Thursday, October 25, 2012

The San Francisco Giants defeated the Detroit Tigers, 8-3, at AT&T Park last night in Game One of the 2012 World Series.

Pablo Sandoval tied a Series record with not one, not two, but three mighty home runs, capping a 4-for-4 night that utterly bedeviled Detroit ace Justin Verlander and staked Barry Zito to his first World Series win. Zito was sharp and economical in his 81-pitch six-inning effort; his best frames were the third, fourth, and fifth, during which the Giants scored five runs, chased Verlander, and established their dominance. Tim Lincecum took over and was unhittable for two; by the time the Tiger sluggers finally found their hitting shoes, it was the ninth inning and they hadn't enough outs to spare.

The Giants greeted Verlander in much the same manner as they welcomed Cliff Lee, then of Texas, in the 2010 Series opener. Generally regarded as the top starter in the game, Verlander, who shares with us the distinction of having been born in our beloved Old Dominion, relied less on his 99-MPH fastball than on his breaking balls and changeups over a brief (for him) four-inning stint. There were two out, nobody on, and Sandoval in a 0-2 hole as Verlander attempted to close out the first inning with a big-time heater up and in. Pablo, whose name and nickname FOX-TV commentator Tim McCarver would soon conflate into "Pandavol", turned on it quick and walloped it 411 feet over the right-center-field wall.

If nothing else, this Giants club is setting the pace when it comes to weird doubles. The play that "tipped" the game in our favor came with two out and nobody on in the third. Angel Pagan grounded one down the third base line; Detroit's Miguel Cabrera could only watch, astonished, as the ball caromed off the bag and ricocheted toward left-center field. Pagan, directed by alert first-base coach Roberto Kelly, streaked around first and into second. Marco Scutaro, picking up right where he left off in the NLCS, singled to left, Pagan scoring for a 2-0 lead. At this point, Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones, perhaps shoved bodily out of the dugout by manager Jim Leyland, somewhat gingerly approached the mound, Verlander giving him a long, baleful stare. "What the @#$%&! are you doing here?" was the greeting, and in any case the conference had little effect. Sandoval, who, if you'll remember, belted a bases-loaded triple off Verlander in the first inning of the All-Star Game back in July, this time took an outside fastball high and deep over the left-field wall, and now it was 4-0.

The final insult came in the fourth. Verlander appeared to have escaped penalty for a leadoff walk to Brandon Belt by fanning Gregor Blanco and getting Brandon Crawford on a fielder's choice. The play advanced Belt to second, but Bruce Bochy let Zito, who was cruising with a four-run lead, bat for himself. The career .097 hitter had fanned helplessly in the third, but on a 2-2 fastball he cued a single through the hole into left as Belt scored for a 5-0 lead. Few would have blamed Leyland if at this point he'd requested a game stoppage to check under the turf for leprechauns.

"Pandavol" launched his third, and mightiest, blast off the wonderfully-named Al Albuquerque in the fifth, a towering drive to the deepest part of the ballpark that tied him with Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, and Albert Pujols as the only men to hit three homers in a World Series game. The Tigers, who had left two on in the first but were otherwise helpless against Zito, finally got on the board in the sixth when Cabrera's single scored Austin Jackson, who'd led off with a double. After Prince Fielder lined out to left-- Blanco making his second excellent diving catch of the game-- and Delmon Young singled, Bochy had seen enough. Zito clearly wanted a chance to finish the sixth, but in came "The Freak", who went 3-2 on Jhonny (sic) Peralta, then fanned him with one of his maddening changeups. It was like that through the seventh and eighth; all told Lincecum faced seven batters and struck out five, allowing the occasional loud foul.

Four straight hits--Pagan's second double, Scutaro's second single, Sandoval's fourth hit of the night, and a slump-busting base hit by Buster Posey -- off the struggling Jose Valverde-- the erstwhile Detroit closer who gave up ninth-inning homers to Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez in Game One of the ALCS-- in the seventh put two more runs in the Giants' column and officially moved the game to rout status. In the ninth, Bochy replaced lefty Jose Mijares with righty George Kontos after one out and immediately wished he hadn't. Peralta's two-run homer made it 8-3, and with two out in came Jeremy Affeldt to throw one pitch, which pinch-hitter Ramon Santiago grounded to Crawford for a game-ending force at second.

Madison Bumgarner makes his return to the land of the living tonight; after ten full days' rest, the young lefty will start Game Two against Doug Fister, who was lights-out brilliant in the ALCS. McCarver noted last night the Tigers' unimpressive record against southpaw starters, and perhaps that factored into Bochy's decision. More likely, Lincecum's stellar relief record has made him so valuable in the second line that "Bum" was the only logical choice. As we noted awhile back, Bumgarner was much more effective in the regular season at the 'Bell than on the road; yes, we also saw that didn't help him at all against Cincinnati. Still, the Giants' main corps of relievers were not needed last night, thus giving Bochy the option of a short leash tonight. What's needed from Bumgarner is what was needed from Zito: go the minimum five, avoid early trouble, keep the team in the game halfway. Zito, of course, grandly exceeded those expectations in his last two starts; if "Bum" can meet the minimum requirements, things could work out well tonight. 

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