SAN FRANCISCO Tim Flannery does it every spring.
Hell receive throws at first base during infield practice,leap off the bag the instant the ball slaps leather and pump both arms like hejust clinched the World Series.
Because thats what you practice for, the Giants bald,crystal blue-eyed third base coach said. If it doesnt matter then, when willit?
Relay throws. Bunting situations. Productive outs. Theymattered on the World Series stage on a warm, late-October night at AT&TPark. And thanks to the small stuff, the Giants are thinking very, very big.
They scored their Game 2 runs on a double-play grounder inthe seventh inning and a sacrifice fly in the eighth. They were aided by aperfect, shuffleboard bunt that delivered more than the intended bargain. And theGiants prevented a run, too, because a second baseman smartly wandered acrossthe diamond to back up a relay throw that arrived with too much thrust.
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The Giants did what they were supposed to do in a 2-0victory over the Detroit Tigers. They played National League baseball in aNational League ballpark, and made their AL opponents look like a bunch of fat,stodgy, athletically challenged softball players.
Madison Bumgarner possessed something well short of dominantstuff, but he had enough bite on an improved slider and he varied its location.That was sufficient to frustrate the big-swinging Tigers, who kept snappingtheir jaws only to find the chain didnt quite reach.
And all of the sudden, the Giants -- this collection ofcockroaches, survivors of six elimination games against the Reds and Cardinals-- are up two games to none as the series shifts to the Motor City. Thats notto suggest the ring fittings should commence post haste. The roaches have notbecome the exterminators yet, and this World Series is far from over.
But after besting Justin Verlander and Doug Fister, letsjust say the house is tented.
You cant count anybody out, said right-hander SergioRomo, who retired three hitters in smoke-bomb fashion to record his first WorldSeries save. I mean, just look where we came from. And besides, theyre the ALchamps. They were picked to be here from the get-go. But to beat those twounbelievable starters? To shut down that lineup? Yeah, we like our position.
There will be much blathering and bloviating over thingslike fate and destiny, citing paranormal signs such as Angel Pagans doink shotoff third base in Game 1 or Gregor Blancos masterful bunt, which came to reston the fair side of the chalk to set up the first run of Game 2.
But lets leave a seasoned observer to dispel all that.
I dont think theyre getting the breaks, Tigers managerJim Leyland said. I think theyve earned everything theyve got. Up to thispoint, theyve outplayed us.
They did a little bit better than us today. They did quitea bit better yesterday. But I always tip my hat. I mean, theyre playinggood. Theyre playing like the Giants play, and we expected that coming in.Theyre good. Theyre really good.
Game 2 was about outs, what you did with them and how hardyou made your opponent work to achieve them. The Giants saw enough pitches to getFister out of a scoreless game following Hunter Pences leadoff single inthe seventh, and Brandon Belt drew a walk from left-hander Drew Smyly.
That brought Blanco to the plate, and even when an erratic Smylystarted him with a 2-0 count, the bunt sign stayed on. Blanco fouled oneattempt but could not have placed the 3-1 pitch any better, hugging it up thethird base line as three Tigers stood over and watched it to a stop, as if tryingto see their reflection in their shoes.
I was hoping their guys would grab the ball because Ithought it was going foul, said Flannery, noting that a ball on the dirtusually hits the lip of the grass and takes a left turn. Well, I guess thisone didnt tonight. When it didnt do anything else, I thought, This is one ofthose weird things.
You just go home and you thank the higher power orwhoevers in charge, and try not to piss any others off.
Leyland had a choice to make, and it wasnt Vishnu or Yahweh. Withthe bases loaded and no outs, the manager stationed his infielders atdouble-play depth. Sure, Leylands lineup had six outs remaining and an emptystomach, but he figured one run would be easier to make up than two, should theGiants bleed something through a drawn-in infield.
Brandon Crawford delivered the grounder to second base thatgave both clubs what they wanted.
Flannery watched that 4-6-3 grounder and knew Marco Scutarohad a hand in it. The veteran second baseman, the most significant late Julyacquisition since Neil Armstrong picked up a moon rock, had been tutoringCrawford and other younger players, telling them always to think about usingthe middle of the field with a runner on third and less than two out.
If Crawford hits that to first base, the run doesntscore, Flannery said.
Scutaro's awareness extends to run prevention, too. If he had not driftedover from second base to back up Blancos throw from left field on DelmonYoungs double, then Prince Fielder would have scored from first base. And ifScutaros relay to the plate had been less accurate, perhaps steering catcherBuster Posey into the baseline, the Giants might have lost much more than aWorld Series game.
You can ask Todd Greene about that. (Or you can just GoogleToddGreene PrinceFielder collision.)
When the throw went over my head, I thought, I hopeMarcos there, Crawford said. I didnt really think about it. But thinkingnow, its a dangerous play (for Posey), I guess. But he got in the rightposition and made a good tag.
The Giantsadded a run in the eighth after Angel Pagan stole his way into scoringposition, enticing Leyland to intentionally walk Pablo Sandoval with a baseopen. Posey walked to load the bases, and Pence already owner of a 10-pitchat-bat and a rally-starting single -- completed a tenacious night at the platewith a sacrifice fly.
But all of those small deeds would have amounted to nothingif not for the littlest player on the field.
Me? Im 5-foot-10, Romo said. But I dont feel 5-10 outthere. I feel 6-10. I feel like Im legitimately somebody out there and I feellike my teammates look at me as someone whos important.
Especially here, when you hear that crowd. Its electric.Its somewhat indescribable.
Romo only began to address reporters after taking severalminutes to compose himself. He arrived at his locker 15 minutes after the finalout and buried his head in his hands, still shaking with the tension of hisfirst World Series save opportunity. He almost seemed to hyperventilate whileripping off his uniform as if having hot flashes.
No, he did not stop to think that he needed a 1-2-3 inningto keep Miguel Cabrera and Fielder from batting in the ninth. He only stareddown the hitters as they came at him, cocking his arm and daring them to hithis 88 mph two-seamer and running slider. And when they could not, Romo punchedhis glove and started the handshake line.
Ive heard it said some guys can get outs in certaininnings and some guys cant, Romo said. Me, I dont have time to worry aboutthat. I just know a lot of guys are riding on the pitches Ive beenthrowing.
Romo delivered them. Belt caught the last one near the coaches' box. And seven months after the last early-morningfrost thawed away on the grass in Scottsdale, the Giants are one step nearer topumping both arms.