SAN FRANCISCO -- I have often thought that the first person who said, "I'd rather be lucky than good" was not very good. But then you have the San Francisco Giants. They are lucky because they are good. And this means they are not lucky at all. Is anybody else confused here, or is it just me?
The Giants are taking a 2-0 World Series lead to Detroit, and three crucial plays from Game 2 should help explain what I mean. All three of these plays seem lucky, and maybe they were. But they were not primarily lucky. They were the product of a team that has clearly outplayed its opponent in so many small ways, and that is how you win World Series games.
OK, Play No. 1: Second inning. Prince Fielder on first base. Delmon Young ripped a double to leftfield. Giants leftfielder Gregor Blanco missed cutoff man Brandon Crawford. But second baseman Marco Scutaro was right there to catch it, turn and throw a perfect strike to Buster Posey.
"I was supposed to be there, behind Crawford, just in case Blanco made a bad throw or whatever," said Scutaro.
Posey was severely injured in a collision at the plate last year, and he said Thursday that he couldn't even describe what it is like to be between Fielder and the plate -- you would just have to be there to understand. I suspect I will appreciate it the next time I'm hit by a train. Anyway, Posey tagged Fielder out.
The Giants were a little lucky -- not because Scutaro was there (that was just the kind of smart play that would have spawned poems and religious gatherings if Derek Jeter had made it) but because Tigers third base coach Gene Lamont sent Fielder with no outs.
Lamont is probably Jim Leyland's closest confidante with the Tigers, but that was just a horrible decision. Think about that: Nobody out and you send one of the slowest guys on your team home?
"I think Gene just got a little overaggressive," Leyland said. "We haven't been scoring runs other than the final game against the Yankees."
Then Leyland went out of his way to praise the umpires for getting the call right, which was a savvy way of looking classy and changing the subject. But he had to know his pal had messed up. The Giants were a little lucky that Lamont made a horrible decision, and a little lucky that Fielder, made a lousy slide. But sometimes, being good just means you don't do as many dumb things as your opponent. Quite a few men have been elected President for that reason.
Play No. 2 came in the fourth inning. I suspect nobody reading this will remember the play I'm talking about, at least not immediately. But it easily could have decided the game. Omar Infante had just singled to open the inning. Miguel Cabrera was up.
Cabrera drilled a line drive -- it was one of the hardest-hit balls all night. And it went straight into the glove of Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who made a terrific play on it.
Whenever a guy smokes a ball right to a fielder, the fielding team seems a bit fortunate. But the difference between these two teams is what happened next: Madison Bumgarner got Prince Fielder to pop out. Then Bumgarner tried to pick Infante off first base and Infante bolted for second and was thrown out. The Tigers have been a poor baserunning team all year, and the Giants are much better at manufacturing runs in a National League-type of game. All it took was one little break for San Francisco to get out of the inning.
Something about that inning stood out to me. Detroit needs to hit a lot of line drives and outslug the Giants to win this Series. The Giants don't have that kind of power, no matter what Sandoval did in Game 1. But they are much, much better at scrapping out wins, and against great pitching, scrapping is often more important than slugging. I think you could argue that scrapping is what seems like luck, and slugging is what seems like being good -- but in fact, they are just different forms of being good. And this brings me to ...
Play No. 3: Top of the seventh inning, runners on first and second for San Francisco, nobody out. Blanco dropped a bunt down the third base line -- RIGHT on the line. If you have watched baseball for many years, you have probably seen this kind of bunt 1,000 times -- and at least 900 of those times, it rolled foul. This time it did not. It just chilled out in the tiny little dirt alleyway between the line and the grass. I thought it might order a glass of pinot noir.
Luck? Yes, except ... well, it was a perfect bunt. And the ball would not have a chance to stop there if Blanco had not laid down a perfect bunt. This led to the first run of the game -- on a double play when Leyland had the infielders play deep with the bases loaded, instead of pulling them in to prevent one run.
Everything is falling into place for the Giants, from the sudden re-emergence of Barry Zito to Hunter Pence's famous broken-bat triple hit against the Cardinals to that bunt. Will it carry them to World Series title? Looks that way now, but things can change in Detroit.
One thing about AT&T Park is that it makes you feel like the Giants are supposed to win -- not because the fans are so loud (they are) or the place is so intimidating, but because it's in the most beautiful spot in all of baseball, right on the bay, and when the sun is shining and the place is full, it's like one of those summer nights at a concert or a party when you can't imagine anybody having a bad time. That Gregor Blanco bunt summed up the feeling. It stayed fair because staying fair felt awesome.
Bumgarner pitched exceptionally well in Game 2, but so did Detroit's Doug Fister. You need great pitching to have a chance. The difference is that the San Francisco was able to squeeze out two runs and the Tigers were not really built that way. They are built around their two big power hitters, Cabrera and Fielder.
"You don't neutralize guys like that," Giants pitcher Ryan Vogelsong said Thursday, but at the end of Game 2, there were Cabrera and Fielder, the next two guys scheduled to hit when the game ended. Neutralized. Seeing those guys stand there with nothing to do, the Tigers may have felt unlucky. But really, the San Francisco Giants are just darn, darn good.