SAN FRANCISCO — They’ve spent virtually the entire postseason clawing back from behind but now the San Francisco Giants are in charge. And it’s two wins down, two wins to go for their second World Series title in three years.
Madison Bumgarner shook off his struggles in this postseason to throw seven shutout innings, and the Giants scored the go-ahead run in the seventh thanks to some dubious strategy by Detroit manager Jim Leyland in posting a 2-0 win over the Tigers on Thursday in AT&T Park.
The Giants were in an 0-2 hole and on the road in the division series against Cincinnati before winning three straight to advance. They were down, 3-1, in the National League Championship Series against St. Louis before running off three straight wins to survive that matchup.
Throw in the first two victories here and San Francisco has won five straight games in the postseason – all in the last six days – for the first time in its history. And the Giants have done it by a whopping combined score of 30-4.
“I feel like we’ve gained a lot of strength from what we’ve had to overcome to get to this point,” said Giants outfielder Hunter Pence, who scored the go-ahead run in the seventh on a double-play ball and drove in an insurance tally in the eighth with a sacrifice fly. “We’re riding a little bit of confidence and a momentum.”
The teams are scheduled to hold workouts today in Detroit, with Game Three set for Saturday night in Comerica Park – where the Tigers are 4-0 in the postseason. But San Francisco has a huge advantage, as a 2-0 lead has meant a title in 14 of the last 15 occurrences.
“It’s a lot less stressful for sure,” Bumgarner said. “But at the same time, I don’t think we can stop pushing or we’re going to find ourselves in the same spot we’ve been in the last two series.”
World Series play clearly agrees with the 23-year-old Bumgarner, who was dropped from the rotation during the NLCS after losing both of his previous starts this postseason and rolling up a whopping 11.25 earned-run average.
But Bumgarner, a 16-game winner in the regular season, looked much like the 21-year-old rookie who threw eight shutout innings at Texas in Game Four of the 2010 Series. He became the first Giants pitcher to record consecutive scoreless appearances of 7-plus innings in the World Series since Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson did it three times in 1905.
Bumgarner was incredibly economical with his pitches, needing just 86 to get through his seven innings before he was lifted for a pinch-hitter. He threw just 56 over the first five frames. A tight slider and sharp curveball did plenty of damage.
“I was excited I was going to get a chance to pitch for these guys and these fans and I’m glad it worked out,” he said.
Detroit’s Doug Fister pitched six-plus innings – and even survived a line drive from Gregor Blanco in the second that richocheted off his head – but was a hard-luck loser.
Everything is going right for the Giants. Pablo Sandoval hit three home runs and a ball off the third-base bag keyed a four-run rally in Game One. In Game Two, Blanco’s seventh-inning bunt rolled ... and rolled ... and rolled and stopped dead on the edge of the grass for an infield single to load the bases and bring up Brandon Crawford.
Despite the fact he was locked in a scoreless game in the late innings, Leyland kept his infield at medium depth rather than bring them in to cut off the run at home. Second baseman Omar Infante cleanly fielded Crawford’s bouncer and flipped to second to start a 4-6-3 double play, allowing Pence to trot home with the game’s first run.
On one hand, you could see Leyland’s strategy. His infield defense has been suspect most of the year, with mobility issues certainly surrounding third baseman Miguel Cabrera, shortstop Jhonny Peralta and first baseman Prince Fielder. Keeping the infield back puts them in double-play position and helps prevent a big inning.
That said, the Tigers have done very little offensively in this series, batting just .167 with 10 hits. A pair of 1-2-3 innings in the eighth and ninth meant Cabrera and Fielder, Detroit’s top two offensive threats, would not bat, again.
“To be honest with you, we were absolutely thrilled to come out of that inning with one run, absolutely thrilled,” Leyland said. “I mean, we had to score anyway. You give them two, it makes it a little bit tougher.”
The Tigers were blanked in large part because Fielder was gunned down at the plate in the second on a Delmon Young double. Blanco overthrew the cutoff man in short left field but second baseman Marco Scutaro was in a perfect spot on the infield dirt near third base to corral it and fire the ball home, where catcher Buster Posey made the tag.
“That was huge,” Bumgarner said.