Friday, October 26, 2012

World Series Game 2: Running to Defeat

I know from dozens of trips to ball games, and from watching on TV with countless people over the years, that the vast majority of baseball viewers want to see a whole lot of scoring. Home runs are preferable, but in their absence, ground rule doubles, bloop singles, or horrific defense will all suffice. Whatever gets someone across home plate. I have a confession... I prefer pitching duels. That isn't to say I don't enjoy a good slug fest, but the games that make me happiest are the ones when both starting pitchers it going and the late innings approach with a sense that the first side to break will be going home empty-handed.

In Game 2, San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner   (or "Mad Bum," as FOX's Tim McCarver kept pretending was a thing) and Detroit's Doug Fister traded zeros for most of the night. Bumgarner). For different reasons, neither of them could go the distance last night, but they both pitched wonderfully* and I enjoyed it a great deal. Frankly, a high scoring game would have been just fine too, I just wanted competitive baseball. Game 1 wasn't close, and neither were the last few games of the LCS round. The last time the score had been withing three runs in the 7th inning or later was last Wednesday, in Game 3 of the NLCS. Hooray for a little drama!

* In my Game 1 recap, I talked about the insistence by so many of forcing narratives onto events after they've happened. One such narrative was that Verlander didn't pitch well because he was rusty after a long layoff, but Fister and Bumgarner were both on the shelf longer than Verlander, so how were they able to succeed??? It's almost like a long layoff DOESN'T necessarily mean anything for a pitcher, and sometimes shit just happen...

Fister exited with no outs in the 7th, having thrown 114 pitches and walked the lead off man. That Fister was able to last til the 7th, much less pitch as well as he did, is somewhat shocking, given what happened to him the the 2nd. San Francisco's Gregor Blanco hit a screaming line drive back up the middle, and while McCarver initially said it had deflected off Fister's glove into center field, it was soon clear the ball had actually struck Fister's head. Fister never dropped to the ground, or seemed to be in much pain, but that sort of thing is awfully scary. Given how hard it is to gauge the severity of head injuries without serious tests though, I question whether it was an appropriate decision. Oakland's Brandon McCarthy was similarly struck by a line drive recently, and hours later they discovered he needed emergency brain surgery. Thankfully, Fister seems okay.

After Fister was pulled with no outs and a runner on 1st in the 7th, the Giants worked a walk and then got a great (lucky) bunt from Blanco that loaded the bases with nobody out. Brandon Crawford hit into a double play next, but the game's first run still scored, and it was the kind of night where one run seemed likely to be enough.

Why? Because after a couple shaky starts in the postseason and a poor last few weeks of the regular season, San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner pitched his best game since August. Only once all night did a Detroit get a serious scoring opportunity. It was the 2nd inning and Bumgarner had started things off by hitting Detroit's Prince Fielder with a pitch. The next batter, Delmon Young lined a double down the left field line, putting runners on 2nd and 3rd with nobody out. At least that's what WOULD have happened, if Tigers third-base coach Gene Lamont weren't out of his mind!

One of the cardinal rules of baseball is "Don't make the first out of an inning at home plate." Why? Because there are plenty of chances to get the runner in from third. Yet Gene Lamont chose to send Prince Fielder, nobody's idea of fast, instead of relying on one of the next three batters to collect a hit, or hit a long fly ball, or a slow grounder... It took a great throw, a wonderful play by catcher Buster Posey, and a horrible slide from Fielder, but he was correctly called out at the play. Detroit never got another runner to second base all night. Heck, they only got three runners as far as first after that.

Omar Infante reached in the 4th inning, but got himself picked off, Austin Jackson got there in the 6th inning but was stranded, and Miguel Cabrera got there in the 7th inning, but was immediately wiped away when Fielder hit into a double play (not his best night).

Detroit is not hitting the ball well right now, but they made matters even worse by shooting themselves in the foot in Game 2. Lamont sending Fielder in that situation was an awful decision (one Lamont said he "regretted" after the game). Fielder would have been safe at home though, if he'd been smart enough to slide to the proper side of the plate, away from Posey. Infante getting picked off was careless, but he would have been safe at second after the pick off throw to first with a better slide. Would Young have come through with another hit to drive him in? There's no way to know, but when you're getting so few opportunities, squandering them in such senseless fashion is a crime.

Bumgarner left after pitching seven scoreless frames, when he was pinch hit for in the bottom of that inning. It's possible Bruce Bochy would have gone to the bullpen for the last two innings anyway, but  Bumgarner had thrown just 86 pitches and still looked strong (to my eyes, anyway). I would love to have seen him go back out for the 8th and 9th. It's one of the reasons that after holding an anti-DH stance for many years, I've come to prefer the American League's way of doing things. As I said, Bochy may have gone to the pen anyway, certainly Bumgarner would have been lifted if anyone reached base, but if there'd been a designated hitter in play, Bumgarner might have had the chance to go for the shutout, which is my favorite thing to see in a ballgame.

Alas...

As it was, two San Francisco relievers instead made quick work of the 8th and 9th and the Giants took a commanding 2-0 lead. Without any real rooting interest between these two teams, I'm just hoping for close games and a long series. If the Tigers are to have any chance of making that happen, they're going to have to wake up their bats and clear the cobwebs from their heads as Halloween approaches and the series moves to the Motor City.


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