SAN FRANCISCO — Scratch, claw, Madbum it … You just knew the thrills of Game 1 wouldn’t be repeated, didn’t you?, but did Game 2 of the 2012 World Series have to turn out to be another-side-of-the-moon torture test from its raucous predecessor?
Um, yes. Of course. That’s the painful and agonizing joy of baseball, the Giants and the Series – and no one was complaining Thursday night at AT&T Park after San Francisco went up by two games, beating the Detroit Tigers 2-0 in a tense pitcher’s duel.
Then again, was it yet another sign of this crazy postseason in baseball that a young pitcher was brought back from the arm dead to win this game? Sure, why not?
For the Giants, it’s beginning to feel like, oh I don’t know .. destiny,
Just ask their overjoyed fans who watched Madison Bumgarner come back from the walking dead into the staff ace he was just six weeks ago. And did it on baseball’s biggest stage, when no one expected much of anything out of him. Just get it to the bullpen, was the pregame thinking.
Well, he did that, and more, in a prototypical old-school version of Giants baseball. A meandering bunt, a stolen base, a sacrifice fly and a young lefthander mowing down toothless Tigers.
You could feel it happening in the first inning for Bumgarner when he struck out the first two batters, and got Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera to ground out to third for a 1-2-3 inning.
“I just thought the first inning would be a critical inning for him,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy after the game. “I really thought he needed a break, and he benefitted from it, getting some rest, both mentally and physically.”
Since the Tigers don’t seem to like lefthanders all that much – hello Barry Zito – this was the Giants’ strategy for Game 2. A rested and resurrected 23-year-old Bumgarner could, — yes, would — be something like the sensation of the 2010 Series when he shut down the Texas Rangers in Game 4. After all, for a time this summer, he’d been young Mr. Reliable on the Giants’ staff on the way to 16 wins. At times, he looked unhittable. Then, in September and drawing on into October, he wasn’t.
But unlike the first game when the Giants just couldn’t stop hitting off the sort-of legendary Justin Verlander, this game quickly took on its own fall cast.
When Pablo Sandoval stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 1st, the anticipation at the ballpark was high, but alas, mighty Pablo flied out to left, showing that the second game was most definitely going to be a tiger tale of another sort.
The game settled into a rhythm without much music. Sure there were some exciting moments, especially when the slow-footed Prince Fielder was thrown out at home in the second inning.
There was another tense early moment when Buster Posey singled to right to open bottom of 2nd against Tigers starter Doug Fister and Blanco got the crowd roaring with a two out single, until they realized the ball had ricocheted off Fister’s head. But Fister showed a remarkable immunity to pain – “he was pretty blasé about it,” said Tigers skipper Jim Leyland, who came out to the mound after the headshot– as he pitched around Brandon Crawford to load the bases, bringing up Bumgarner, who hit a soft pop to short to end the mini rally.
It was looking more like a traditional AT&T game – “it’s our style really,” Bochy would say later, a pitcher’s duel where the first team to break through would have a big advantage.
Ah, but destiny was awaiting.
You had to wonder as inning after scoreless inning progressed if Bumgarner was really healed. Perhaps he’d sat at the feet of the new pitching master – the inscrutable Zito – to find his way back on the path of baseball enlightenment. Or maybe it was just as Bochy said afterward, just a matter of getting him back in sync, working on how he rotated his body, made his turn, staying “compact.” Or all that.
The pitcher whose nom de guerre is Madbum came out for the 7th inning to face the Detroit Beefy Boys, Cabrera and Fielder. Cabrera walked, but then Fielder hit a ground ball up the middle Bumgarner snagged, leading to an easy double play. A ground out to Crawford later and Bumgarner had a remarkable seven shutout, two-hit innings to finish his World Series night.
“Every pitch felt better tonight,” he would say after the game. “Felt a lot better than it has been the last few games.”
Fister, with 114 pitches, was gone after a lead-off single to Pence in the bottom of the 7th and none too soon., since he hadn’t been scored on since the 7th inning of Game 2 of the ALDS against the A’s – 12.1 innings. But then again, hadn’t the Giants wanted to get to the Detroit bullpen? And so it would unfold: Brandon Belt drew a 3-2 walk off reliever Drew Smyly, putting runners at first and second with no outs. Then destiny , as Gregor Blanco put a perfect bunt down the third base line that Cabrera and catcher Gerald Laird watched, watched, watched … boys, just stop lookin’, cuz it’s a fair ball. Had to be, of course.
And right then and there you knew your Game 2 Winner. With the bases loaded, Crawford grounded into a routine double play, and Pence crossed home plate with the first run of the game. A thin, tremulous run, but a run nevertheless.
Would it hold?
Bochy has become an every-move-works chessmaster of the bullpen game and that’s where the game inevitably went, with righthander Santiago Casilla coming in for a quick three outs in the top of the 8th.
The Giants then put together another scratchy run in the 8th as Smyly walked Pagan, who was leading off in the bottom of the 8th. Bad idea. After Scutaro took a called third strike, with Sandoval up, Pagan took off for second, sliding in safe with the Giants first stolen base of the Series. Octavio Dotel then walked Posey on four pitches. That brought up Pence, who with two strikes hit a long fly to right, Pagan scoring. Giants up 2-0.
Sergjo Romo came on in the 9th and it turned into one of those ineffable October baseball moments — two outs, Infante up, fans on their feet, orange towels a-waving.
Romo, tongue wagging, eyes blazing, got Infante to foul out to Belt and just like that, the Giants were two games up and facing a happy flight indeed to the Motor City, toward … yes, of course, … you knew it.
“Well, what are you going to do about it,” said Leyland afterward.
“Everyone seems locked in,” Pence said.
Here’s one of my favorite baseball writers, SI’s Tom Verducci, on how the Giants are putting on a clinic this postseason in baseball fundamentals.