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Thursday, October 25, 2012
Updated: October 26, 4:13 AM ET
Giants' winning recipe

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- A bunt hops down the third-base line and suddenly hits the emergency brake, inches away from rolling foul ...

A routine infield chopper caroms off the third-base bag and boomerangs into the Bermuda Triangle ...

A team that just finished hitting the fewest home runs in the entire sport wins a World Series game because Pablo Sandoval, a guy who launched 12 homers all year, makes three historic home run trots on one night ...

Hunter Pence somehow hits the same baseball three times with the same swing, and a sure double-play ball Frisbees into a bases-clearing double.

Welcome to the bizarro world of the team that now leads the 2012 World Series, two games to zip. A week ago, the San Francisco Giants were on life support. Now the planets seem to jump out of their orbits every evening to will every single baseball to bounce whichever way the Giants need it to bounce.

Miguel Cabrera
The Tigers were helpless on Gregor Blanco's perfect bunt in the seventh inning.

The team that leads the World Series isn't quite sure why these things are happening. But one thing we've noticed: Nobody is complaining.

"Unbelievable, unbelievable," said Gregor Blanco, the man who dropped the fateful, pivotal bunt that refused to roll foul on Thursday in the Giants' 2-0 Game 2 win over the reeling, rust-encrusted Detroit Tigers. "But that's why baseball is so fun. And if it means we have to win with luck, that's fine. Especially right now. Especially right now in the World Series."

There is more going on right now than luck, of course. Madison Bumgarner pulled out of the delivery-repair shop and spun seven shutout innings in this game. The Giants continue to have patient, intelligent at-bats in big spots. And Marco Scutaro seemed to materialize out of nowhere to make a game-changing relay throw to nail Prince Fielder at home plate in the second inning.

But the line between winning and losing these epic October baseball games is often drawn by moments that defy logic, by hops that defy gravity, by events that defy predictability.

And if you haven't noticed that almost all those moments, all those hops and all those unpredictable events have been spinning the Giants' way in the past week, you've been way too transfixed by the NBA exhibition season.

You can decide for yourself if it's luck, if it's coincidence or if it's the baseball gods at work. But something is going on here. And it's devouring the Tigers in its path, just the way Whatever The Heck It Is chewed up the St. Louis Cardinals last week.

"I don't know about baseball gods," said reliever Jeremy Affeldt. "But like I keep saying, I hope the ball keeps bouncing our way."

The thing to remember about teams that "catch breaks" in games like this, of course, is that they have to put themselves in position to make those breaks matter. And the Giants have done a darned fine job of doing that during a franchise-record five-game postseason winning streak -- by pummeling the Cardinals and Tigers by a combined score of (ready?) 30-4.

This team has gotten a little starting pitching in this streak, too, by the way. Just a little.

Over the past five games, Giants starters have allowed a ridiculous total of TWO earned runs in 33 innings. That computes to an ERA of 0.55 -- in the most important games of their season. And one thing us veteran baseball observers have noticed is this:

If the other team almost never scores, you tend to win a lot.

But what's been especially eye-opening about this run of starting pitching is that much of it has come from pitchers whose seasons seemed to have skidded off the tracks -- and now, suddenly, are back to hanging zeroes all over the scoreboard, night after night.

Madison Bumgarner
Bumgarner was able to rediscover his form to shut down the Tigers in Game 2.

There was Ryan Vogelsong, who went through a seven-start stretch in August and September in which his ERA was 10.31 -- and now hasn't given up more than one run in any of his six starts since.

There was Barry Zito, written off as a lost cause, hooked in the third inning of an NLDS start, skipped in the first turn through the NLCS rotation -- and now looming as a season-saving heroic figure, after allowing one run in 13 1/3 innings over his past two starts.

Then, on Thursday, it was Bumgarner's turn.

He had an 11.25 ERA in two postseason starts. He hadn't made it through the fifth inning of any start in more than a month. And his delivery was so out of whack, he and pitching coach Dave Righetti spent the past week and a half trying to retool it on the fly with three intensive bullpen sessions.

So, naturally, they worked. Perfectly. Like everything else the Giants have touched lately.

As people on the outside were busy speculating that Bumgarner was hurt or had just been over-pitched over the past three seasons, the Giants saw something else. They saw a guy whose arm angle had dropped, whose hip turn had gotten too pronounced and who almost seemed to be delivering the ball in slow motion because he was searching mid-delivery for some semblance of his old mechanics.

On Thursday night, he managed to spin off seven innings of two-hit, eight-strikeout, zero-run baseball. And by the end of the evening, here was the niche in Giants postseason history he'd just carved for himself:

Since the Giants moved to the West Coast 55 years ago, they've now thrown four World Series shutouts. HALF of them have been started by Madison Bumgarner (Game 4 in the 2010 World Series and now Game 2 in the 2012 World Series).

Pretty cool for a guy who's still only 23 years old. He's also the first man to start two World Series games before the age of 23, incidentally, since Steve Avery for the 1991-92 Braves.

Afterward, Bumgarner did a better job of avoiding those pesky mechanics questions than his fastball did of avoiding bats. But he did tell ESPN Radio's Boog Sciambi: "We found some problems in my mechanics that we fixed. It worked out. And I'm glad it did."

But things like this don't just "work out." Pitchers don't make miraculous, on-the-fly, delivery renovations -- in the middle of the postseason -- every year, you know.

It takes a pitcher with an innate aptitude for pitching. And it takes a pitching coach with a singular feel for quick, simple, understandable adjustments -- which Dave Righetti has always had.

What makes Righetti so good, said Vogelsong, is that "he's done everything you can do in his career as a pitcher. He's started, closed, middle relief. He's done it all. So there's nothing that you're going to go through as a pitcher that he hasn't encountered."

And Bumgarner, meanwhile, continues to prove he's a special talent with a special feel for big moments.

"It's hard to fix something mechanically like that and then not only carry it into a game, but carry it into a big game," said Vogelsong. "Sometimes you go out and you think you've fixed something, but then it has to be something that you're capable of repeating in a big-game situation. That's something, quite honestly, I don't think I'd be able to perform that well."

But on some nights in October, it even takes more than seven shutout innings for a team like this to find a way to win.

Like the right bunt trickling to a stop in exactly the right spot at exactly the right time, for instance.

So welcome to the bottom of the seventh inning of a 0-0 World Series game. The Giants had runners on first and second. There were no outs. And the hitter was Blanco -- one of those typical out-of-nowhere Giants success stories, a 27-year-old free agent who spent 2011 in Triple-A and has become an invaluable outfield defender and everyday player in the wake of Melky Cabrera's suspension.

Blanco would square to bunt on five consecutive pitches against Tigers left-hander Drew Smyly. So it wasn't as if the Giants were trying to shock anybody with a surprise outburst of good old National League play-for-one-run baseball.

"Everybody in the ballpark, everybody watching television, everyone knew he was bunting," said Giants small-ball coach Tim Flannery. "That's what's impressive, when a guy can get a ball down in that situation."

But when Blanco dropped this game-turning bunt down the third-base line, even he didn't think it was about to become the most pivotal moment of the Giants' latest magical October mystery tour.

Bruce Bochy
Bruce Bochy is now two wins away from his second title in three seasons with the Giants.

In fact, Blanco chopped this bunt off the plate, then roared down the first-base line talking to the baseball spinning on the dirt behind him, saying: "Just stay fair. Just stay fair."

Consider that prayer answered. The baseball hopped down the third-base line, zig-zagged along the dirt at the edge of the infield grass, appeared to be spinning foul and then ...

"That's what we're talking about," said Affeldt. "The bounces have got to roll your way. It could have rolled foul. There's a lot of times that ball rolls foul. But it didn't. It stopped. It literally just stopped."

Yep. Stopped. Fair ball. Bunt single. Bases loaded. Nobody out. Amazing.

Blanco has laid down a few bunts in this ballpark in his year as a Giant. Asked how unusual this one was, he replied: "If I bunt that ball that way 100 times, maybe one out of 100 stays fair."

One out of 100. Does that sum up the roll these 2012 Giants are on or what?

That bunt laid the groundwork for the Giants to score the eventual winning run on Brandon Crawford's double-play ground ball. Then they would eke out a second run in the eighth inning without even mixing in a hit, making them the first team to win a World Series game without getting one measly RBI hit since the 1986 Boston Red Sox.

But what can we say? It figures. There's no luck these days like Giants luck.

"This is a game where you have to have luck for sure," said Blanco. "You can go 0-for-20 with 20 good at-bats, and you're still 0-for-20. But you always have to have luck. And that's what we've been having."

In Game 1 of this World Series, the Giants won because a guy hit 1,200 feet worth of home runs. In Game 2, they won because a guy hit a ball 40 feet. You'll have to decide for yourself what this tells us about baseball and about this team -- because the Giants themselves aren't ready to analyze it yet.

"I don't assume anything," said Flannery. "And I don't know how it ends. I just know these guys are still here."