DETROIT -- When it all works, and the pitcher's knees are knocking and the house is rocking and the big boys are running up pitch counts and crushing balls over the fence 163 times a year, winning Triple Crowns and pennants, solving problems with one heavy swing from the batter's box is the scariest, most exciting game in baseball.
When it doesn't, and all the muscle-flexing has been replaced with forlorn returns to the dugout after yet another out, yet another zero on the board, yet another missed chance while the other team is racing and flying, dynamic and energized, creating its own momentum and its own breaks far more than simply benefiting from it, nothing in baseball looks more resigned and unimaginative and helpless.
Facing a four-game sweep, the Detroit Tigers have reached the end. The World Series is threatening to be over in an eye blink with historic proportion. The Tigers have yet to lead in this series, something that hasn't happened over the first three games of a World Series since 1976. The Tigers haven't trailed 3-0 in a World Series since losing the 1907 Series to the Cubs. The Giants became the first National League team to record consecutive World Series shutouts since 1919 -- and that series, won by the Reds over the infamous White Sox, was fixed.
More tellingly, the Series has thus far followed an old, stereotypical pattern. The Tigers face elimination because Plan A hasn't worked and there is no Plan B. The Giants are a game away from a second championship in three years having adopted the historical characteristics of their league, stealing bases, playing defense, forcing action National League-style.
The Giants scored but two runs in Game 3, both in the second inning, courtesy of a Hunter Pence leadoff walk, a stolen base, a wild pitch that moved Pence to third and a key triple by Gregor Blanco. The second run came two batters later, when Brandon Crawford bounced a two-out single to center -- yet another two-out RBI -- while the Tigers, unable to score through power, look like an American League team, slow afoot, muddied by the DH, beaten to the punch.
Facing elimination in Sunday's Game 4 and, they hope, two more games following to set up what today looks to be an improbable Game 7 in San Francisco, the Tigers have a choice. They can believe that their bashing motif will return during the desperate hours, or get quicker and lighter and more active before the Giants send them home.
With the exception of the opener, when Justin Verlander had an off night, the Tigers have been terrific on the mound. Doug Fister virtually matched Madison Bumgarner in a Game 2 pitching duel worthy of a championship. In Game 3, Anibal Sanchez was fiery and demanding, unwilling to see his team lose on his watch. Neither he nor Ryan Vogelsong wilted from the moment.
"He was absolutely tremendous," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of his pitcher. "We got tremendous pitching effort, but we've been shut out for 18 innings, so it's pretty hard to win a game."
The differences on the mound in this series have been indiscernible the past two games -- and so, too, at the plate, as the Tigers have generally shut down the Giants. The difference is in the spark, that there's more to baseball than the pine tar. The Tigers in this series have been able to play just one note.
Three times in Game 3 the Tigers had a chance to alter the complexion of the series. The first was in the bottom of the first inning with two on and one out and Prince Fielder up. He hit into a 4-6-3 double play.
In the fifth, with the bases loaded and one out, Berry struck out on three pitches and Miguel Cabrera, the MVP candidate in an MVP moment, popped up weakly to shortstop.
"Obviously, I thought we had Ryan on the ropes a couple of times. We couldn't get the killer hit or the killer blow," Leyland said. "I thought probably the biggest pitch of the night was the changeup he threw to Berry and he got the double play, because I think it set up the next at-bat for Berry when he struck out on the fastball."
The Tigers hit 163 home runs during the regular season. They also hit into a league-leading 156 double plays. They have stolen exactly one base in the World Series, and it was when Jackson stole second off Tim Lincecum in the seventh before Berry whiffed to end the inning.
Over three games, no one in the lineup has made a defining defensive play for a Tigers team for which defense was a question all season. The Giants, meanwhile, have ripped a DVD full of them, including a key stab by shortstop Brandon Crawford to lead off the eighth, robbing Cabrera of a base hit that would have put the tying run at the plate in Fielder, and Gregor Blanco's running catch of a foul ball by Jhonny Peralta to lead off the ninth.
"You always look to see if you miss a trick. We had Jackson run on Lincecum. We probably waited a bit too long on that one, but you can try to manufacture a little bit," Leyland said. "You don't really manufacture a lot with the big guys in the middle. You let them whack away at it.
"Maybe I need to be a little more creative," he said. "Like I said, we talk about us. We don't talk about individuals. So, basically, as a team -- as manager, coaches and team -- we've obviously got to do a little bit better."