Published October 29, 2012
DETROIT – It ended exactly the way it should have, with the Triple Crown winner frozen at the plate.
Miguel Cabrera was so focused on a slider that his bat never moved as a fastball zoomed by for a called third strike. What made it even more fitting is that Sergio Romo, the guy who threw it, has been San Francisco's closer for all of two months.
Anyone who predicted the World Series would end in a sweep must have had it the other way around. The bookmakers in Vegas certainly did. But the improbable has been the Giants' calling card all postseason.
In all, they faced six elimination games and won every one. Down 0-2 in a best-of-five against Cincinnati, San Francisco became the first team to sweep the next three on the road. Down 1-3 against St. Louis in the championship series, they won their next three and the National League pennant.
Then came four straight against a loaded Tigers team, sealed when closer Romo outfoxed Cabrera, the most fearsome hitter in Detroit's loaded lineup, to get the final out in the bottom of the 10th inning Sunday night for a 4-3 win.
"He just knew that Cabrera was looking for a slider," San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said afterward, "and he commands his fastball so well."
In a somber Tigers locker room afterward, Cabrera acknowledged as much.
"I didn't think he was going to throw the fastball," he said. "But he got me with it."
Exactly how the Giants locked up their second title in the last three years is likely to be the subject of much conjecture. Moments before Bochy paraded down the hallway of the visiting clubhouse with the gold trophy held aloft, Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti ducked almost unnoticed into a side room with a blue binder pressed closely to his chest, shielding it against the champagne being sprayed on all sides.
When someone called after him for a look, Righetti didn't even bother to turn around. It might be easier to get your hands on state secrets than the blueprint Bochy and his staff put together to limit Cabrera and the rest of the Tigers to a measly .159 batting average over the course of four games — the lowest in a World Series in 43 years. As if that wasn't bad enough, the Giants weren't letting much slip, either, about how their own hitters steadily chipped away at Detroit's rock-solid rotation and bullpen for just enough runs to win.
"Slingshots and rocks," third base coach Tim Flannery cackled in that same crowded hallway. "That's what we come to play with."
There were a few times this season when everything else about the Giants seemed just that improvised. When closer Brian Wilson went down, Bochy employed a bullpen by committee for most of the summer. Romo got his first save in early June, but didn't lock down the role until late August.
Even the regular lineup was in a state of flux through much of July. Marco Scutaro and Hunter Pence arrived just ahead of the trading deadline, but played defense immediately like they'd been there for years.
In Scutaro's case, nothing could be further from the truth. He was one of the guys featured in a 2005 documentary titled "A Player to Be Named Later," and San Francisco was his sixth major club in the last 10 years. But his new teammates made room for him so quickly, both on the field and inside the clubhouse, that he immediately felt at home.
"We put guys in different roles, nobody ever said a word, complained or anything, and that's the only way it got done," Bochy said. "They set aside their own agenda and asked what's best for the club."
As if to prove that point, Scutaro combined with the guy whose job he took at second base to score the winning run. Beginning the 10th inning, Tigers reliever Phil Coke had struck out all seven batters he'd faced up to that point in the series. But Ryan Theriot lofted a single into short right, then took second on a sacrifice bunt. One batter later, Scutaro coolly worked the count to 3-1.
In the Giants dugout, meanwhile, his teammates barely knew whether to cheer or keep quiet. Scutaro had repaid their support all postseason, delivering so many clutch hits before, they were almost afraid to plead for one more.
"You worried when guys like that come up," Giants starter Matt Cain recalled. "You worry that maybe you've used them all up."
Not quite. Scutaro lined a soft single back up the middle.
"He had another one," Cain marveled afterward, "the biggest one left."
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.