- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
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SAN FRANCISCO -- The Detroit Tigers haven't had any players get busted for flirting with Australian bikini models in the stands in the first two games of the World Series. But they're beginning to get a sense for just how powerless they made the New York Yankees feel in the previous round of the playoffs.
The West Coast leg of the World Series is complete, and Detroit's batting order has been downright feeble in 8-3 and 2-0 losses. The Tigers are hitting .167, with a total of seven singles and three extra-base hits against Barry Zito, Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco bullpen. Think back a few days, and the Tigers were supposed to have a major advantage out of the gate because they would be missing the Giants' Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong in the first two games at AT&T Park. Remember that popular media talking point?
Maybe the extended layoff from their sweep of New York has dulled the Tigers' edge or they're just destined to be road kill for a San Francisco team that's playing with precision and confidence and catching every ball and every break. Or maybe the Giants have so much energy and exuberance, they're creating their own breaks. Those subtle distinctions barely matter, because the situation is about to cross the threshold from worrisome to dire for the Tigers if they can't craft a plot twist very soon.
The Tigers donned their one-game-at-a-time faces late Thursday night, and expressed confidence that Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer can get things back on track in Games 3 and 4, respectively, before handing the relay baton to Justin Verlander in Game 5 at Comerica on Monday. At least, that's the tentative best-case scenario.
"We've battled all year, and we were behind in our division [to the White Sox] all year," Detroit catcher Gerald Laird said. "We know what it takes. We've won three in a row. We've won four in a row. We just have to do like we've been doing, and I like our chances. We have a good ballclub. We can still win four games before they win two."
Still, as the Tigers left balmy California for inclement weather in Detroit, several principals in Thursday's defeat had plenty of time to kick around missed opportunities on the red-eye:
• Third-base coach Gene Lamont can reflect on his decision to wave home Prince Fielder with nobody out in the second inning -- effectively running the Tigers out of an early threat and allowing Bumgarner to regain his equilibrium and get on a roll.
After Fielder reached on a hit-by-pitch to start the second, Delmon Young hit a shot inside the third-base line. Fielder chugged around the bases with the alacrity of a canoe navigating McCovey Cove only to be cut down on a sterling relay throw from Marco Scutaro to Buster Posey, who is under express orders not to block home plate after suffering a gruesome ankle injury early in the 2011 season.
Lamont, manager Jim Leyland's most trusted lieutenant and closest friend in baseball, wore a look of pained resignation as he reconstructed the play in the clubhouse after the game. He said he got "overly aggressive," because he knew runs were at a premium, and took a risk he might not otherwise have entertained.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Fielder had 11 opportunities to score from first base on doubles during the regular season. He was safe at home three times and was held at third base the other eight. This time, Lamont just picked a bad night to be wrong. That's the plight of a major league third-base coach. The wisdom of a call can't be judged until a bang-bang play at the plate, and judgment can be quick and merciless.
"If I had to do it again, I can't say I wouldn't have sent him," Lamont said. "But he's out, and it doesn't look good. The difficult part is nobody wants to talk to you unless you [mess] up. There are guys in Detroit that I see every day who haven't said hello to me all year."
Fielder initially kicked up a fuss because he thought Posey had missed him with the tag. The TV replay confirmed that Posey caught Fielder on the butt and that plate umpire Dan Iassogna made the right call.
"Anytime those big plays happen that don't go your way, it takes away your momentum," Fielder said. "But you've got to be aggressive. They made a great play."
• Did Leyland make the correct call in playing the infield back during a scoreless tie in the seventh?
With the bases loaded and nobody out, Leyland elected to play his infield back and concede a run. Brandon Crawford did, indeed, ground into a double play, but Hunter Pence scored to give the Giants a 1-0 lead. And the Tigers couldn't overcome it in their final two innings.
"To be honest with you, we were absolutely thrilled to come out of that inning with one run," Leyland said. "Absolutely thrilled. I mean, we had to score anyway. You give them two and it makes it a little bit tougher, obviously, but we felt like we didn't want them to open it up. We got the double-play ball and we got out of it, and it actually worked out really good for us."
• Through the first two games, Fielder and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera are a combined 2-for-11 with a pair of singles and very little in the way of good fortune. In the series opener, they both were robbed by Gregor Blanco on line drives to left field. In Game 2, Cabrera hit a tracer down the left-field line, but the typically range-bound Pablo Sandoval made a leaping, balletic stab to steal an extra-base hit.
As Detroit hitting coach Lloyd McClendon pointed out before the World Series, even superstars can struggle in October because they're facing the best rotations, elite relievers and very few back-end-of-the-staff arms. Fielder and Cabrera also have been planned for and scouted ad nauseam for weeks by opposing talent evaluators on the lookout for every minor hole, hitch or flaw in their swings or approach. And when pitchers put the game plan in motion the way Zito and Bumgarner did in Games 1 and 2, it can make for very frustrating and unfulfilling evenings at the yard.
"Scouts can't execute pitches," Young said. "Players execute pitches. It's not the coaches. It's not the front office or the scouts or the video and TV [guys]. If you throw it down the middle, we're gonna hit it. If you hit your spots, mix up your pitches and go in and out, you're gonna pitch well. Bumgarner really executed tonight."
During the regular season, the Tigers were shut out a major league-low twice in 162 games. Through 11 games in the playoffs and World Series, they've been blanked twice. Cabrera and Fielder have combined for two long balls in 85 at-bats this postseason. If they don't mix in a couple of home run trots in the next few days, it's going to be increasingly tougher for Detroit to win.
"It's part of the game," Fielder said. "They're not going to throw us center cuts all day. That's just the way it is."
The Tigers failed to capitalize on an inspirational moment in Game 2 when starting pitcher Doug Fister took a Blanco line drive off the head and stayed in to pitch. On most nights, Fister would be hailed as heroic. On this night, he was just a valiant afterthought.
"That speaks volumes to what a competitor he is," Laird said. "He wanted to be out there. It was his first start in a World Series, and they were going to have to drag him off the field. He's got guts. I got pumped up, like, 'This guy is staying in the game. Let's [get] the job done for him today.'"
As the scoreboard confirmed, the Tigers failed to get the job done. And unless things turn around soon, they'll be doing public service announcements to alert future playoff teams about the hazards of wrapping up a series too quickly and going stale.
As the Tigers left the balmy California weather for three games in frigid and storm-riddled Detroit, an unpleasant reality stared them in the face: Two more losses, and they're the ones who'll be placed in cold storage for the winter.
Offense and opportunities have eluded the Tigers, who return to Detroit in need of a speedy recovery.