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Series turns into mismatch – for Giants

After two playoff series with six possible elimination games for the San Francisco Giants, all full of ‘torture’ and suspense, I fully expected there to be more of the same in the World Series against the Detroit Tigers.

The Tigers had gotten into the World Series after sweeping the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series. The Tigers also had six days off while the Giants were finishing off the St. Louis Cardinals to face them in the World Series. One might think that they’d be ready for the Giants and the World Series. However, this wasnot the case.

The San Francisco Giants dominated the 2012 World Series.

I thought the Giants would win the World Series because I believed that they had better depth in starting pitching, better relief pitching and a better defense than the Tigers. I also thought that since some of the Giant players had been on the 2010 World Series team that they would know what to expect.

Everyone —well, at least  most supposed baseball experts — expected that the Tigers would win Game 1 –  a pitching match-up of Cy Young Award winners. Justin Verlander had won in 2011, while Barry Zito had won in 2002. This match-up was still considered to be a huge mismatch in Verlander’s favor. The Giants pulled a page out of their 2010 World Series playbook, and came up with a good strategy against Verlander. The Giants had defeated Cliff Lee, then of the Texas Rangers, twice in the 2010 World Series by making him throw a lot of pitches, tiring him out and getting his pitch count up. This was the same strategy they used against Verlander and it worked well. He went four innings, and gave up five runs, which included two home runs by Pablo Sandoval;, a run-scoring single by Barry Zito, himself, generally considered to be a poor hitting pitcher; and  multiple hits by Angel Pagan, Marco Scutero and Buster Posey.

Barry Zito had been inactive for the 2010 playoffs, but the Giants desperately needed him both during the regular season and in the playoffs. And Zito stepped up, and performed BIG time. In Game 1, Zito threw 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball. Tim Lincecum, who had a horrible regular season in 2012 was given a completely different role in the 2012 playoffs. Lincecum was the bridge relief pitcher— providing middle relief to get from the middle innings to the later innings whenever  needed. Whatever issues Lincecum had in 2012, whether physical or mental, were not an issue or a problem in the World Series. Lincecum became Timmy again, the big-time pitcher and two-time Cy Young Award winner with the nasty stuff. He was dominant striking out batters. I hope that Lincecum’s dominant pitching does carry over to the 2013 season, and that he is back to his regular role of being a starter.

Game 1 was also noteworthy for one other thing. Aside from Barry Zito stepping up, Pablo Sandoval also stepped up—BIG time. Sandoval had a small role in the 2010 playoffs and World Series due to his being out of shape and overweight, which is still a concern for the Giants. (I would not like to see Sandoval earn his way out of baseball, and this is an issue with him.) Sandoval, nicknamed “Kung Fu Panda” for a movie cartoon character, hit three home runs in the game – the third off  Tiger reliever Al Albuquerque. Sandoval’s three home runs in a World Series game tied a World Series record set by Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols. This is definitely an impressive group of ballplayers to be associated with. To me, the more impressive home run that Sandoval hit off Justin Verlander was as a left-handed hitter into the left field bleachers. It was an impressive example of opposite field hitting. You could see Verlander standing out there on the mound mouth the word “Wow!” I don’t think that anyone’s done that to Verlander in the American League. Another advantage that the Giants had in Game 1 was that a few of them had faced Verlander in the 2012 All-Star Game, and they’d done quite well against him.

The second game of the 2012 World Series was something different, altogether. It was another display of great Giant pitching and great defense. One of the best plays, and a possible turning point of the game happened in the second inning. Madison Bumgarner was the Giants’ starting pitcher. He had a good year in 2012, but had not finished the season well, getting hit around. “Mad Bum” as he is known, was inconsistent in the playoffs too, prior to getting to the World Series. It was discovered that there was a mechanical flaw in his delivery, and it was corrected. Would this solve Bumgarner’s problems for the World Series? That was another question waiting to be answered. Of course, “Mad Bum” is getting quite the reputation of being a big-game pitcher.

In the second inning, Bumgarner hit the lead-off batter, Prince Fielder. The next batter, Delmon Young, hit a double down the third base line. The ball hit the bullpen wall and almost caromed past the left fielder Gregor Blanco. He reached out, snagged the ball, overthrew the first cutoff man, Brandon Crawford, but he hit the second cutoff man, second baseman Marco Scutero, perfectly. The Tigers’ third base coach, Gene Lamont, saw the carom down the left field line, and elected to try to send Fielder home on the play. Fielder, it should be mentioned is 5’11,” but weighs 275 lbs. He moves like a large truck. Scutero turned and threw a perfect strike to Giant catcher Buster Posey for a swipe tag at home plate. (I’m sure that all Giant fans in their head replayed Posey’s home plate collision in 2011, and thought that it might happen again, especially with Fielder coming in.) Posey caught the relay from Scutero, and did a swipe tag on Fielder. And the umpire called Fielder out at the plate. The replays clearly showed that Fielder was out much to his own disbelief.

The Tigers’ pitcher, Doug Fister, pitched well, despite getting hit in the head on a line drive single, but it only grazed him. Fister stayed in the game, and continued to pitch well. The Giants loaded the bases in the seventh inning with nobody out. The last base runner,  Blanco, got on base with a beautifully executed bunt single that rolled to a dead stop between home plate and third base. The next batter, Brandon Crawford hit into a double play, which scored the runner from third base. It gave the Giants a 1-0 lead in the game. In the next inning, Giant right fielder Hunter Pence hit a sacrifice fly to score another run which gave the Giants a 2-0, lead. That was all the Giants needed, and they were able to close out the Tigers with Giants relievers Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo, each pitching an inning to finish off the game. This gave the Giants a 2-0 World Series lead, going back to Comerica Park in Detroit.

In Game 3, the pitching match-up was Giant pitcher Ryan Vogelsong versus Anibal Sanchez. The Tigers’ Sanchez had a good track record against the Giants when he pitched for the Florida Marlins and he had done well in the playoffs. Vogelsong is, to me, part of the spirit of the Giants. He started off as a Giant, got traded, got injured, pitched for 10 different minor league teams, pitched in Japan, and finally came back to the Giants. Of course, it helped that he had a wife who believed in him and urged him to follow his dream. Vogelsong was an All-Star in 2011, and should have been one in 2012, but wasn’t picked. Vogelsong is also one of the most intense Giants,  not liking to talk to anyone on days when he’s starting.

Vogelsong was OK, but not great in Game 3. However,  he did manage to keep getting outs, and pitched out of several jams. Vogelsong pitched well enough to get the win. Vogelsong threw 5 2/3 innings of shutout baseball. Tim Lincecum came in and threw 2 1/3 innings, and Sergio Romo finished off the game. For the first time since 1966, there were back-to-back shutouts in the World Series.

The offense in Game 3 was provided by right fielder Hunter Pence, who walked to lead off the second inning. He stole second base, went to third base on a wild pitch, and scored on a Blanco triple. Shortstop Brandon Crawford followed with a two-out single to give the Giants a 2-0 lead. And, that’s all the offense there was for the game. There was some World Series drama, of course. In the fifth inning, the Tigers loaded the bases with one out and the number two and three hitters in the line-up coming up. Vogelsong was able to strike out rookie Quintin Berry for the second out. Miguel Cabrera, the number three hitter in the line-up and the first Triple Crown winner since 1967, was coming up with the bases loaded. Vogelsong was able to wiggle out of the jam by getting Cabrera to pop up to  Crawford to end the threat.

And, for the first time since the 1954 World Series, the Giants were on the verge of a World Series sweep. In the first three games of the World Series, the Detroit Tigers had never had a lead. It had been a long time since I had seen one team so dominate another team—probably, the 1996 Yankees over the Padres, or gasp!— the 1989 Oakland A’s over the Giants. Giant workhorse pitcher Matt Cain was going up against Tiger pitcher Max Scherzer in Game 4. The Giants got an early lead on a run-scoring triple by Brandon Belt, his first hit of the World Series. An inning later, the Tigers took their first lead of the World Series on a wind-aided home run by Miguel Cabrera. In the top of the sixth inning, Buster Posey hit a two-run homer to give the Giants the lead. And, in the bottom of the sixth inning, Tiger designated hitter Delmon Young smacked a game-tying homer. The game continued past the ninth inning into extra innings.

Giant manager Bruce Bochy does a great job of getting the best match-ups, not just for his pitchers but also for his hitters. The game went to the top of the 10th inning with Giants DH Ryan Theriot leading off. He hit a single, and Crawford followed by moving Theriot over to second base with a sacrifice bunt. Angel Pagan came up next, and struck out. The next hitter, Marco Scutero, a great clutch hitter and one of the Giants’ biggest midseason pick-ups of the year, came up next. He hit a single up the middle to score Theriot from second base, the lead run.

This put pressure on the Tigers to come up with a run in the bottom of the 10th inning. If they didn’t score, game over, World Series over … and the Giants would win their second World Series in three years. The Giants brought in Sergio Romo to close out the game. The first Tiger hitter was Austin Jackson, who struck out swinging. The next Tiger hitter was a pinch hitter, Don Kelly, who also struck out swinging. This brought up the last chance for the Tigers, Miguel Cabrera. Romo was able to get Cabrera looking at a called third strike.

The Giants held the Tigers to a .159 batting average for the World Series, and the earned run average of the Giants’ pitching in the World Series was 1.49. Awesomely spectacular!! I was watching the game with one of my former neighbors — the same neighbor with whom I had watched the last game of the 2010 World Series. Ballplayers aren’t the only ones who are superstitious. We went nuts, jumping up and down as we opened up a bottle of champagne to both drink and pour on each other. The Giants were going to have another parade down Market Street in San Francisco. I grew up in San Francisco, and watched the 49ers win five Super Bowls, and I didn’t go to one 49ers parade. Already, I’ve been to two World Series parades. Yes, I guess that you could say that I am definitely a baseball fan, if you didn’t know that already.

I absolutely abhor the meaningless violence that sometimes happens after World Series wins and losses. Unfortunately, a minority group of “fans” thought that mayhem and destruction would be the way to go, including setting a Muni bus on fire. Winning the World Series is a reason for joy, happiness, and celebration—not for wanton violence and property destruction. I think that those who are convicted of vandalism should be banned from AT & T Park, if possible.

Now, this brings me to another topic. Members of the national media, also known as the “so-called experts,” who denigrate the Giants because they are not flashy, don’t have a lot of home run power (first team with the fewest number of home runs in Major League Baseball to win the World Series since 1982) and they don’t play on the East Coast– the East Coast bias. Enough of it! Get over it! I got sick and tired of listening to Fox announcers Joe Buck and Tim McCarver make excuses, first for the Texas Rangers in 2010, and then for the Tigers in 2012, without giving the Giants the credit for actually having a good team, and for beating other teams in a dominating manner.

Recently, after my last Saturday softball game, I was having a conversation with one of the other players, also a baseball fan. He said to me, “Well, you know, the Giants are World Champs. What does it matter to you what these experts say?”

I couldn’t give him an answer right then and there. I thought that I should think about it, and try to come with an answer for him. What kept coming back to me is pride — pride at being a long-term Giants fan, pride at having a class organization, and the pride of having a winning team that has won two World Series in the last three years, especially after so many years of not winning at all. And, the second part was that it was about giving credit where credit is due. And it was certainly due for the San Francisco Giants.

Now, I have to wait through the long off-season for the Giants Fanfest, spring training and Opening Day 2013. And, it is so worth it!

 

 

 

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