Giants' intensity sets tone for Series
It may be just one game, but SF makes strong statement
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 11:14 p.m.
SAN FRANCISCO -- It is only one game, the Tigers said Wednesday night. Keep it perspective, they said. Don't make more out of it than it is, they said.
Game 1 of the 2012 World Series was more than just one game. It was one of those cliches that, this time, actually wasn't. It was a statement game. The Giants took Detroit's best starting pitcher, in fact took the game's best starting pitcher, and took him apart. Justin Verlander left the game after the fourth inning, properly stunned at how the Giants made him look so ordinary.
The Giants didn't just beat Verlander. They unraveled him, to the point Verlander was throwing the ball everywhere but where he wanted. It started in the most freakish of fashions, the kind of play that screams harbinger, destiny, World Series champion. Yes, after what Angel Pagan hit, how could one not help but jump to this conclusion: the Giants are in control of the 2012 World Series after only one game. Sounds absurd, yet there is the evidence.
Pagan hit a chopper toward Tigers third baseman Miquel Cabrera in the third inning. But the ball bounced off third base, into left field and faster than Verlander could have said “gimme a break,” the ace of aces unraveled.
“I've hit tons of them,” Pagan said of hitting bases with batted balls. “I've hit a lot of ugly finders.”
Asked later when he first knew he was in trouble, Verlander said, “When that ball hit the bag and scooted out to left field for a double.”
Until that play Verlander had retired six in a row after Pablo Sandoval hit his first homer in the first inning.
Verlander was performing to his history — get him early or you don't get him at all. It was now in the third, there were two out, Verlander had the rhythm, the game was spinning in his greased groove.
And then the Pagan bonk off third. Marco Scutaro smacked an RBI single. Sandoval hit his second homer. It's now 4-0 Giants. And the Giants kept working Verlander. By the time the right-hander left, he had thrown 98 pitches. In just four innings.
In the fourth Verlander walked Brandon Belt, who was hitting .216 in the post-season. Verlander hardly ever gives away an at-bat to a light hitter. Belt went to second on an infield out and then came the final, crushing blow, the last piece of evidence that the Giants are hotter than Death Valley asphalt.
Giants pitcher Barry Zito, possessor of quite possibly the worst swing in Major League Baseball, slapped a single through the hole and into left field. Belt scored. The Giants has their fifth run and had run Verlander out of the game.
In trying to sort out what happened to him, Verlander said he was “out of sync', that the two-seam fastball he starts inside, off the plate, to left-handed hitters, had too much movement on it and moved right over the middle.
“You can't be perfect all the time,” he said.
Of course, after Verlander had been so strong in the postseason, the Tigers were expecting virtual perfection. Detroit has a solid staff but the anchor is Verlander. He had thrown 23 scoreless innings in the post-season. He had allowed only one earned run in 27« post-season innings. Opposing hitters were hitting .122 off him this season. No, the Tigers didn't see this coming.
The Tigers didn't see the Giants hitting .333 (6-of-18) off Verlander in those four innings.
The Tigers were aware and respectful of Sandoval but Verlander said, really, they had no idea.
“I didn't know he was so locked in,” Verlander said.
Yes, he was surprised and baseball players don't like surprises. It gets them off their game. It makes them think about the stuff they can't control. Like Sandoval swinging and smashing anything within the zip code of home plate. Like Giants left fielder Gregor Blanco making two highlight film diving-sliding catches, one off the bat of Miguel Cabrera in the third and the other off Prince Fielder in the sixth. Like the Giants not feeling intimidated in their at-bats against Verlander.
Like Barry Zito — BARRY ZITO — singling in a run. And, especially, that Pagan bonking of third base.
“Sometimes the breaks go against you,” said Tigers catcher Alex Avila.
Yes, and the passage of time evens things out. But this is not the middle of the season with months of time to pass. There's about a week left in the baseball season and, in case the Tigers haven't noticed, the Giants haven't slipped on a banana peel in weeks. Could they now? Sure. But there's no evidence yet.
That's why Game 1 had more weight to it than a single victory. It felt like the continuation of the last two weeks, that the Tigers have become the new Reds, the new Cardinals, just the latest example of what happens when someone plays the Giants in the postseason. If the Giants ever entertained even the slightest bit of doubt that they aren't up to ultimate task of winning it all, Game 1 took care of that.
That's why Wednesday's Game 1 felt like more than just a single victory for the team playing under a golden light. If a team hits the pitches, makes the pitches, gets all the breaks and plays as tight and smart as possible, the only thing left is to play the game, win three more and make it official.
You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or email@example.com.
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