SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco Giants have played textbook baseball in their past five games, baseball so beautiful that John McGraw is probably up in baseball heaven telling Ty Cobb, "That's Giants baseball. That's how you play the game."
That bunt Gregor Blanco dropped in Game 2? It’s not complete luck the ball rolled to a stop on the dirt between the grass and the foul line. He said he practices 10 to 15 bunts a day during batting practice.
“Although maybe never one that perfect,” he said with a laugh after the game.
The relay throw that Marco Scutaro cut off to nail Prince Fielder at home -- after Blanco had overthrown Brandon Crawford? That wasn’t by accident. Asked about the play, Crawford looked like he’d been asked if he’d been abducted by aliens.
"We practice it in spring training," he said. "It’s kind of routine for us."
The fact that Doug Fister threw 114 pitches in six-plus innings while Madison Bumgarner threw just 86 in seven innings in Game 2? That’s all part of the plan as well -- grind out at-bats, work the count, put pressure on the defense.
"Oh yeah, Angel [Pagan], Marco and myself, we know we’re not power hitters, so we try to make the pitcher work out there," Blanco said. "Marco has been really helpful, telling me what kind of pitches to expect from pitchers in certain situations. He’s a veteran and knows a lot, and his leadership has helped us."
Practicing bunts, relay throws and working the count isn’t enough. You still have to execute. That’s what the Giants have done for five games, outscoring the Cardinals and Tigers 30-4 over that span.
"We know what kind of team we are," Pagan said. "Pitching and defense."
Pagan may be selling his teammates a little short on their offense, actually. The Giants don’t hit home runs -- finishing last in the major leagues in that department -- but they do score runs. While they’re seemingly built for the spacious alleys of AT&T Park, they score a lot of runs on the road, leading the NL in runs scored away from home during the season (and only the Angels scored more in the majors).
What the Giants don’t do is rely on the long ball to generate offense. Pagan and Scutaro have been terrific at setting the table. Even if they’re not getting on base, they’re making the opposing pitcher throw a lot of pitches. Pagan saw 25 pitches in Game 1 and 20 in Game 2. Scutaro saw 18 and 19. Compare that to Detroit’s big sluggers, Miguel Cabrera and Fielder, who combined to see just 41 pitches in the first two games.
There’s an art to that kind of execution, just like there’s an art to even a routine play like Blanco’s bunt. On that play, Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta was playing close to second, trying to hold Hunter Pence as close as possible. With third baseman Cabrera playing in, that meant there was a big hole Blanco could attempt to slap the ball through. Blanco said he has the green light to do that, but in this case it was "a bunt all the way. Cabrera actually wasn’t charging all that hard."
"We know their defense isn’t that good," Pagan said. "You get a bunt down there, and you never know what might happen."
The Tigers’ defense hasn’t been a liability, although Delmon Young’s throw home in Game 1 was laughably horrible, but the Giants’ defense has made some key plays, most notably Scutaro’s relay to gun down Fielder. Blanco made two diving catches in left field to rob Cabrera and Fielder of hits in Game 1, and Pablo Sandoval made a nice snag of Cabrera’s line-drive screamer in Game 2.
As the series heads to Detroit, maybe that’s something the Tigers can turn to. Cabrera and Fielder are due for some long-ball action, having combined for just two home runs, or even just for some of those line drives to fall. Fielder was hit by the first pitch in one plate appearance in Game 2, but in his other six PAs, he has seen just 16 pitches, appearing a little overanxious at the plate. In 11 postseason games, Fielder is hitting .205/.271/.273 with just one extra-base hit and three walks. Cabrera has stung the ball a couple of times, but he also has just one home run. In the end, the Tigers are still a team that essentially rides the brute force of its starting rotation and its No. 3 and 4 hitters.
The Giants realize that postseason baseball can turn on a dime. Pagan said as much when he mentioned after Game 2 that the Giants “may not even be here except for an error” in the Reds series, alluding to Scott Rolen’s bobble in extra innings of Game 3 that kept that series alive. They know the Tigers were a much better team at home during the regular season -- 50-31 versus 38-43 on the road. Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer are quality starters, and if you win one of two, Justin Verlander will be ready for Game 5.
But right now the Giants are making the plays and doing the little things. Do that for two more games and they'll be World Series champions for the second time in three years.