If the Giants had any shot at winning the 2012 World Series, they’d have to do it in the five games in which Justin Verlander didn’t pitch. At least that’s what I thought. Verlander had been way too good this post-season for me to doubt him, especially after the way he performed in his first World Series appearance. Surely he’d be out for blood last night and when Verlander is dialed in, it’s all but over for the opposing team.
But rather than a classic Verlander performance to add to his bulky resume, we got some fodder for the classic rest vs rust debate and a historic performance from Pablo Sandoval.
Sandoval didn’t take long to started pounding Verlander. After getting down 0-2 in the first inning, Sandoval drove a 95 MPH fastball from Verlander 421 feet away to center field. The fact that Verlander had given up a first inning homer, on a two strike count with two outs no less, was astonishing given how money he had been in big games this season. That 1-0 lead would grow substantially in the third inning, where Verlander once again struggled to get out any inning unscathed even with two outs under his belt.
This time it was an Angel Pagan grounder down the third baseline that hit off the bag and bounced into the outfield, allowing Pagan to take second. Marco Scutaro, who has been the best hitter in baseball this post-season, singled after working to a full count to score Pagan. That brought up Sandoval for the second time on the night and the result was the same as his first at-bat. Sandoval got around on another 95 MPH, pulling the ball to left field to put the Giants up 4-0.
Prior to Sandoval’s second homer, Detroit’s pitching coach Jeff Jones went out to the mound to have a chat with Verlander. The FOX cameras had a great shot of Verlander smirking as Jones walked to the mount before saying something to the effect of “Why are you out here?” Verlander had a point. What do you tell the best pitcher in baseball after a lucky dribbler down the line extended the inning. Whether or not Jones made Verlander second guess himself isn’t clear, but that little visit certainly didn’t help Verlander, and another great FOX shot showed us Verlander saying “Wow” when Sandoval’s second homer left the yard. And everybody else watching the game was saying the same thing.
Verlander’s final inning of the game would be the fourth, when a Barry Zito single with two outs plated Brandon Belt. This was Verlander’s shortest outing since last post-season against the Rangers and it came at the worst possible time. And as if the game was ever in doubt, Pablo Sandoval decided to add another exclamation point. After hitting two homers off of the best pitcher in the game, Sandoval was clearly feeling it, and Al Alburquerque never had a chance. Sandoval took off on a breaking ball this time, somehow slapping it 435 feet away to straight away center for his third jack of the game.
Sandoval became the first player in MLB history to hit three homers in his first three World Series plate appearances. He would later add a single to his statline, making him a perfect 4-for-4 with three homers and four RBIs. Sandoval’s performance, as well as the tremendous table setting jobs by Pagan and Scutora (each 2-for-4 with two runs in this game), set the tone for the Giants in this game and they really got after Verlander, chasing the game’s best arm from the game early, forcing the Tigers to tax their bullpen a bit, something I’m sure Jim Leyland didn’t expect he’d have to do with his ace on the hill.
Verlander’s mound opposition was a big reason for the outcome of this game, too. The soft throwing Barry Zito has gotten crushed for the better part of his career because of the massive contract he got a few summers ago, and though he deserved every bit of criticism he’s gotten, he has done everything possible to redeem himself this post-season. His season saving performance in game five of the NLCS, which also included an RBI hit by Zito, was more impressive from a numbers standpoint, but five and two thirds innings of one run ball against a Tigers line-up that usually mashes lefties is mighty impressive in it’s own right, and even moreso when you consider who his opposition was on this night.
Zito was replaced in the sixth inning by Tim Lincecum, who has a chance to be the biggest difference maker in this series if he can continue to pitch like he did last night. I’m in favor of him getting a start at some point in this series, but if San Fransisco is continually getting sizable leads, Lincecum makes for the best long-reliever in the league when his stuff is on. And his stuff was on in this game. Linecum pitched two and a third innings last night, putting up zeros across the board except for his five strikeouts. Bruce Bochy did a great job conserving Lincecum for further use in this series, too. I imagine Liencecum could have gone the distance to close out the game, but Bochy held him to 32 pitches, which I’m sure will pay dividends at some point down the road.
Let’s be honest: The Giants were not supposed to win this game. Even with homefield advantage that was earned when Verlander was trying to light up the radar gun in the All-Star game, which allowed (not surprisingly) Pablo Sandoval to touch him up with a three run triple in the first inning, Verlander had looked unbeatable in the post-season and it just seemed like the Giants would have to win their four games on his off days.
But the Giants came out and played an excellent all-around game. Sandoval (as well as Pagan and Scutaro) provided the offense, Zito and Linecum provided excellent pitching and Gregor Blanco and Brandon Crawford had a few spectacular plays in the field. And beating Verlander may as well be good for two wins in this series, which puts the Giants way out ahead in this series after just one game.