And yet every one of those pratfalls and oddities turned in the Giants' favor. Even the infield grass is going their way, and literally so. A bunt by Gregor Blanco in Game 2 of the World Series stayed fair on the third-base line -- the three-inch-wide baseball somehow nestling inside the four inches of dirt between the chalk foul line and the infield grass rather than tumbling foul, as it normally would. The winning run in a 2-0 San Francisco victory scored on the next at-bat, a groundball double play.
"Must be the rain we've had lately," third-base coach Tim Flannery said. "I was hoping they would touch it because that ball always rolls off. But it must be because the grass is lower, tamped down from the rain. A lot of weird things are happening."
Attending a Giants game at AT&T Park can feel like attending a ritual, like some non-denominational service in which weird amulets (Panda hats, rally rags, Steve Perry), dance (Gangnam style) and song ("When the lights go down in the city ...") are repeated over and over as if to appease the gods of baseball. It is working. Well, at least if you want to believe that the World Series is being decided by karma.
Not to discourage aspiring screenwriters in Panda hats, but the truth is the Giants are winning baseball games in the most tried and true way over more than a century of baseball. It doesn't make for a good script, but pitching and defense have carried the Giants to within two games of their second world championship in the past three World Series.
Since San Francisco faced elimination against St. Louis in the NLCS, down three games to one, it has run off five consecutive wins in which it has outscored the Cardinals and Tigers 30-4 while committing only one error, never trailing at any point in 45 consecutive innings, and holding opposing hitters to a .181 batting average. Its starting pitchers in this run are 5-0 with a 1.64 ERA while allowing only six walks in 33 innings. It doesn't get any more traditional than that.
Madison Bumgarner, fresh out of pitching coach Dave Righetti's garage, where he underwent a mechanical tuneup after an 11.25 ERA in two postseason starts, kept the line moving with seven shutout innings. Harkening back to the eight shutout innings he threw last year against Texas, Bumgarner is the first Giants pitcher to start back-to-back shutouts since -- get this -- Christy Mathewson in 1905. We told you this was old-school stuff. In 15 World Series innings Bumgarner has allowed no runs and only five hits.
"Matt Cain is his partner playing catch," said Ryan Vogelsong, the team's hottest starter who gets the ball in Game 3. "I asked him before the game how he's looked and he goes, 'Great!' So I had an idea. It's a credit to how hard he's worked."
What Righetti did over the past 10 days was to get Bumgarner back to the way he threw in 2010. Though Bumgarner throws with a long arm swing and low three-quarters release point, he wasn't getting his release point high enough and, more importantly, wasn't getting his fingers on top of the baseball. His fingers tended to remain on the side of the ball, which made it impossible to create downward tilt to his pitches. His fastball and slider were flat and very hittable.
"We had to get him back to north and south rather than east and west," was how catcher Buster Posey put it.
Bumgarner worked on those mechanics with drills and bullpen sessions and took it out to the game mound. "In a way," said Cain, "I think he benefited from the break -- to get away from it and just work on his mechanics."
If the Giants win the World Series by playing like this, this will be the first official World Series DVD that will be released as an instructional video. They turn every double play that needs to be turned, run the bases with speed and smarts, make every play on defense, don't walk people and, even when they miss cutoff men, have people in the right spot and execute flawlessly.
Tigers third-base coach Gene Lamont took a huge risk in the second inning when he waved Prince Fielder home from first base on a double down the left-field line -- all because the baseball kicked off the side wall and, for a moment, away from left fielder Gregor Blanco. Fielder had scored from first on a double only three times all year. Asking him to score from first on a ball to left field with nobody out seemed like a risk.
Yes, it's true that Lamont calculated that the Giants would have to execute two throws and a tag perfectly to get Fielder at home. But the only way you can send a runner home with no outs is if not even that possibility is in play; it can't be close.
As they have been doing for a week, the Giants indeed executed the play perfectly, just like on mornings in February back in Scottsdale, when the grass was still wet with dew and the sun low in the sky, during relay drills in spring training. Blanco did overshoot shortstop Brandon Crawford, but second baseman Marco Scutaro was right behind him to catch it.
(Don't fall for people telling you it was a "heads up" play by Scutaro. This play was as routine as a pitcher covering first base on a grounder to the right side, something that's routine even in high school ball. The second baseman is the trailer in a double-cut situation designed as a failsafe for a poor throw -- an overthrow or a throw that bounces in front of the shortstop, who allows it to bounce to the trailer rather than try to field a tough hop. So let's not cast the bronze Scutaro statue just yet for a routine relay play.)
The genius in the play was not Scutaro being there but how he took a peek at Lamont ("I saw him waving him home") as the ball was being retrieved and thrown, caught the throw, wheeled and fired a no-bounce strike to catcher Buster Posey. Ever since Posey broke his leg last year, the Giants have schooled him to take throws in front of the plate, a technique that keeps him out of harm's way but opens up the back side of the plate for the runner. But Fielder made the mistake in his last few steps of crossing over the foul line into an inside path to the plate, where he allowed Posey to easily put a tag on him.
The Tigers wouldn't get another runner to second base. Bumgarner was brilliant at pounding fastballs and sliders onto the hands of Detroit's right-handed hitters. He picked off a runner and he started a double play as well, proving yet again that what the Giants are doing with this World Series is turning it into the world's largest baseball clinic. The Tigers are getting schooled.
"We've had different times during the season where we pitched like this," Vogelsong said. "We just hit a rough patch in September. We're cming out the other side now. And it's happening at the exact right time now."