Friday, October 26, 2012

The San Francisco Giants defeated the Detroit Tigers, 2-0, in Game Two of the 2012 World Series at AT&T Park last night. The Giants now lead the Series two games to none as the scene shifts to Comerica Park in Detroit tomorrow evening, and they are halfway to their second World Championship in three years.

It's all a little too much right now for the Giants and their fans, isn't it? We are so inured to longsuffering and losing, that we are only now somewhat belatedly realizing this team is not just a one-year wonder, but a seasoned group perfectly capable of competing year-in and year-out with anybody, and one that can turn on a dime from scrappy underdogs and Comeback Kids into a well-oiled machine able to win any type of game under any circumstance. But it is our Giants, it really is, and perhaps the small weird undercurrents that seem to pop up in every game-- batted and thrown balls hitting the bag, a broken bat with a mind of its own, .097 hitters getting the better of Cy Young Award winners-- are reality checks, reminding us these are not impostors wearing our beloved orange and black, but the Real Deal, a group of ballplayers who, for the time being anyway, have set aside everything else in their lives to accomplish this singular and difficult feat together.

Madison Bumgarner, rested and ready, was back in mid-season form from the start last night, fanning Austin Jackson to start the game and finishing with seven shutout innings of two-hit eight-K ball. Faced with an equally strong performance from Detroit's redoubtable Dan Fister, the Giants reverted to "small ball," with a 30-foot bunt, a double-play grounder, and a little plate patience producing two runs, just enough to win. Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo were perfect in the eighth and ninth, and if this turns out to be the last game played at the 'Bell this year, the SRO multitudes certainly got their money's worth and more.

The two most memorable plays of the game occurred in the second inning. After Bumgarner's up-and-in fastball plonked Prince Fielder leading off the frame, Delmon Young ripped a double into the left-field corner and the usually-reliable Gregor Blanco had trouble corralling it. Tigers' third-base coach Gene Lamont excitedly windmilled the ponderous Fielder around third, but while Blanco's strong relay overthrew cutoff man Pablo Sandoval, Marco Scutaro, over from second base, was there to take the peg and cut down Fielder at the plate, Buster Posey's sweeping tag nailing Prince on his trailing foot. Lamont may be criticized for ignoring the 'book' and forcing the first out of the inning at home plate-- but the way "Bum" was pitching, it looks like a sensible decision in hindsight. Detroit didn't come close to scoring again.

For a long time it appeared the Giants might not either, and that's due to the 6-foot-8 Fister and his arsenal of pitches. But it almost ended for Fister in that same second inning, when, with one on and two out, Blanco scorched a liner up the middle that Fister deflected into center field for a base hit. Except for the umpire and catcher Gerald Laird, no one immediately realized Fister hadn't clipped the ball with his glove or even his pitching hand, but with the right side of his skull! Terrifying memories of Ray Chapman in 1920 and Herb Score in 1955 accompanied the excruciating, endless slow-motion replays that no doubt are still being shown on ESPN as we type. Amazingly, and blessedly, thankfully, Fister was OK, and after a few anxious moments-- "San Francisco. Game Two. Two on, two out," were some of his overheard responses to questions from his trainer, manager Jim Leyland, and the umpire-- he resumed his duty, and soon was out of the inning despite issuing a walk to load the bases.

The Giants' latest bizarre-base-hit-of-the-day receded into memory as Fister and Bumgarner settled into a real pitchers' duel and Giants fans, fat and happy after the 28-4 steamrollering of the last four games, began to realize we could lose this game as easily as we could win it. Detroit lost another man on the bases when "Bum" picked Omar Infante off first in the fourth, and Fister retired twelve Giants in a row through the middle innings. It became apparent that the best chance to win involved getting Fister out of there, and it didn't look too promising when Leyland let him bat in the sixth. But after slumping Hunter Pence singled to open the seventh, Leyland somewhat surprisingly brought the hook, in the person of rookie southpaw Drew Smyly. Bruce Bochy left his lefthanded swingers in there, and Brandon Belt worked Smyly for a walk. With nobody out, Blanco then laid a bunt down the third-base line, Tigers hovering, waiting for it to roll foul as it trickled, then positively oozed to a dead stop in fair territory. Bases loaded now, and Leyland set his infield at double-play depth. Smyly got the DP from Brandon Crawford, but Pence scored, and the way things were going one run seemed enough. It's debatable whether Infante at second could have forced Pence at home if they'd been pulled in, and we'll never know.

After Casilla had ably succeeded "Bum" in the top of the eighth, the Giants added a run in the bottom without benefit of a hit. Angel Pagan led off with a walk, then won all of America a free taco by stealing second, the first theft of the Series. With one out, Leyland had Smyly walk Sandoval intentionally to set up the double play with Posey at the plate, and brought in our old friend, Octavio Dotel, to do the honors. Dotel, though, issued a most unintentional walk to Posey, loading 'em up, and Pence then shot a high fly ball to medium-deep right, enough to score Pagan. The ever-ebullient Romo, fresh off his mid-game interview with Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, retired the side in order in the ninth to earn his first World Series save.

Game Three Saturday night in Detroit will see Ryan Vogelsong take the mound for the Giants against Anibal Sanchez, with Matt Cain scheduled to face Max Scherzer in Game Four Sunday night. The Tigers have only two lefthanders on their staff-- Smyly and closer Phil Coke-- so it's righty-versus-righty for now. With five quality starts in a row, allowing only four runs in those games, the San Francisco starting pitchers have gone a long way toward re-establishing the dominant posture that carried them past Texas two years ago. But last night revealed the importance of the Giants' bullpen. Detroit simply doesn't have the depth there to win consistently in a series of close games, and we can take heart in knowing that as long as our starters keep us in the game through five, the Giants will have the clear advantage.

San Francisco, despite her eccentric reputation, always has been a strong military town, and last night's pregame recognition of America's veterans was most welcome. A handful of ballplayers who served in World War II were honored, and a brave young Marine who has endured triple amputations threw out the ceremonial first pitch, accompanied by, among others, 81-year-old Willie Mays. October in SF is always marked by the Navy's "Fleet Week", and the Blue Angels swooped in for the obligatory flyover. Plenty of singing during the National Anthem and "God Bless America" further proved that old-fashioned patriotism remains alive and well in the City... "I didn't see stars," Fister noted after surviving the pitcher's worst nightmare with remarkable aplomb, but given the Brandon McCarthy situation, we do hope the Tigers will convince Fister to get a CAT scan today or something... Lamont, who once managed the Chicago White Sox to a division title, told reporters after the game that, given another chance, he'd have held Fielder at third... Capsule story of the game, from a Detroit perspective: Romo gets the last out as Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera stands in the on-deck circle. 

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