SAN FRANCISCO -- The Tigers should be disconsolate right now. They’re down 2-0 in the World Series to a team that appears to have the occult on its side. After enduring only two shutouts in the regular season, they didn’t score in Game 2 Thursday night, despite facing the shakiest starter in the Giants’ World Series rotation, 23-year-old Madison Bumgarner.
Yet as they prepped for the flight back to Detroit, the Tigers gave away not even a hint of exasperation. When they turned defensive during postgame questioning, it was on behalf of the Giants, who have been so fortunate in the last week that even their mistakes end up working to their advantage.
“I don’t think they’re getting any breaks; I think they’ve earned everything they’ve got,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “... Up to this point, they’ve outplayed us. They did a little better than us today. They did quite a bit better than us yesterday.”
In the clubhouse, one reporter tried to determine whether advance scouting had contributed to Bumgarner’s mastery. Delmon Young, the MVP during Detroit’s ALCS sweep of the Yankees, wouldn’t hear of it.
“Scouts can’t execute pitches; the player executes the pitches,” said Young, whose second-inning double constituted one of two hits off the Giants’ young lefty. “The player executes the pitches, not the coaches, not the front office, not the scouts, not the video on TV. Bumgarner executed the pitches.”
Asked how much returning to Comerica Park would help the Tigers, Young turned his answer into another bow toward the Giants.
“A big advantage,” he said. “Gregor Blanco can’t play all over the place at our ballpark.”
The Giants deserve lavish respect, and the Tigers can’t afford to think about fortune’s strong bias toward their opponents. It exists, though. Whenever there’s been an inch up for grabs lately, it has gone San Francisco’s way.
The Giants’ luck took on a paranormal quality late in the NLCS, when Hunter Pence’s bat cracked on contact with a slider, and stray wood hit the ball two more times, sending it on an incomprehensible path into the Cardinals’ outfield. Three runners came home, and San Francisco had its World Series berth.
In Game 1 of the Series, a weak grounder by Giants leadoff hitter Angel Pagan ricocheted off the bag at third base and bounded into left field for a double. The stunned look on Miguel Cabrera’s face said everything, and even Leyland had to concede that, yes, the Giants did get a break then.
But the single by Barry Zito in Game 1 off a 97-mph fastball from Justin Verlander? Or just Zito’s remarkable rebirth as a dominant pitcher? That’s not luck.
Thursday’s seventh-inning bunt by Blanco that flirted with the foul line yet didn’t breach it? The man laid down a great bunt that the Tigers chose to watch, and he ended up with single that loaded the bases and set up the first run of San Francisco’s 2-0 win. No luck involved.
The second-inning play at the plate that caught Prince Fielder on an overzealous run from first after a Young double? That couldn’t have happened without third-base coach Gene Lamont’s recklessness, sending Fielder home rather than being content with runners at second and third with nobody out.
“I think Gene just got a little overaggressive,” Leyland said.
But the Giants erred on that play. In left field, Blanco overthrew his first relay man, shortstop Brandon Crawford, and second baseman Marco Scutaro picked up the slack, throwing a strike to Buster Posey at home. Everything works for them now.
That’s not how Leyland saw it. “This was a really, really good World Series game,” he said, sounding almost like a fan of the sport without partisan leanings. “It just didn’t turn out right for us.”
That’s the Leyland style, respectful, always looking for brightness. But he had a special reason on Thursday not to see the other team as lucky. A line drive slapped the back of starting pitcher Doug Fister’s head and flew off into the outfield. The scene summoned thoughts of Oakland’s Brandon McCarthy, who had to undergo emergency brain surgery after a liner fractured his skull.
On the mound afterward, Fister answered the trainer’s questions with ease, showing no immediate signs of damage.
“It was something to see,” Leyland said, “because the trainer was saying ‘where are you?’ ‘San Francisco.’ ‘What game is it?’ ‘Game 2.’ And on and on and on with a few of these things. Actually, I don’t want to make light of it, but it is kind of comical really, because Doug was right on about everything. But I was scared to death when it happened.”
Given the delayed effects of some head trauma, the Tigers should have been alarmed enough to remove Fister for tests. But he stayed in, pitched well and received the predictable, misguided tributes to his toughness.
The Tigers were lucky indeed. Now they go home to play a team that has thrived on being behind in the postseason.
The Giants are almost role models for the Tigers, reminding them that no deficit is insurmountable, or truly dispiriting. But Detroit doesn’t seem to want examples, or luck. A trip home will suffice.