10/25/12 1:13 AM ET
Giants a team that consistently defies expectations
Continuing postseason theme, club flips script with rout in Game 1
By Mike Bauman / MLB.com
Conventional wisdom, which only wins the World Series when the New York Yankees do, took a real beating at AT&T Park in Game 1 of the Fall Classic. This one was supposed to be the one game the Giants certainly couldn't win, matched against Justin Verlander, not only the ace of the Tigers' staff, but arguably the most dominant starting pitcher in the game today.
On the hill for the Giants was Barry Zito. True, he had kept the Giants alive with a gutsy performance in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, but here his mid-80s fastball and second-chance finesse/command would be opposite Verlander's imposing repertoire, including the overpowering heat that only increases in velocity in the late innings.
Obviously a mismatch, right? Right. In favor of Zito and his guys. The Giants won, 8-3.
Look at this game. If you're a Giants fan, gaze at it, stare at it, take it in on a regular basis, commit it to memory. This was something singular and special, even for October.
Much of the non-Giants baseball world may have been thrown off by the overwhelming performance that Verlander and three other Tigers starters put on against the mighty Yankees in the American League Championship Series. In a four-game sweep, the Yankees scored a grand total of two runs against Detroit's starters. Wednesday night, the Giants scored more runs than that against Verlander -- three -- in one inning -- the third.
This was supposed to be yet another disadvantage the Giants had. With their sweep over the Yankees, the Tigers could start the Series with their ace, a fully rested ace in this case. Because the Giants had to go seven games to prevail over St. Louis in the NLCS, they had to use their two starters who had lately been the most effective in their rotation, Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain.
But Zito was at his best for 5 2/3 innings, giving up just one run to a powerful Detroit lineup. The man who had been left off the 2010 postseason roster was a Game 1 World Series starter and winner.
"The opportunity was just magical," Zito said. "To be able to go up against Verlander and give our team a chance to go up 1-0, and the fact that we won, it's just kind of surreal. It's just a pleasure to be a part of it all."
And then there was the power deficit the Giants face on what seems to be a daily basis. The Yankees led the Majors in home runs in the 2012 regular season, with 245. The Tigers were 16th, with 163. The Giants were 30th, dead last, with just 103 home runs.
But here, third baseman Pablo Sandoval suddenly emerged as Mr. October with three home runs, two coming off Verlander. When Sandoval hit a line-drive single in his fourth at-bat, this may have been the one disappointment of the night for the Giants.
Sandoval's teammates professed no shock at this display.
"He's had some injuries this year that slowed his power numbers," reliever Jeremy Affeldt said. "But that doesn't mean he's not powerful."
The Giants were patient at the plate, and when Verlander made mistakes in the strike zone, those pitches were struck with force. Verlander gave up five earned runs in just four innings. Asked to explain Verlander's struggles in this game, Tigers manager Jim Leyland said: "I think you start with giving the Giant hitters credit. They did a good job."
Giants manager Bruce Bochy is getting every ounce of ability out of his club. Look at Tim Lincecum, reborn in a bullpen role. After Zito's departure, Lincecum was perfect for 2 1/3 innings, striking out five. Is there a ball hit to left that Gregor Blanco can't catch with a superb diving effort?
Out of all the numbers that can be tossed around in this autumnal meeting of the two leagues' best teams, this one particular set tells you more about the Giants than any others: 6-0 in elimination games in the last two rounds of the postseason.
This speaks not only of talent, but of will and strength of character. These people look at Verlander and see not an intimidating opponent, but a healthy challenge.
This Giants victory defied all the easy expectations in the other direction.
"Well, you know, it's hard to figure this game sometimes," Bochy said. "You hear the old adage, 'That's baseball.' We know what a great pitcher [Verlander] is. I'm sure he made a few more mistakes than he normally does tonight, but what's important is we took advantage of it and found a way to score off him. We knew we had our work cut out going against Verlander, and guys did a great job. But it always starts with the guy on the hill. And Zito, again, he kind of set the tone and held them at bay for us to give us a chance to win."
Or, as Leyland saw it from the other side: "They have an excellent bullpen. They have an excellent pitching staff. If you look at the number of games their starters won, it's pretty impressive. This is a very, very good team. They know how to play; they play the game right, they grind out their at-bats.
"Seeing them firsthand, I'm really impressed. They're really good. And so are we. And tomorrow is another day."
True enough. But this first one was an all-Giants day.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.