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Challenge for Tigers: Make Giants' Game 1 win just one game


SAN FRANCISCO -- Pablo Sandoval is so good, the Giants named their team after him, so we should not be so shocked that he hit three home runs in Game 1 of the World Series. Barry Zito pitched exceptionally well in his last start against the Cardinals, so we shouldn't be that surprised he baffled the Tigers in an 8-3 San Francisco win.

But Justin Verlander getting shelled ... well, what the heck do the Tigers make of that? And how do they recover for tonight's Game 2?

"We just gotta come out tomorrow," Prince Fielder said after Game 1. "It's all we can do, really. Just win the next game. There is no formula."

The Tigers are not sportswriters, which is good because with all that baseball stuff to do they would probably blow deadline. It's also good for their sake, because they don't have to buy into the narrative most of us were writing before the series started.

It was a pretty simple story. The Giants had to start Zito in Game 1 because ace Matt Cain pitched Game 7 of the National League Championship Series on Monday. The Tigers started Verlander, the world's best pitcher. Verlander would beat Zito, the Tigers would suddenly have homefield advantage, and the Giants would be playing catch-up.

That changed when Verlander threw an awful 0-2 pitch in the first inning to Sandoval: right over the middle of the plate, almost begging to become a souvenir. Sandoval crushed it for the first of his three home runs. And at the end of the night, the game had a surreal, Series-defining feel to it.

The Giants had not just won. They had slain the Verlander beast.

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It is very tempting -- at least for me -- to believe Game 1 was more than one game. When the Giants scored their fifth run off Verlander, I sat in my seat in the auxiliary box and my head was spinning. This may have been a contact high from the marijuana smoke I most certainly smelled in the rest room, but I think it was because Verlander got rocked. I wasn't surprised the Giants won. I was surprised how they won.

And yet ... well, Detroit manager Jim Leyland trotted out the old cliché that "momentum is your next day's pitcher," and there is no getting around this: The Tigers should have more confidence in their guy than the Giants have in theirs.

Detroit's Game 2 starter, Doug Fister, probably has the best demeanor on the whole staff for this particular situation -- better, even, than Verlander. Once in a while Verlander gets too amped up, and he tries to strike out all opposing hitters and bring great shame to their families. Fister is so calm that when he gets his blood pressure checked, the doctor falls asleep.

Fister doesn't worry about his last start, last night's game, who is on base or how many people are watching. He just pitches. When he got to the Tigers via a trade from the Mariners at midseason last year, his teammates were taken aback at how laid-back he is. He is perfectly capable of taking a nap an hour before the game. I'm absolutely serious. This has happened before.

Meanwhile, the Giants will send starter Madison Bumgarner to the mound, and his recent starts have been like a stupid blockbuster action movie: Fires followed by explosions followed by bigger explosions.

From Aug. 25 to the end of the season, Bumgarner's earned-run average was 5.89. Opposing players hit .304 against him, with a .377 on-base percentage and .507 slugging percentage. How bad is that? Well, Sandoval's career numbers are not quite that good, and he is a star.

In the postseason, Bumgarner has been even worse. He has only pitched eight innings in his two starts, and he gave up 10 earned runs. Opponents are batting .385/.415/.667 against him. The usual caveats apply: It is a small sample size, Bumgarner has been a terrific pitcher since his debut in 2009, and the way the Giants are going, Bumgarner might throw a no-hitter. But those recent starts would scare me if I were a Giants fan.

The Tigers have one other thing going for them, at least in theory: They have walked across hotter coals than this. They trailed the White Sox in the American League Central for most of the season. They watched Jose Valverde give up three ninth-inning runs to blow what would have been a series-clinching win against Oakland in the AL Division Series. (Verlander won Game 5.) Then Valverde blew a 4-0 lead in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Yankees, but the Tigers rallied to win the game and sweep New York.

Does that experience help? Well, Fielder said "I don't think any of that helps" and centerfielder Austin Jackson said "it prepares you well for this moment." I will let them argue it out. I just hope they stay quiet. Doug Fister might be napping.