The San Francisco Giants eye their second World Series title in three years, as they kick off the 108th edition of the Fall Classic against the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday at AT&T Park.
Amazingly, these two storied franchises have never met in the World Series, despite this being the 19th trip for the Giants and the Tigers’ 11th appearance. However, this is only the fifth time the Giants will be playing in this round since the team moved from New York to San Francisco.
Of course, the Giants’ last trip to the World Series resulted in the franchise’s first title since 1954, a five-game victory over the Texas Rangers in 2010.
This time around San Francisco enters the Fall Classic with a ton of momentum following a thrilling seven-game win over the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS, which saw it rally from a 3-1 series deficit.
In Monday’s clincher, Matt Cain (2-2) scattered five hits and one walk over 5 2/3 scoreless innings and even drove in a run during the 9-0 rout, while Hunter Pence drove in a pair with a fortunate broken-bat double during a five- run third inning. Fellow midseason acquisition Marco Scutaro capped his NLCS MVP performance with his sixth multi-hit game of the series.
“We played with more heart and more determination than any club I’ve seen,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said during the trophy presentation. “They didn’t want to go home.”
Resiliency has been the Giants’ calling card this October, as they also became the first team in NL history to rally back from an 0-2 hole and win a Division Series with a five-game win over the Cincinnati Reds.
With their sixth straight win in the face of elimination on Monday, the Giants became only the second team to win three in a row to close out postseason series twice in one session, matching the 1985 Royals — who rallied against the Blue Jays in the ALCS and then the Cardinals in the World Series.
San Francisco won in 2010 thanks to an incredible pitching staff. That rotation seems to be finding itself again at the right time entering this series, as the Giants closed out the Cardinals by allowing just one run over the final three contests.
Lefty Barry Zito started the remarkable comeback with a sensational effort in Game 4 that saw him throw 7 2/3 scoreless innings and he’ll get the call in Game 1 — quite a contrast from the Giants’ last playoff run when Zito was not even included on the postseason roster.
“For him to keep grinding, as we say, and trying to get better, for him to be at this point and starting the first game, I was really glad, proud to tell him that,” Bochy said Tuesday.
Zito, the 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner with Oakland, was 15-8 in the regular season and the Giants have won in each of his last 13 trips to the hill.
“Yeah, it means a lot,” Zito said of getting the ball for Game 1. “Like I said earlier, it’s hard to reflect and really become third person about this experience. It’s more about right now just going out and preparing for a ballgame against a good team.
You know, I can look back on everything when I’m back home.”
The Giants offense was paced in the regular season by MVP candidate Buster Posey, who was the NL’s leading hitter at .336 with 24 home runs and 103 RBI during the regular season. However, he is hitting just .178 with six RBI in the playoffs. Four of those RBI came with one swing of the bat, as his grand slam helped the Giants finish off the Reds in Game 5 of the NLDS.
Pence was acquired near the trade deadline to help the Giants’ woeful lineup, but has struggled mightily this postseason, batting a mere .188. He has become the team’s inspirational leader, though, with fiery clubhouse speeches, as his “look into each other’s eyes” speech has become a rallying cry for the team.
With those two struggling, the Giants got a huge contribution from Scutaro, who was 3-for-4 in Game 7 and batted .500 (14-for-28) with six runs scored and four RBI despite suffering a strained left hip when Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday took out the second baseman with a vicious slide in Game 2.
“It’s a little want and a lot of willpower,” said Posey. “I think to do it, guys actually have to believe it can happen.”
Detroit, meanwhile, has been idle since finishing off a four-game sweep of the New York Yankees in the ALCS on Thursday. Its road here may not have been quite as difficult as the Giants, but they are back in the Fall Classic for the first time since 2006.
After beating the Oakland Athletics in five games of the ALDS, the AL Central- champion Tigers had a much easier time than anyone would have thought against the Yankees, as they took the first two games in the Bronx before sealing the series with two straight wins in Detroit, including an 8-1 thrashing over CC Sabathia in the clincher.
Detroit’s last World Series appearance ended with a five-game game loss to St. Louis and the franchise hasn’t won it all since besting the San Diego Padres in 1984.
Also, this is just the fourth time that a team who swept a series and one who went all seven games will meet in the World Series since the LCS expanded to a seven-game format in 1985. Each time, the team going the distance won the World Series, including the 2006 Cardinals, who took out the Tigers.
“I think they’re going about it the right way,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “I’m not too excited about it, myself, to be honest with you, but I think they’re taking it the right way. They know they need to see some pitching and in-game conditions. They’re doing it business-like. I won’t say they’re all giddy about it, but they’re doing it business-like, and that’s the purpose of it.
“I told them why we’re here, what the plan was, why we have the plan that we have. There are a couple guys here from the team in 2006, so I explained to them why we’re doing it and what happened in 2006.”
History may not be on the side of the Tigers, but they must still like their chances with perhaps the best pitcher on the planet in Justin Verlander, who will start Game 1 on seven days’ rest and could potentially throw three times if needed in this series.
If there was a knock on the great Verlander it was that his postseason success hadn’t matched up to his regular-season production. Well, the few detractors he may have had are going to have to find something else to complain about because he has been terrific this postseason.
The AL’s reigning MVP and Cy Young Award winner was sensational again in the regular season, but has taken his game to yet another level this October, going 3-0 with a 0.74 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings.
“The only thing you do is you go out there and you compete,” Giants manager Bochy said of facing Verlander. “We know what great stuff he has. You’re talking [about] one of the elite pitchers ever in the game, as hard as he throws and his other pitches. You hope your hitters look forward to seeing him.”
This will be just the ninth matchup between former Cy Young winners in a World Series game.
An interesting wrinkle here is that it was actually Verlander who helped give the Giants home-field advantage in this series, as he surrendered five first- inning runs and took the loss for the AL in the All-Star Game. It was a pair of Giants who contributed to his loss in that game, as Cabrera scored the game’s first run and Pablo Sandoval smacked a bases-clearing triple.
“I keep telling everyone, ‘God, if I hadn’t given it up, we’d be at home,’” Verlander told USA Today over the weekend.
Offensively, the Tigers are paced by maybe the best 1-2 punch in the league in the middle of the lineup in Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and slugging first baseman Prince Fielder.
With a batting average of .330 along with 44 home runs and 139 RBI, Miguel Cabrera led the American League in all three categories and finished tops in both leagues in homers and RBI. It’s the 14th time in major league history that a player has accomplished the feat.
The 29-year-old set career highs in homers and RBI and had the second-best batting average of his career, trailing his .344 mark from the 2011 season.
After only driving in one run and batting .250 against the A’s, Cabrera got himself righted a bit in the ALCS, as he hit .313 with four RBI.
Cabrera isn’t the only masher in the Tigers’ lineup. He moved over to third base this year to accommodate Fielder, a free agent addition who enjoyed his first year in Motown by hitting .313 with 30 home runs and 108 RBI.
Fielder, though, hasn’t been able to get it going in the playoffs and is hitting just .211.
Leyland does have some concerns, specifically a bullpen that has seemingly removed Jose Valverde from the closer’s role. After Valverde blew big leads against both Oakland and then New York, Leyland opted to go with a closer by committee, but lefty Phil Coke seemed to be his go-to-guy against the Yankees.
“I’m going to play it by ear,” Leyland said Monday. “We’re going to try to do everything we can to win a game.”