It’s the World Series. It’s Justin Verlander vs. Barry Zito. The Giants are a good, but not great offensive team. AT&T Park is pitcher-friendly. The Giants have only hit 31 home runs here all season, after all! What could possibly go wrong?
A lot. A whole, whole lot.
Game one of the 2012 World Series – an 8-3 Giants romp – was basically everything the Detroit Tigers could possibly do wrong wrapped in one neat little package. They did not pitch. They did not hit. Their defense wasn’t as bad as it possibly could have been, but anyone who saw Delmon Young’s attempt to throw home in the fourth inning will likely not forget it anytime soon.
They did not pitch, you say? But Justin Verlander started! He did, and he was simply poor. He had no command of his fastball and did not have the breaking pitches to get by without it, and he got shelled. Leading the charge against him was Pablo Sandoval, who has apparently picked up where Nelson Cruz left off last year. Sandoval hit a high 0-2 fastball up and out over the center field wall in the first inning, turned another fastball out to left in the third, and knocked a decent looking Al Alburquerque slider out to center (again) in the fifth. Yes, the pantheon of superstars with three homers in one World Series game – Ruth, Jackson, Pujols – now includes Pablo Sandoval. Unlike the others, he did it in his first three at bats, too.
Of course, Sandoval wasn’t the only reason the Giants whalloped Verlander. After a much more Verlander-like second inning, everything fell apart for him in the third – after he got the first two batters out fairly easily, no less. Now, it’s no secret that all championship teams have a degree of luck involved. The Tigers have gotten their share (blown calls, misplays, and so on) and if you’re curious about San Francisco, this is the team that out-charmed the St. Louis Cardinals. It was the Giants whose breaks kept up – in particular, with two on and nobody on, Angel Pagan’s ground ball to third hit third base and ended up in left field for a two-base hit. Pagan was also instrumental in driving up Verlander’s pitch count with a series of foul balls. With the door open, NLCS hero Marco Scutaro singled to center, and then Sandoval blasted his second homer. A 1-0 game became 4-0 in the blink of an eye – and one unfortunate break.
Things didn’t get any better from Verlander in the 4th – a leadoff walk moved to second with two out, and Barry Zito – Barry Zito! – hit a 97 mph fastball into left to drive in the Giants’ fifth run. Barry Zito drove in a run against Justin Verlander. It happened.
Speaking of Zito…the soft-tossing lefty proved to be the Tigers’ biggest nightmare once again. He had to deal with some traffic – six hits and a walk in 5.2 innings and some help from Gregor Blanco with two diving catches – but he simply did not let the Tigers through until they finally scored in the 6th and chased him. By that point it was too little, too late. The key was the first inning – The Tigers put two men on with one out for Prince Fielder, who inexplicably swung at the first pitch and popped out. Delmon Young followed by grounding to third and the threat was over, and they didn’t really get another one of that quality all night. You can argue what was worse – Verlander going MIA in such a huge spot or the Tigers’ lineup looking truly silly against the National League equivalent of Bruce Chen.
Verlander lasted only four innings, and with the score lopsided, Jim Leyland got a chance to check on some relievers he hadn’t used in a while. Alburquerque looked solid in a two inning stint, the homer to Sandoval excepted (which, as previously mentioned, wasn’t even an awful pitch). It was at this point that the Tigers gave Jose Valverde a dress rehearsal for potential late-inning duty later in the series. Valverde failed miserably. He struck out Tim Lincecum (yes, the pitcher) before giving up a double and three straight singles. The splitfingers he threw were hanging, the fastballs were straight, and there was absolutely nothing to convince anyone that Valverde should be allowed anywhere near a mound again in the series. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to imagine the Tigers giving him the ball in this series again. He can’t be removed from the roster without an injury, but considering the Tigers got Dontrelle Willis placed on the DL over and over with a phantom anxiety disorder, you never know. Joaquin Benoit followed with two strikeouts – his control wasn’t quite perfect, but the stuff remains unquestionably good. Rick Porcello pitched a clean 8th with some help from a pair of good defensive plays.
The Tigers didn’t hit Zito and did even less against the man who relieved him, Tim Lincecum. He faced seven batters and struck out five of them. People will fall into the “layoff” narrative, but quite frankly, the Tigers have had issues with lefties all season and they fell into bad, overanxious habits against Lincecum. Their approach was simply poor.
Of course, the Tigers proceeded to troll everyone in the 9th inning, as Young singled off George Kontos and Jhonny Peralta followed with a two-run homer, and Bruce Bochy ended up having to use Jeremy Affeldt…for one pitch. In the end, it didn’t do much, but hey, Jim Price likes to talk about how it’s nice to leave a blowout with a “good feeling,” so there you go.
The good news is that this was only game one. The Giants will throw Madison Bumgarner at home tomorrow, who has struggled all postseason but has claimed to have found a mechanical fix (you know, kind of like Valverde did). The Tigers will rely on Doug Fister to play stopper – a 2-0 deficit going back to Detroit would not be crippling, but it would certainly make the Tigers’ task a lot more difficult and probably put them in a spot where they have to win three straight at home.
In short, the Tigers played just about as poorly as they possibly could. Their task just became a bit more difficult – but still doable.