Column: Giants go from big ball to small ball to take command of World Series
SAN FRANCISCO – The bunt just wouldn't go foul, despite the best efforts of the Detroit players who gathered around it and tried to will it across the chalk down the third base line. It couldn't go foul, because that might have ruined the whole aura the San Francisco Giants spent two games creating on their way toward taking command of this World Series.
Gregor Blanco thought he had pulled it too much but ran anyway, as hard as he could toward first. Hunter Pence had no such doubt as he watched the ball die on the dirt from his prime vantage point heading for third.
"One of the most beautiful bunts you'll ever see," said Pence, who moments later would come home with the only run the Giants would need in a 2-0 win in Game 2.
Three home runs by the Panda the night before in a most improbable win against Tigers ace Justin Verlander. Small ball on this night, the way the Giants played it all year long in the National League.
And now a trip to Detroit with their two best pitchers lined up for the weekend and their second World Series title in three years suddenly squarely in their sights.
"It seems like the game is on our side right now," Blanco said. "If it takes a bunt single to win the World Series, so be it. We'll take it."
Indeed they will. Who needs a Triple Crown winner and a slugger lured from the National League just for these kinds of games, when a double play ground ball was good enough to put the Giants in the lead in the seventh and a sacrifice fly scored another an inning later without the benefit of one hit?
Superstars can turn games around, but how about Marco Scutaro keeping this one on check when he raced from second base to back up a relay throw and fire to home in the second inning just in time to get Prince Fielder sliding in while trying to score from first?
And say what you want about Pablo Sandoval's body type, but he managed to get airborne enough at third base to spear a line drive by Miguel Cabrera in the fourth inning that could have easily gone for a double and scored Omar Infante from first.
"I don't know about baseball gods, but I'll tell you one thing: I hope the ball keeps bouncing our way," Giants lefty Jeremy Affeldt said. "It's been huge for us."
Just as huge is that the Giants have the three things every team needs to win a World Series: Pitching, pitching, pitching.
First it was Barry Zito coming back from nowhere to beat Verlander in Game 1. On Thursday night it was Madison Bumgarner finding something with his delivery to throw seven innings of two-hit ball after being dropped from the rotation in the NLCS when his ERA soared to 11.25.
To throw Ryan Vogelsong in Game 3 on Saturday and follow him with staff ace Matt Cain almost seems unfair.
"Having Vogelsong and Cain to pitch means so much to us in big games," Affeldt said. "It's not a bad thing to say we're in a good spot right now up 2-0."
This wasn't how the Tigers envisioned the series playing out, especially after eliminating the New York Yankees early and getting to rest up while the Giants battled back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the St. Louis Cardinals and somehow make their way into the World Series. They came in with a pitching rotation lined up behind Verlander and sluggers who figured to give two pitchers who were big question marks fits.
The Vegas oddsmakers favored them, especially in Game 1. But they've been shut down by San Francisco's pitching, and everything the Giants do seems to work.
As if anything else could go wrong for the Tigers, starting pitcher Doug Fister was hit in the head with a line drive by Blanco in the second inning that bounced off of him and ended up in center field for a hit. Thankfully, Fister didn't seem injured by the glancing blow and went on to retire 12 straight Giants during one stretch.
"I'm not concerned. I have a minor bump," Fister said. "According to my dad my whole life his saying has always been if I got hit in the head I'd be OK. That's how I take it."
The Tigers may not be able to absorb their lumps in San Francisco as easily. They've got to find a way to rekindle their offense, and do it against the two best starters the Giants have, and they have to find a closer they can trust after the awful postseason Jose Valverde is having.
But they'll be at home in front of friendly fans, and it does still take wins in four games to win a World Series.
"They definitely got the breaks on their side, but they also play good baseball," Fielder said. "Hopefully we go home and we get some breaks our way."
If anything, the Tigers can take some consolation in what the Giants have done themselves. Just when all seemed lost in their playoff opener against Cincinnati, they won the last three games on the road to win the series, and followed that by beating the Cardinals three straight to get in the series.
Compared to that, coming back from a 2-0 deficit with the next three games at home seems quite doable for the Tigers.
"This is baseball," Cabrera said. "It's no time to put your head down. We're going try go out there more aggressive at home, trying to win the first one. If we win the first one I think it's going to be a different story."
After a long two days in San Francisco, the Tigers can only hope that story has a better ending.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or follow at http://twitter.com/timdahlberg