DETROIT — If the Detroit Tigers are to go down in this World Series — and by now, both logic and history would say that’s a certainty — they will do so for all sorts of reasons, most notably a nearly complete and utter inability to hit. Go around the home clubhouse Saturday night at Comerica Park, and find a player who has consistently produced offensively over the past three games. Go on. Keep looking.
The heroes for the San Francisco Giants in their 2-0 victory over the Tigers in Game 3 of the World Series were all pitchers, starting with right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, who handed off to Tim Lincecum in the sixth, who handed off to Sergio Romo in the ninth. All were stellar, and they combined to provide the first back-to-back shutouts in a World Series since the Baltimore Orioles blanked the Los Angeles Dodgers three straight times – in 1966.
Might that feat be matched Sunday, in Game 4? Who’s to say?
“Sometimes, you want to rank the staff — No. 1, No. 2,” Giants Manager Bruce Bochy said. “But with the way they’re throwing, we all look at them as a No. 1.”
Cheers, then, to the San Francisco rotation, because Vogelsong, Madison Bumgarner and Barry Zito have now combined to allow exactly one run in 172 / 3 innings against the Tigers. They’re the primary reasons the Giants lead the series three games to none. Should there be a parade in San Francisco in the coming days, they will have earned their way onto their floats.
But if this series was going to become an actual series, it wasn’t going to turn on the bat of Andy Dirks or Omar Infante or some other bit player. It had to be one of two men, or both: Miguel Cabrera and/or Prince Fielder. The former won the Triple Crown in the American League and hits third. The latter was the prize of last year’s free agent crop and bats fourth.
Their contributions in the three games of this series: 3 for 19. During the season, they combined for 148 extra-base hits. During the World Series, they have zero. In Game 3, Cabrera managed a bouncing single in four times up, Fielder nothing in his four trips, and the Tigers — whose pitchers have allowed all of four runs in the past two games — are in a hole from which no team has ever escaped in the World Series.
“The Tigers talk about team,” Manager Jim Leyland said. “They don’t talk about individuals. . . . We don’t point fingers at anybody in particular. That’s how we work here. That’s how we’ve operated since I’ve been here, and that’s how we’ll always operate.”
So point the finger in one direction: The Giants’ starting rotation, which has taken Detroit’s entire lineup, locked it in the trunk of an Edsel and driven it into the Detroit River. Over the first three games of this series, the Tigers have 13 hits off Zito, Bumgarner and Vogelsong. Since Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, San Francisco’s starters are 6-0 with a 0.47 ERA.
“It starts with our starter,” Bochy said.
So when Detroit had its early chances against Vogelsong, the they felt bigger, more important — because when would the next one come along?
In the first, the Comerica crowd, filled with pent-up energy, was ready to pounce. Rookie Quintin Berry drew a one-out walk, and Cabrera managed his single through the left side. Two on, one out, and — lo and behold — a rally, with Fielder coming up.
With the count 2-2, Vogelsong came with a slider, and Fielder rapped it right to second. There is almost no groundball on which Fielder couldn’t be doubled up, and this was no different. The double play ended the inning, and when the Giants came right back with two runs in the top of the second – Gregor Blanco’s run-scoring triple before Brandon Crawford’s two-out, RBI single — the pent-up energy was released with the pfffffft of air being let out of a tire.
Vogelsong, the 35-year-old whose journey includes stops in Japan and releases in mid-season, wasn’t quite as sharp as he had been in his most recent start, seven innings in which he allowed one run and struck out nine in Game 6 of the NLCS. With one out in the third, he gave up back-to-back singles. All that stood between him and Cabrera and Fielder was Berry.
But the crowd hardly had the chance to get into the moment. Berry chopped at Vogelsong’s first pitch, an easy double play. The 2-0 lead felt, at that moment, like 10-0.
Yet in the fifth, Vogelsong granted the Tigers a can’t-miss opportunity, loading the bases with one out. Vogelsong came at Berry with a 2-2 fastball, and Berry swung through it.
That brought up Cabrera, his first true chance to change the series. He swung at the first pitch, and sent a blooper over first base. It fell a few feet foul. At 0-1, he hacked at another fastball.
“Right now, he’s the best hitter in the game,” Vogelsong said. “I was just trying to make pitches there.”
That’s what he did, and there was that effect again, emphatically — pfffffft! Cabrera popped to short. The Tigers left the bases loaded.
“We’re not going to talk about one at-bat taking away how great Miguel Cabrera is,” Leyland said.
Fine, because there would be another. In the eighth, with Lincecum on the mound, Cabrera led off with a grounder that — in another game, in another series — might have been ticketed for center field. Crawford, the Giants’ shortstop, instead dived and snared it. He easily retired Cabrera at first.
So it was left to Fielder. His at-bat represented the series for these two stars. He took a slider for strike one. He took a fastball for strike two. And when Lincecum came back with a change-up in the dirt, Fielder bit. That strikeout might not have ended the game, but it served as another demoralizing chapter in the sorry tales of the Tigers’ two most dangerous hitters, their offseason approaching rapidly.