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Column: Big ball, small ball, Giants have it all

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Column: Big ball, small ball, Giants have it all

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) The bunt just wouldn't go foul, despite the best efforts of the Detroit players who gathered around it and tried to will it across the chalk down the third base line. It couldn't go foul, because that might have ruined the whole aura the San Francisco Giants spent two games creating on their way toward taking command of this World Series.

Gregor Blanco thought he had pulled it too much but ran anyway, as hard as he could toward first. Hunter Pence had no such doubt as he watched the ball die on the dirt from his prime vantage point heading for third.

``One of the most beautiful bunts you'll ever see,'' said Pence, who moments later would come home with the only run the Giants would need in a 2-0 win in Game 2.

Three home runs by the Panda the night before in a most improbable win against Tigers ace Justin Verlander. Small ball on this night, the way the Giants played it all year long in the National League.

And now a trip to Detroit with their two best pitchers lined up for the weekend and their second World Series title in three years suddenly squarely in their sights.

``It seems like the game is on our side right now,'' Blanco said. ``If it takes a bunt single to win the World Series, so be it. We'll take it.''

Indeed they will. Who needs a Triple Crown winner and a slugger lured from the National League just for these kinds of games, when a double play ground ball was good enough to put the Giants in the lead in the seventh and a sacrifice fly scored another an inning later without the benefit of one hit?

Superstars can turn games around, but how about Marco Scutaro keeping this one on check when he raced from second base to back up a relay throw and fire to home in the second inning just in time to get Prince Fielder sliding in while trying to score from first?

And say what you want about Pablo Sandoval's body type, but he managed to get airborne enough at third base to spear a line drive by Miguel Cabrera in the fourth inning that could have easily gone for a double and scored Omar Infante from first.

``I don't know about baseball gods, but I'll tell you one thing: I hope the ball keeps bouncing our way,'' Giants lefty Jeremy Affeldt said. ``It's been huge for us.''

Just as huge is that the Giants have the three things every team needs to win a World Series: Pitching, pitching, pitching.

First it was Barry Zito coming back from nowhere to beat Verlander in Game 1. On Thursday night it was Madison Bumgarner finding something with his delivery to throw seven innings of two-hit ball after being dropped from the rotation in the NLCS when his ERA soared to 11.25.

To throw Ryan Vogelsong in Game 3 on Saturday and follow him with staff ace Matt Cain almost seems unfair.

``Having Vogelsong and Cain to pitch means so much to us in big games,'' Affeldt said. ``It's not a bad thing to say we're in a good spot right now up 2-0.''

This wasn't how the Tigers envisioned the series playing out, especially after eliminating the New York Yankees early and getting to rest up while the Giants battled back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the St. Louis Cardinals and somehow make their way into the World Series. They came in with a pitching rotation lined up behind Verlander and sluggers who figured to give two pitchers who were big question marks fits.

The Vegas oddsmakers favored them, especially in Game 1. But they've been shut down by San Francisco's pitching, and everything the Giants do seems to work.

As if anything else could go wrong for the Tigers, starting pitcher Doug Fister was hit in the head with a line drive by Blanco in the second inning that bounced off of him and ended up in center field for a hit. Thankfully, Fister didn't seem injured by the glancing blow and went on to retire 12 straight Giants during one stretch.

``I'm not concerned. I have a minor bump,'' Fister said. ``According to my dad my whole life his saying has always been if I got hit in the head I'd be OK. That's how I take it.''

The Tigers may not be able to absorb their lumps in San Francisco as easily. They've got to find a way to rekindle their offense, and do it against the two best starters the Giants have, and they have to find a closer they can trust after the awful postseason Jose Valverde is having.

But they'll be at home in front of friendly fans, and it does still take wins in four games to win a World Series.

``They definitely got the breaks on their side, but they also play good baseball,'' Fielder said. ``Hopefully we go home and we get some breaks our way.''

If anything, the Tigers can take some consolation in what the Giants have done themselves. Just when all seemed lost in their playoff opener against Cincinnati, they won the last three games on the road to win the series, and followed that by beating the Cardinals three straight to get in the series.

Compared to that, coming back from a 2-0 deficit with the next three games at home seems quite doable for the Tigers.

``This is baseball,'' Cabrera said. ``It's no time to put your head down. We're going try go out there more aggressive at home, trying to win the first one. If we win the first one I think it's going to be a different story.''

After a long two days in San Francisco, the Tigers can only hope that story has a better ending.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or follow athttp://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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Williamson homers again, Giants top Nationals 4-3

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USA TODAY Sports

Williamson homers again, Giants top Nationals 4-3

SAN FRANCISCO -- Mac Williamson had to dust himself off after crashing into a low padded wall near the stands in left field while chasing a foul ball.

More frustrated than hurt, Williamson took it out on Nationals pitcher Tanner Roark a few moments later after undergoing a series of concussion tests in the dugout.

Williamson homered for the second straight night and third in five games, hitting a tiebreaking shot in the sixth inning to lead San Francisco to a 4-3 victory over Washington on Tuesday night.

"I got pretty lucky," Williamson said. "I felt fine then and I feel fine now. I'm sure once the adrenalin wears off later tonight, tomorrow we'll see how the body feels. I'm sure I'll be a little sore."

Brandon Belt hit his fifth home run in six games, Joe Panik added three hits and scored twice, and the Giants won their third straight and fourth in the last five.

One night after hitting a 464-foot homer in the series opener, Williamson hit a first-pitch solo shot to center off Roark with two outs in the sixth inning that bounced off the top of the wall and broke a 3-all tie. It wasn't as far as Monday's clout -- this one went 423 feet -- but was just as pivotal for the Giants.

"We've talked about what a shot in the arm he's been and he's more than that," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "He came through again tonight. Good for him because he's worked hard at it."

Williamson's deciding home run came one inning after he stumbled over the bullpen mound in foul territory and crashed into a low wall near the stands while trying to chase down Bryce Harper's foul ball. Williamson stayed down briefly as team trainers rushed out before getting to his feet.

"I tried to roll my neck a little bit and my head down a little bit when I started going down," Williamson said. "I think that helped break my fall. I was just a little frustrated I didn't come up with the play. I had it in my glove and it came out."

Belt hit a two-run shot off Roark (1-2) in the third.

Michael Taylor had a three-run homer for Washington, which has lost four straight and 14 of 20 since opening the season 4-0.

"It seems like that sixth inning's been biting us in the rear as of late," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "We're swinging the bats. We just can't get the big hit with people on base."

Reyes Moronta (1-0) retired six batters for his first career win. Sam Dyson pitched one inning and Hunter Strickland worked the ninth for his fifth save.

The Giants got a run off Roark in the first but left the bases loaded when Evan Longoria struck out looking to end the inning. Belt homered on a 3-2 pitch from Roark in the second to make it 3-0.

Washington tied it on Taylor's three-run homer off starter Ty Blach in the third. Ryan Zimmerman walked and Moises Sierra singled before Taylor's deep drive into the right-field stands.

Roark went into the game 6-0 in seven career games against San Francisco but couldn't find a rhythm this time. He allowed four runs on six hits, walked two and hit a batter and threw a pair of wild pitches.

WHERE DID IT GO?

Panik hit a soft comebacker to Roark in the fifth that glanced off the pitcher's glove then bounced up on the top of his cap before falling to the turf. Roark initially couldn't locate the ball but found it in time to throw to first for the out.

AILING BLACH

Blach allowed three runs and four hits in five innings. After the game, Bochy said the left-hander suffered from food poisoning last week and was given an IV on Monday. "That was a really gutty effort that he gave us," Bochy said.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: Placed RHP Shawn Kelley on the 10-disabled list with ulnar nerve irritation in his right elbow. Infielder/outfielder Matt Reynolds was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse and outfielder Rafael Bautista and infielder Adrian Sanchez were called up.

UP NEXT

Nationals RHP Max Scherzer (4-1, 1.36 ERA) and Giants RHP Jeff Samardzija (1-0, 0.00) take to the mound for the series finale at AT&T Park on Wednesday. Samardzija is making his second start after beginning the season on the disabled list.

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Rainout delays Orioles RHP Cobb's reunion with Rays

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Rainout delays Orioles RHP Cobb's reunion with Rays

BALTIMORE -- The Tampa Bay Rays have to wait at least one more day before taking their swings against former teammate Alex Cobb.

Cobb, now with the Baltimore Orioles, was scheduled to face his old team on Tuesday night before the game was postponed by rain.

Thus, Cobb will start Wednesday in the delayed start of this series between the only two AL East teams with losing records.

The rainout will be made up as part of single-admission doubleheader on May 12.

It was the 27th major league game to be postponed this season, the most related to weather through April since the commissioner's office started keeping records in 1986. Detroit's game at Pittsburgh was washed out later Tuesday, raising the total to 28.

Cobb, 30, spent his entire career with the Rays before signing with Baltimore as a free agent on March 21. Over six years with Tampa Bay, the right-hander was 48-35 and one of the leaders of the staff.

"He was a crucial part to this organization's success," Rays starter Chris Archer said. "He's a big-game pitcher and somebody who's very consistent, very routine oriented. The competitive nature rubbed off on me and rubbed off on the other guys in this clubhouse as well."

Cobb signed a $57 million, four-year deal with the Orioles, who will be counting on him to deliver the same kind of pitching and leadership in Baltimore.

Thus far, it hasn't gone well. Cobb got off to a late start because he missed most of spring training, and since his return he's gone 0-2 with a 15.43 ERA.

"Abbreviation has affected that," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "He's going to get going here. Hopefully he can wait one more start before he does."

Brad Miller was down to bat cleanup for the Rays on Tuesday night before the game was called. Miller knew better than to chat with his old friend beforehand.

"Definitely wouldn't talk to him on his start days," Miller said. "Thought about maybe texting him just to rattle him a little bit, but ... ."

Miller won't know what to think when he sees Cobb wearing the orange and black of the Orioles.

"It's definitely going to be weird seeing him on the mound," Miller said. "I miss Cobb a lot. He was the ultimate competitor."

And that, Miller contends, is what sets Cobb apart from most pitchers.

"He's a bulldog. Really intense, kind of an old-school throwback starting pitcher," Miller said. "He's going to go out there and do anything he can for his team. So that, for me, is obviously his biggest trait."

The rainout came at an opportune time for the Orioles, who are hampered by injuries and have lost nine of 10 games to fall 11 games under .500 (6-17).

Baltimore's projected starting lineup did not include infielder Tim Beckham, who's been bothered by a groin injury and is expected to land on the 10-day disabled list.

With Beckham out and Trey Mancini playing with a tender right knee, manager Buck Showalter would have been operating with a short bench.

Help is on the way: Baltimore claimed utility infielder Jace Peterson on waivers from the New York Yankees. He's expected to arrive Wednesday.