It's all coming up aces for Bruce Bochy.
The San Francisco Giants manager was forced to delay using his two most effective starters, Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong, in Games 3 and 4 of the World Series because it took seven games to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series. Thanks to starters Barry Zito and Madison Bumgarner, two of his biggest question marks coming into the series, his team is up 2-0 and well-positioned to win its second World Series in three years.
The Giants beat the Detroit Tigers 2-0 at AT & T Park Thursday night, scoring their first run in the seventh inning on a bases-loaded double-play grounder off the bat of Brandon Crawford – with the infield playing back. Yes, it was that kind of night. Hunter Pence delivered the insurance run on a sacrifice fly with one out and the bases loaded in the eighth, flicking out his bat to foul off an 0-2 pitch that would have been a strike to keep the at bat alive. The Giants are doing everything right.
The Tigers are doing things like sending Prince Fielder home from first base on a double with none out in the second inning. It worked three times this season for third base coach Gene Lamont, but on Thursday, Fielder was tagged out at home despite the fact that Giants catcher Buster Posey, who has been ordered by Bochy not to block the plate after a collision with the Florida Marlins Scott Cousins in May, 2011, broke a bone in his left leg and ripped three ankle ligaments, gave Fielder the entire back of the plate. Fielder didn't take it, and was out on a close play. Leyland said later that he thought Lamont had been "over-aggressive," while Bochy had no problem with it, saying he thought Fielder would score "the way it bounced off the wall.
"It took two great throws to get him," Bochy said. "Defence can help you win games. It's doing it for us."
Tigers starter Doug Fister scattered four hits over six innings, striking out three and walking one before the pitch count caught up to him. Giants starter Madison Bumgarner, who had an 11.25 earned run average in two post-season starts and hadn't pitched in 10 days after being moved to the bullpen, shackled the Tigers, who managed a pair of hits while striking out eight and walking two. He threw 86 pitches, coming out for pinch-hitter Ryan Theriot with the bases loaded in the seventh. The bullpen kept the door shut, with closer Sergio Romo needing 11 pitches to put the game away.
Fister figured in a scary moment in the second inning, when the Giants Gregor Blanco squared up a change-up and lined the ball off the the side of his head. The ball deflected into centre field and Fister merely shrugged as he walked back to the mound, Tigers manager Jim Leyland and trainer Kevin Rand went out to the mound, but Fister was allowed to stay in the game after throwing two warm-up pitches and answering what he called "typical concussion questions": how many are on base, what inning is it and what game is it. Given the fact the game was on national television, and given the importance of concussion awareness in sports, it's a safe bet that Major League Baseball found itself with a talking point for Friday's off-day.
Baseball and the Major League has a concussion protocol in place, with a seven-day disabled list specially for concussions. But most of the protocol focuses on post-collision analysis, or analysis after plays such as the line drive that struck the Oakland Athletics Brandon McCarthy in early September, resulting in a week-long hospital stay after two hours of surgery for a skull fracture, epidural hemorrhage and brain contusion. In-game incidents such as Fister's are a grey area.
There has been talk about some type of protective head-gear for pitchers, or going so far as mandating a pitcher be removed immediately for testing. Fister's not a fan of either.
Fister said he had "a little bump," and said he saw the ball all the way. "I just need to learn how to get my glove up faster, I guess," he said. "If I really think about it, yeah, he could have squared it up a lot more. My first focus coming off the mound was where the ball went. I feel fine, I don't have any sort of symptoms or anything. It hurt, but it wasn't like it was a resonating thing."
Said Tigers catcher Gerald Laird: "I'm just glad it came out the way it did. Obviously, you see what happened to McCarthy, and you never want it happen to anybody.
The results suggested Fister was fine, although that's not really the point. After walking Brandon Crawford, he retired 13 of the next 14 batters he faced. But they worked him for long at bats, and after Pence singled to open the seventh, manager Jim Leyland brought in rookie left-hander Drew Smyly – who prompted walked left-hand hitting Brandon Belt on a 3-1 breaking pitch. Blanco bunted the bases full, rolling a ball down the third base line a few feet from home plate that stayed fair as catcher Gerald Laird, Smyly and third baseman Miguel Cabrera stood over it. "I could see the spin on it and I thought: if I let it go foul, we can et out of this. It was a perfect bunt; it just sat there."
The Giants scored on Crawford's double play, which came with Tigers manager Jim Leyland playing his infield back, preferring giving up the run instead of playing the infield in and risking a big inning, but for that to pay off somebody on the team must get a hit. And like everything else, that's not happening for the Tigers right now. "To me, that's not debatable," Leyland said when asked about playing the infield back. "I felt we had to take our best shot to come out of it with one run. I can't let them open the game up."
Laird concurred with the strategy.
"If you play it in and a ball like that gets through, all of a sudden you have a whole big inning," said Laird. "You turn a double play, hold them to a run. We just couldn't put anything across the plate."
Fielder, for his part, tired of questions about how his team wasn't getting the breaks or bounces. "Do that," he said, "and all you're doing is inviting more bad luck." That's something the Tigers don't need to do. They're dealing with enough of it as is.