Alright, so I know that I promised a playoffs preview. That fell through, mostly due to a combination of ineptitude on my part, a miscalculation of the amount of time between the end of the regular season and the Wild Card Playoff Play-In Games, and my being so emotionally invested in this year’s edition of the Cincinnati Reds that I couldn’t write anything without sounding like a huge homer.
For example: Sure their line-up lacks the consistency of a world champion, but they’ve got the best bullpen in baseball, a frighteningly consistent rotation pulling together at just the right time, and one of the three best players in baseball! HOW CAN THEY POSSIBLY LOSE?
I even thought about doing a preview of the LCS once it seemed as everything would be working out. I started that particular Opus right about halfway through Game 3 of the Reds-Giants Series.
The resulting emotional fall-out led to my playoff analysis being delayed while I curled into a nest in my bedroom with a bottle of Jameson’s, lamenting what I have now dubbed the Lost Season. That being said, when you’re ahead in a best of three series by two games and you have not ONE not TWO but THREE chances to knock out your opponent at your home ballpark and you SQUANDER IT….you’re not leaving room for a lot of empathy. Even from the truly devout.
A World Series preview would have been possible, had it not fallen on a day when I was already committed to working at my regular job. In addition, I fear that it would have been lost amidst a sea of postseason primers from far more reputable sources. SO with that being said, I’ll do my best to recap the [four to seven] games of the World Series for your benefit, dear readers.
Let us begin.
Walking into this game, it was hard not to envision the Detroit Tigers as favorites over the San Francisco Giants. They had Miguel Cabrera, the first Triple Crown winner since Yaz in ’67. They had Prince Fielder, the man who gained his father Cecil Fielder’s power by eating him. (Not verified) They had a power pitching staff led by Justin Verlander, currently the Best Pitcher Alive and Pitching Today. (A Title that is not so easily tossed aside, though potentially fleeting.) They steamrolled the mighty New York Yankees in four games, dispatching them as though they were mere chew toys at the mercy of vicious bulldogs. Meanwhile, the Giants were coming off two tight series, both of which saw them on the brink of elimination and having to go 6-0 in said games. Sure, they finished off the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS, themselves no strangers to epic postseason combacks, and sure their line-up was hotter than Hades by the end of that series. Sure, your closer lost his mojo, letting it disappear into the night off the bat of a 41 year old journeyman. This was the Tigers, we’re talking about! How could we all have possibly overlooked them so badly?
And then this happened.
And this guy pitched like it was 2002 all over again.
And Jose Valverde…well, that part we actually did see coming. Nevermind.
Which is why I’m comfortable throwing away my original prediction of the Tigers winning in 6 games in place of the Giants winning in 5. (Possibly 4)
To begin, let’s not underestimate the power of psychological domination in the first game. Pablo Sandoval’s domination at the plate puts him in the ranks of players such as Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, and Albert Pujols. Key stat: each of the teams of those men went on to win their respective World Series’. It’s not as complete a game as Albert Pujol’s game was last year, nor as physically exciting as Jackson’s (unless you live in the Bay Area), but let’s face it, 4-4 with 3 HR, 2 of them off of the BPAAPT would be a blow to the heart of any team with aspirations of winning their first Series since 1984.
(Let us recall here one of the better moments in Reds history, this being Eric Davis’s home run in Game 1 of the 1990 World Series, a blow that crippled the Oakland A’s and allowed the Reds to shockingly sweep them in four games. Ah, those were the days. I think. After all, I was three at the time.)
More importantly, the way that the Giants reacted says it all. When Sandoval returned to the dugout, roaring like a lion, a small mob convened around him, leaping around as though they were at a Black Keys concert. (Maybe that was just Brian Wilson, the best fully-bearded hipster cheerleader the world has yet seen. Or the only one.) The Tigers simply slumped. You could tell from their profiles that this game caught them by surprise. Even Verlander looked as though the wind had been knocked from his sails. This is not the body language of a team prepared to dominate for a long stretch. This is a team that got caught with its pants down.
Meanwhile, Barry Zito didn’t pitch quite as well as his Game 5 performance from the NLCS. Fortunately for the Giants, he didn’t have to. Time was when such a performance would be considered normal. Even sub-par. Unfortunately, that time is now ten years gone. $126 million later, Zito has been a shell of his former self. Even his record this year, mediocre by any pitching standards, was seen as a step-up. Which means that you’ve been bad. Bad. He wasn’t even on the postseason roster for the 2010 World Series when the Giants defeated the Rangers. Yes, things were dark for Barry Zito.
Until this postseason. Now, with a win in Game 1, he finally has World Series innings logged. He can no longer claim to be irrelevant in San Francisco’s hunt for a world championship. With this win and his postseason-saving performance in the NLCS, you might even say that he’s earned…a tenth of his massive contract.
Which most Giants fans would say right now would be just fine.
Now, how did we not see this coming? Well, we weren’t looking at the key stats. Sure, there are some who toss out the old adage of home field advantage these days. Home teams’ victory percentages are just a tithe over 50% over the last ten years or so. That’s entirely relevant. But we must remember that Detroit is not a team that plays well on the road. Their record in games played away from the friendly confines of Comerica Park this year was actually under .500. Add in a crowd at AT&T Park consisting of some of the best fans in all of Major League Baseball, hopped up on adrenaline and waving orange towels, and all of a sudden the game becomes that much more challenging. (How much do you think Verlander regrets not taking the All Star Game this year a little more seriously and actually trying to pitch instead of throwing as hard as he possibly could? Had he made it through that inning without letting the NL jump all over him, there’s a chance that Game 1 is played in Detroit and this article is rendered moot. There’s a ‘What-If” for you, Alex Bean!)
Speak of the devil, let us now consider Justin Verlander, the aforementioned BPAAPT. Prior to this year, his record in the postseason was not very good. In fact, it was downright lousy. Granted, in 2006, he was an overworked rookie running on fumes. I’m not sure what happened in 2010 or 2011. But this year, it had seemed as though he had turned it around. Here’s where the extended layoff comes into play. The Giants were still hyped up after their outright dominating final three games against the Cardinals. Led by the white hot bat of Scutaro, their attack would have shredded lesser pitchers. And with an added assist from the 3rd base bag on Scutaro’s double,
So, to recap, we have one of the greater individual hitting performances of the last 25 years, a completely solid pitching performance by a man who has become in recent years no better than the average soft-tossing journeyman pitcher, a home crowd turning one of the most beautiful of major league ballparks into a coliseum filled with angry Romans demanding the blood of the visitors, an adrenaline-killing extended span of days off for the Tigers, and a shockingly bad start by the BPAAPT. What does this mean?
It means the road to a second World Championship just became slightly easier for the Giants and a whole heck of a lot more challenging – if not downright impossible – for the Tigers. This series suddenly resembles the 2002 Series, where the Anaheim Angels ground out at-bat after at-bat against the Giants en route to a seven game victory. That being said, the series is not over yet. The Tigers have Doug Fister, who has been as dominant as any other pitcher this postseason, ready and willing to take the ball against Madison Bumgardner, a pitcher with an 11.25 ERA this postseason. Things may yet turn around for Detroit. The key word being “may”.
Who will prevail? Hard to say, but it looks like this Series just got a whole helluva lot more intriguing.