Commentary

It's make-or-break time for Tigers

Detroit needs to make ball bounce its way to avoid 3-0 deficit

Updated: October 27, 2012, 3:58 AM ET
By Howard Bryant | ESPN.com

Jim Leyland has been in baseball long enough to know the adages of the game as familiarly as his own social security number. He knows -- and said as much following his team's Game 1 World Series loss -- that he doesn't believe in momentum, that in baseball, momentum is the next day's starting pitcher. The rest of the noise and chatter and speculation he is quite willing to donate to the hype machine that cranks and overheats during travel days.

There is no hyperbole, however, to the predicament the Tigers are in. Their universe could settle closer to order with a Game 3 win Saturday night as the World Series shifts to Detroit. Otherwise, with a loss, they will have to make history to win their first World Series since 1984 by coming back from a 3-0 deficit -- a place from which no team has ever recovered in the World Series.

The adages are timeless, but momentum is not the only starting pitcher. In Game 2, the Tigers received a terrific performance from Doug Fister and still did not even the Series. When the Tigers arrive in Comerica Park, they will have to make their own luck, as the Giants have in this Series. While the Tigers have not played particularly poor baseball, San Francisco has played winning, championship baseball that has bordered on flawless. Flawless has translated into two-hitting a Detroit team that hadn't been two-hit all season. It has meant transforming a team that did not trail the Yankees for even a half-inning during the American League Championship Series into one that hasn't yet led in the World Series. It has meant Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera are 2-for-11 thus far. Each has one hit. Both were singles.

[+] EnlargeMiguel Cabrera
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesAfter watching Gregor Blanco's bunt roll fair in Game 2, Miguel Cabrera and Gerald Laird hope to see the breaks go their way in Detroit.

Over the first two games, the Giants have savored The Double That Bounced Off The Third-Base Bag, The Bunt That Would Not Roll Foul and The Buster Posey Double-Play Special. Each changed the direction of the moment, and two led directly to Giants runs that increased the pressure on the Tigers.

Watching the Series critically, it would be easy and generally accurate to say the first two games were close and could have gone either way -- even an opener that at one point was 8-1 in a game started by Justin Verlander -- if not for the freak plays, the breaks that favored San Francisco.

"That always helps, but you have to give [Gregor] Blanco credit; what a bunt he laid down," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "He couldn't have put down a better bunt than what he did. The relay was huge. Blanco recovered, and even though he overthrew [Brandon] Crawford, [Marco] Scutaro was right there, made a perfect throw, and Buster made a great tag. ... Defense can help you win games, and it's done that for us."

Such analysis also would, however, undermine what San Francisco has done and what the Tigers haven't. The Giants created their luck with defense: Blanco's two terrific defensive plays in the opener, sliding catches that robbed both Fielder and Cabrera. Then in Game 2, Pablo Sandoval robbed Cabrera. Before that, Scutaro erased Fielder at the plate on a Delmon Young double that would have given the Tigers their first lead of the Series.

Each play was important at the time and possessed the residual effect of keeping Fielder or Cabrera from getting hot, from feeling good. The Giants' defense reduced them to the moral victory of hitting the ball hard with nothing to show for it. Posey's quick feet and thinking on Young's fair ball off the plate-turned-double play had the same effect; defense snuffed a rally. Young is the most dangerous, underrated hitter in the Detroit lineup, the ALCS MVP against the Yankees and another player whose victories (a big double against Madison Bumgarner in Game 2) were turned sour by defense (Scutaro's peg nailing Fielder at home).

And then there was The Bunt, by Blanco, that loaded the bases and created what turned out to be the winning run in Game 2.

"I was saying, 'Let it roll. Let it roll,'" catcher Gerald Laird said. "Nine times out of 10, it goes foul. It just sat there ... but we have to score runs, too."

The term "the breaks" suggests luck, which is something fluky and fortuitous yet unearned. On the Tigers' side, Fister was great, but Detroit has not yet made a defining defensive play or positive game-altering play on the basepaths, or ripped a hit that penetrated the Giants' defense. In short, for the rest of the Series, the Tigers must make their own luck. The Giants, it should be remembered, not only pounded Verlander, but did so in the clutch, scoring all five runs against him with two out. That is not luck.

"No, it isn't luck. You have to keep playing. You have to keep playing hard," Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson said. "Good things are going to happen. We've had some tough breaks the last couple of games, but give them credit."

The best element of baseball is that it is the only sport in which during virtually every game, at some point, a team will have a chance to make a play. Verlander's losing and Sandoval's rising to the Reggie, Babe and Albert podium was the story of Game 1. But it also should be noted that when Barry Zito left in the sixth inning, he did so up 6-1 -- with two on and two out. A home run would have made the score 6-4, and perhaps the Series would have changed. Bumgarner gave up just two hits but dug himself out of two- and three-ball counts with very tough focus.

Fielder was thrown out at the plate. This is not luck. This is the margin, the proof of how thin the difference between winning and losing can be. When the Tigers return for Game 3, they must realize the breaks are waiting for them on the field, but the Giants are forcing them to play their very best.

"Well, No. 1, I don't think they're getting any breaks. I think they've earned everything they've got," Leyland said. "You got a freak play that hit the bag [in Game 1], but that's the game. I don't think they're getting any breaks.

"Up to this point, they've outplayed us. They did a little bit better than us [in Game 2]. They did quite a bit better than us [in Game 1], but I always tip my hat. I don't consider we're not getting breaks. I mean, Sandoval made a great catch. The left fielder made a great catch, two of them. I mean, they're playing good. They're playing like the Giants play, and we expected that coming in. They're good. They're really good."