the plate of the Game 4 loss against St. Louis for Tim Lincecum, with Posey shifting to first base in each.
Sanchez caught 25 of Zito's starts this season, while Posey was behind the plate for eight. Zito had a 4.08 when Sanchez caught him in the regular season and a 4.39 ERA when Posey did.
Sanchez caught Lincecum 16 times (4.37 ERA), Posey 15 (5.46 ERA) and Eli Whiteside two games (5.40 ERA) this season.
TIGERS' GIANT: Starting on the road in the World Series is even more special for Doug Fister than taking the mound in Detroit this October.
Fister, Detroit's Game 2 starter, grew up about 130 miles southeast in Merced. While he may be pitching for the Tigers now, Fister always cheered for the Giants growing up.
"Don't tell anybody," he joked.
Fister has a 1.35 ERA and two no-decisions this postseason, with Detroit winning both games. In 13 1-3 innings, he has struck out 13 and walked six, although none ever came against his favorite childhood team.
"It's definitely special being able to come into the ballpark and play in a World Series is something that obviously is a moment that will never be forgotten. It holds a little bit more special place in my heart, I would say, but it doesn't change what we do on the field.
AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report.