This is a pitcher who felt totally off his game because he had to wait an extra five minutes. I can’t imagine what all the pomp and circumstance around the start of the World Series would do to him. And, you know, his last go around in the World Series wasn’t exactly stellar. He was rookie, but it’s all the sample size we had.
None of this is to say that Verlander can’t bounce back. There’s plenty of time for that, and there are a lot of qualifiers to Verlander’s bad night.
First off, Pedro Sandoval had the sort of night where it doesn’t matter who’s on the mound. That guy was just a hitting machine last night. I did take some issue with Tim McCarver’s description of the first home run, though. Verlander did get the pitch up like he wanted, but it was over the plate, not in on the hands. Still, it was a good enough pitch that Verlander would blow it by hitters nine times out of ten. And on that tenth time, well, the dude just got a good swing on it, which is what happened here. The third inning, which is apparently where the Giants have decided they’re going to win and lose games, was one of the flukier innings I’ve seen. After getting two quick outs, Angel Pagan hits a bouncer that Miguel Cabrera probably would have handled fairly easily. Except that it happened to bounce right off third base, sending it skipping the opposite direction and rolling into left field for a double. Verlander gets out of there one-two-three, and the whole complexion of the game changes.
Heck, there’s even a qualifier on Sandoval’s second home run. Here, McCarver did have a point. You have a free swinger who has already burned you on a good fastball. Verlander had him down two strikes to nothing on two fastballs. He went with another fastball, and Sandoval caught up to that one. He likely would have been better served to break off one of his devastating curveballs there. It’s hard to blame Verlander, though, because that pitch was not a strike. It was designed to get Sandoval to reach for it and come up empty, or at the least squib it off to the shortstop or third baseman. Sandoval did reach, but the ball just kept going. It didn’t look good off the bat. I thought it was going to be a routine flyball. But it wasn’t, and the game was pretty well broken from there.
On the other hand, I don’t know that it really mattered too much. Barry Zito showed us why he was once considered one of, if not the, best pitcher in the majors once upon a time. And Tim Lincecum came out of the bullpen to remind us that he’s found himself again in a major way. I’m a little shocked that Bruce Brochy isn’t going to use Lincecum to start game two, but I suppose that’s why he’s in the dugout and I’m sitting here toying with computers. Anyway, those two were absolutely spotless. With they way they were dealing, it was a tall order for the Giants to win anyway.
All that said, even with Sandoval’s huge game, you would have to give some MVP* consideration to Gregor Blanco. He made two spectacular catches out in left field that saved who knows how many runs from the Tigers, keeping them out of the game. Especially in the sixth inning when it looked like Zito was running out of gas a little bit. Those were huge plays. I don’t think you can overstate how important those plays were to locking the game up in the middle innings.
*Of that one game, anyway.
As good as the Giants looked, I’m still not quite convinced they’re going to take this series. But I think it’s going to be a better fight than most expected coming into it. Let’s see what the Giants have in the tank when some of the more taxed pitchers get their turn.
I do have one more note to the game, but I’m not entirely sure how it affected things. I wasn’t too thrilled with Gerry Davis’s strike zone. It was too small, but that’s not my real complaint. My issue was how iffy he was with the outside corner, especially up and out. As a viewer, I found myself totally guessing at what was going to be called out there and what wasn’t. I can only imagine what hitters were thinking. It seemed to affect the Tigers more than it did the Giants, but that could well be the style of pitchers. Zito really abused an up and out breaking ball and generally is a crafty lefty who likes to nibble. Verlander is just going to blow it by you or give you a nasty curve. Zito’s style lends itself to a lot more testing of the waters than Verlander. Still, it was frustrating to watch. There was another game where I felt the same thing, though I don’t remember for sure which one it was. I think it was a Cardinal-Giant game, but I could be mistaken. In any case, this is not the first time this October I felt Davis didn’t have the best grasp of the strike zone. I know he’s the crew chief, but I would hate to have him behind the plate in a deciding game at this point. Problem is, he would be slated for game seven, which I now think this series could be looking at.
Game two tonight, Doug Fister faces off with Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner has looked a little sketchy this postseason, which led to a skipped start last round. Maybe the extra rest will do him good, though. In any case, I do think the Tigers will bounce back in a much lower scoring affair.
Unless, of course, Fister has some rust to shake off, too. Oy vey, nobody said picking games would be this hard!