DETROIT -- Maybe this is the new new thing in baseball: Build a starting rotation so good you can put your two-time Cy Young winner in the bullpen in the World Series, draft a future MVP to build your lineup around, piece together a bunch of hitters who take pitches and put the ball in play, be willing to spend some money for some veteran additions at the trade deadline, catch everything hit your way and a few that aren’t and, of course, catch a few breaks along the way to postseason glory.
The San Francisco Giants are the World Series champions of 2012. Maybe that wasn’t a wild prediction back in spring training, or at the start of the playoffs, but things certainly looked bleak when they lost the first two games at home to the Reds in the Division Series, or when they fell behind in the NLCS against the Cardinals. Both times they had to win three in a row.
In the World Series, it was a little easier -- a four-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers, including the first back-to-back shutouts since 1966.
Sunday night's Game 4 at Comerica Park was a more difficult win, a tense, exciting extra-inning affair that merely prolonged the agony of the cold and wet Tigers fans. With two outs in the top of the 10th inning, Marco Scutaro lined a 3-1 fastball from Phil Coke in front of center fielder Austin Jackson and Ryan Theriot tore around third base with the go-ahead run, the World Series-winning run in the Giants' 4-3 victory.
In the bottom of the inning, Sergio Romo mowed down Jackson and then pinch-hitter Don Kelly and only had to retire Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera to clinch the seventh World Series championship in franchise history and their second in three years. Romo threw five consecutive sliders -- that lethal slider that Romo learned in junior college in Colorado, a pitch that hitters just can’t seem to pick up -- to get the count to two balls and two strikes.
Surely, another one was coming. Instead, the sixth pitch was an 89 mph fastball down the middle. Cabrera couldn’t pull the trigger and the celebration was on.
That final inning summed up the magic of the 2012 Giants. Theriot, who started the inning with a bloop single to right, was making his first start of the postseason. Scutaro was one of general manager Brian Sabean’s midseason fortifications. Romo, the closer, was the third pitcher to assume that role for the Giants this season. It was a team effort, symbolic of the Giants’ strengths in this series compared to the Tigers: A deeper roster, timely hitting, the ability of bench players to step into bigger roles and deliver big hits and big outs.
Every World Series champion has stars, of course, and the Giants’ two biggest stars of 2012 -- Buster Posey and Matt Cain -- both came up big in Game 4. But as much as any recent World Series champion, this feels like a team effort, a title won by players one through 25, with a little help from manager Bruce Bochy's magic touch.
A sweep certainly wouldn't have been expected a few days ago. "I never would have thought we’d sweep the New York Yankees and I never would have thought we’d get swept," losing manager Jim Leyland said. "It’s a freaky game, but it happens."
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Both managers faced interesting decisions in the eighth inning, when the score was tied 3-3. After Octavio Dotel walked Scutaro on four pitches, Leyland could have brought in Coke to turn Pablo Sandoval around to his weaker side -- all six of his home runs in the postseason had come from the left side. And while Coke had held righties to a 2-for-14 mark in the postseason, they hit .396 off him in the regular season. Add in that Posey absolutely destroyed left-handers this season, and Leyland made the right move to leave in Dotel, a move that paid off when Dotel induced a 3-6-1 double play.
With Cain done after seven innings and 102 pitches, Bochy had the option of lefty Jeremy Affeldt to face Quintin Berry (or likely pinch-hitter Avisail Garcia), Cabrera and Prince Fielder, or right-hander Santiago Casilla. He chose Affeldt, who had thrown 8 2/3 scoreless innings in the postseason, meaning he’d take his chances against Cabrera. When Garcia walked on a 3-2 fastball, that meant Affeldt had to go right after Cabrera and he struck him out on three pitches. He threw a nasty 1-1 big-breaking ball to Fielder for a called strike and then got Fielder swinging on a 92 mph fastball. Affeldt got the side when he fanned Delmon Young on a 2-2 slider.
In the end, it wasn't a World Series that revolved around managerial decisions like last season's. Leyland made the right moves, Bochy made the right moves. Bochy's players just came through.
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Once again, the Giants' defense made some crucial plays, the highlight being Brandon Crawford's bare-handed pickup and throw to gun down Berry after Berry’s grounder deflected off Cain’s glove. The play ended the fifth and left Cabrera leading off the sixth instead of batting with two runners on. Sandoval also made a nice play on Berry’s bunt in the third, with Brandon Belt scooping Sandoval’s low throw. Cabrera followed that play with his home run -- a two-run shot, instead of what could have been a three-run shot, the jet stream carried over the fence in right.
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Posey had gone 10 games without an extra-base hit since hitting the big grand slam off the Reds' Mat Latos in Game 5 of the Division Series. But the likely NL MVP had the game's most important hit, a two-run homer off a Max Scherzer changeup in the sixth inning, lined just fair down the left-field line.
While Posey came through, the Tigers' big stars didn't. Cabrera hit the two-run homer but struck out three times, something he had done just once in the regular season. Fielder went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and the two sluggers finished just 4-for-27 in the series.
The Tigers had to ride their stars. The Giants rode an entire team.