Baseball is such a crazy sport. You can be far and away the best team in the league for 162 games and have your season come to an end in a one-game playoff. Just ask the Rangers. And after fighting your way through the season to earn a one game playoff, your season can be ruined by a poor interpretation of the infield fly rule. Just ask the Braves. And even if you get enough breaks to go your way and make it to the World Series, a swift sweep tag and and a bunt down the line that just wouldn’t go foul can completely alter the history of your franchise. Just ask the Tigers.
Because there isn’t always action in every inning, baseball games can often times be boiled down to two or three plays, and that’s exactly what happened last night.
An overaggressive third base coach winding his arm as a 275-pound Prince Fielder charged towards him proved to be a costly decision, even if it took perfect throws from Gregor Blanco and Marco Scutaro, as well as a magnificent tag by Buster Posey (especially considering his history guarding the plate), to get the out. Fielder was hit by a pitch to start off the second inning and Delmon Young followed that up with a sharp double down the left field line. Detroit’s third base coach Gene Lamont, perhaps too conscious of Detroit’s offensive struggles this post-season, decided to wave Fielder, who is not a great baserunner, home even though there were no outs in the inning.
Two runners in scoring position with no outs with Johnny Peralta coming up gives the Tigers ample opportunities to score a run whether it was by way of a hit or a productive out. But Lamont make a split second decision to go for the run and the Giants made a tremendous defensive play to keep the run off the board (and what a great call by home plate umpire Dan Iassogna). Given an extra life, Madison Bumgarner, who was tremendous last night, didn’t let the ball out of the infield for the rest of the inning and got back to the dugout unscathed.
Five innings later, the Giants would benefit from another play that could have gone either way, this one testing the laws of physics even moreso than Posey’s sick tag. With two on and none out in the bottom of the seven, Gregor Blanco laid down the best bunt you will ever see. Somehow, the ball rolled along the edges of the infield grass for a few seconds without ever changing course and rolling foul. And then, all of the sudden, the ball was stopped dead in it’s tracks, and the home plate umpire signaled a fair ball. I can only imagine how antagonizing it must have been for Gerald Laird to watch that ball, knowing that ball had to go foul at some point before realizing that it somehow wasn’t windy enough in San Fransisco for that ball to blow out of play.
That bunt single loaded the bases for the Giants and a Brandon Crawford double play ball would plate Hunter Pence to give the Giants a 1-0 lead. Jim Leyland had a decision to make during that at-bat and he chose to play his infielders at double play depth, essentially conceding the run for a chance at getting two outs. I’m sure he could have played his infield in and tried to get the 8-9-1 hitters in San Fransisco’s line-up to keep the ball low and close, but I think he made the right choice to take the two outs.
The Giants would load the bases again in the eighth inning, this time a result of three straight walks by Drew Smyly and Octavio Dotel. Angel Pagan led off the inning with a walk and made one of the key plays of the game on the basepaths by stealing second. After Marco Scutaro struck out, Leyland decided to put Sandoval on intentionally since Pagan had stolen second and then Dotel came in and walked Posey. Hunter Pence would hit a sacrifice fly to score the second run of the game for the Giants and that was more than enough with only one inning to go.
Back in April, I wrote a piece saying that the Giants would survive the season without Brian Wilson (and his beard) because Sergio Romo had statistically been a better reliever than he had over the past couple of seasons (not to mention Romo’s own noteworthy facial hair). Romo has delivered all year for the Giants and he did so again last night. His at-bat against Austin Jackson in the ninth was just filthy. Romo threw the three best sliders I have seen this season and he made an above average hitter in Jackson look like I would at the plate. Romo shut the door without any problems, only cementing the notion that the Giants have a gigantic advantage in the bullpen over the Tigers.
Romo closed off another brilliant starting pitching performance from the Giants this series. Bumgarner was reportedly dealing with some mechanical issues during the NLCS but he was sharp yesterday, pitching seven innings of two hit ball while only walking two compared to eight strikeouts. I’m sure Bumgarner could have gone even further on into the game (he was only at 86 pitches in the seventh) but the Giants scored in the bottom of the seven, putting him in line for the win, and the situation allowed Bochy to pinch hit for Bumgarner with a runner in scoring position.
Bumgarner’s counterpart, Doug Fister, was also very good in this game, only allowing one run in six innings of work, with that one run being a product of that crazy bunt single by Blanco. And while on the theme of plays decided by mere inches, thank goodness that the Gregor Blanco linedrive that Fister took off the head last night hit him in a soft spot. That ball could have done some serious damage to Fister’s brain had it hit him closer to the temple but a last second flinch by the Detroit starter may have saved his life.
Not only did Bumgarner show no ill effects of whatever he was going throw earlier in the post-season, he pitched a hell of a game that allowed the Giants to pick up a commanding 2-0 lead and kept San Fransisco’s bullpen arms pretty fresh. Now the Giants go to Detroit with an off day today to rest Romo and Santiago Casilla with Matt Cain on the mound and Tim Lincecum ready to go in the event that San Fransisco needs a long reliever. Almost everybody expected the Giants to be in a hole when this series shifted sites, but thanks to some great performances by Barry Zito and Bumgarner, San Fransisco now has firm control on the series with their best starters coming up against Detroit’s third and fourth best options.