Commentary

Giants crush Tigers' aura

By beating Justin Verlander, San Francisco showed it won't be intimidated

Updated: October 25, 2012, 12:49 PM ET
By Howard Bryant | ESPN.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- These Giants aren't Those Giants, the ones who ended the championship drought dating back to the New York chapter of the franchise. Buster Posey is the only regular starter from the 2010 champs' lineup, but the lineage to the first championship team in San Francisco Giants history, though, could be felt in the first inning, when Pablo Sandoval took Justin Verlander out of the yard and started the Giants toward a Game 1 rout.

It was reminiscent of the opener in 2010, in this same ballpark against the big-hitting Texas Rangers, when the Giants crushed the indomitable, unbeatable Cliff Lee, 11-7.

If it is true that the most important element of postseason baseball is that starting pitcher on the hill who will not lose, whose presence changes the scope of the series, whose place on the mound is where October legend is written, the Giants, as they did to a red-hot Lee two years ago, immediately eliminated the opposition's aura by taking down Verlander, widely considered the game's best pitcher.

[+] EnlargeJustin Verlander
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsVerlander allowed five runs in just four innings, including two homers.

For their part, the Detroit Tigers did not lose much Wednesday night. A win by the Tigers in Game 2 returns the World Series to Detroit tied with three games in their home ballpark, where they were 50-31 during the regular season. Expecting to win in a Verlander start is one thing, certainly -- the Tigers hadn't lost a Verlander start since Sept. 8 -- but the goal of beginning a seven-game series on the road is to come home with a split. Doug Fister, the Game 2 starter, just saw his job grow slightly more difficult in that his team needs a strong performance, but even losing both games in San Francisco is not exactly catastrophic for the Tigers because they are going home for three games.

The significance of the evening was far more weighted toward San Francisco not because they are decided underdogs in this Series (they aren't, they won 94 games this season) but because the biggest advantage Detroit owned over the Giants was the mighty Verlander, the difference-maker. It was the prospect of Verlander pitching potentially three times in the Series when Matt Cain -- because he pitched the clincher against the Cardinal in the National League Championship Series -- will likely start only once on regular rest.

"First of all, you have to give the Giant hitters credit. I think that's where you start," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Second of all, I think probably a little bit of a layoff. It's been quite a while since he's pitched. I think he just got out of pitching, started throwing a little bit too much.

"I'm one that's been around long enough to know that a lot of things happen in this game. This was a big, hyped game with Justin, probably a lot of pressure on him. But I don't think it had anything to do with the pressure. His fastball command was not good. He got out of sync."

Psychologically, where every morsel of edge has value, taking Verlander out after just four innings when he was the hottest pitcher in the sport, has tremendous value. In his three previous postseason starts, Verlander was 3-0 with 25 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings. He pitched a complete-game, 11-strikeout masterpiece in the winner-take-all division series finale at Oakland and put the Yankees on the edge in Game 3 of the ALCS by pitching 8 1/3 of one-run ball.

Leading up to the Series, Verlander had begun to build the kind of resume in which opposing batters were not only faced with his formidable skill, but also his reputation. The Giants put a stop to that, as they did with Lee. On this night, it happened with tough hitting (all five runs off Verlander came with two out) and some luck (Angel Pagan's two-out double caromed off of the third-base bag and set up Pablo Sandoval's second homer) and a career night from Sandoval, all of which Bruce Bochy couldn't quite quantify.

"It's hard to figure this game sometimes," the Giants manager said. "You hear the old adage, 'That's baseball.' These guys are human, and sometimes they're not on the top of their game. We know what a great pitcher he is, I'm sure he made a few more mistakes than he normally does, but what's important is that we took advantage and found a way to score off of him."

[+] EnlargeCliff Lee
Ron Jenkins/Getty ImagesLee had allowed two runs in 24 postseason innings in 2010, before getting lit up in Game 1 of the Series.

Entering Game 2, the blueprint now mimics 2010 for the Giants and 2006 for the Tigers, the latter when Detroit got walloped in Game 1 by the St. Louis Cardinals and was eliminated in Game 5. The Giants can now think greedily. The game they weren't as likely to win now lies in their quiver, while the Tigers must spring to life and begin to give themselves positivity to believe that the weeklong break between the LCS and the World Series hasn't again sapped them of the their championship energy.

Fister has been terrific in his two postseason starts, though he has no decisions to show for both. He's not the issue. The issue for the Tigers is being a pitcher short in the bullpen because deposed closer Jose Valverde found no answers in Game 1 and certainly Leyland -- "He wasn't terrible, but he wasn't good" was how he summarized Valverde -- cannot have much confidence in him.

Giants Game 2 starter Madison Bumgarner, meanwhile, has been hit hard in two starts this postseason, failing to escape the fifth inning in the division series against Cincinnati and failing to get out of the fourth in the NLCS against the Cardinals. However, it was Bumgarner who pitched eight innings of three-hit, shutout ball in Game 3 of the World Series against the Rangers in 2010.

Verlander is arguably the best pitcher in the game, and the Series is just beginning, but in a short series in which momentum is the byproduct not only of talent and production but feel, the Giants accomplished no small feat For when they again face Verlander, it will be knowing he is human, knowing not only that he can be beaten, but it was their lineup that returned him, at least for one night, back to earth. Aside from the psychological victory, the rest of the series moves forward.

"I'm a guy that doesn't believe in momentum in baseball. I think momentum is your next day's pitcher," Leyland said. "We did not pitch good tonight, obviously. I think you can pretty much sum it up: When you use five pitchers in a game that Justin Verlander starts, that's not good tonic. Probably whichever starter pitches best tomorrow will probably win the game."