Tell someone you like long walks on the beach and you'll seldom be asked to explain why. Mention you like baseball, however, and you may be put on the spot.
Well, maybe you like baseball because of days like Thursday. Game 2 of the World Series was an old-fashioned, grind-it-out pitcher's duel with the teams matching zeroes into the seventh. The longer a postseason contest remains dead even, the more pressure builds -- and even more weight is assigned to each at-bat, each swing, each pitch. Players pace the dugout like caged animals. Fans wring their rally rags (and drink). Sergio Romo is caught on national television nonchalantly playing with his cuticles. To each his own.
This was a game that came down to the tiniest details. And, in the end, the Giants won the day, 2-0, and propelled themselves into a commanding 2-0 series lead thanks to the smallest of small balls. It was a marked contrast from Pablo Sandoval's power exhibition in Game 1. But if you came of age watching Roger Craig manage -- and overmanage -- Giants teams based around situational baseball and dropping down the perfect bunt on a squeeze, Thursday night was a blast (or, rather, a bunt) from the past. Except, this time, San Francisco won a crucial World Series game -- which sadly was never the case in the Humm Baby years.
It all started with the starters. Doug Fister was great -- even after
taking a wicked Gregor Blanco line drive to the skull, which, frankly, the Tigers handled in a manner that seemed a bit cavalier. You
can't exactly order up a new brain from a cadaver. His counterpart, Giants hurler Madison
Bumgarner, was transcendent, tossing seven shutout innings and striking
out eight in a redemptive performance.
In his prior postseason starts, Bumgarner was beaten like a piñata. In 3 2/3 dismal innings against St. Louis, he yielded six runs on eight hits -- and only his counterpart, pitcher Lance Lynn, swung and missed at one of his offerings. Prior to Thursday's start, however, the Giants announced that a flaw in Bumgarner's mechanics had been "fixed," as if he were the Tin Man, and only required a few drops of oil.
"Fixed," however seems to be an apt description of Madison Bumgarner. His performance was rivaled only by his stellar World Series outing two years back. And when Bumgarner momentarily ceded dominance, the Giants' defense was there to bail him out. With the voluminous Prince Fielder standing at first after being hit by a pitch to lead off the second, Delmon Young laced a double past a diving Sandoval at third and into the left field corner. Blanco had trouble playing a weird carom, but recovered to scoop up the ball and launch it to Marco Scutaro.
Fielder, who can be seen from the International Space Station with the unaided eye, was lumbering toward home when catcher Buster Posey gloved Scutaro's perfect relay. Posey's swipe tag brushed against Fielder's ample backside; if the Tigers first baseman weighed a few stone less or wore tighter pants, the outcome may have been different. But, as it was, he was out at the plate. Bumgarner erased the next two batters, and Detroit never again advanced a runner past first base.
San Francisco tantalized its fans offensively, but could do no more until the pivotal seventh inning. Hunter Pence, looking more and more these days like a castaway or Idaho survivalist, chased Fister by lashing his 115th pitch into left field. Tigers manager Jim Leyland summoned Drew Smyly from the bullpen, who proceeded to walk Brandon Belt. That brought up Blanco in a bunt situation. And bunt he did -- the left fielder's perfect cue shot rolled to a stop between home and third amid a scrum of hapless Tiger infielders; home plate umpire Dan Iassogna's emphatic signal indicating a fair ball resembled a fan's between-inning rendition of John Travolta's Saturday Night Fever signature dance move. If things go well for the Giants, Blanco's bunt will go down in team lore.
With the bases juiced and no one out, Brandon Crawford did all he needed to do by registering a run-scoring double play. One inning later, with the bases once again loaded, the previously Zero Kelvin-cold Pence lifted a sacrifice fly to right field, plating Angel Pagan. And two runs would be plenty on this night for Bumgarner, Santiago Casilla, and Romo.
The Giants' dial-a-hero motif continued. On Wednesday it was Barry Zito and Pablo Sandoval -- two men who were relegated to minor or non-roles during the 2010 World Series. Last night it was Bumgarner and Pence, both of whom had largely been liabilities up to this point in the current postseason (Pence's penchant for motivational speechifying notwithstanding).
There's no telling who will step up next. A San Francisco squad that, throughout its playoff run, has been forced to dig out of massive holes is miles above sea level. Games 1 and 2 couldn't have gone better. The team couldn't be in a better position.
And that makes a Giants fan nervous.