Detroit Tigers' Drew Smyly reacts after giving up a hit during the seventh inning of Game 2 of baseball's World Series against the San Francisco Giants on Thursday, in San Francisco.
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Doug Fister pitched masterfully in his World Series debut Thursday night.
It’s the Tigers’ dozing bats that have them fighting the stiff tide of history.
In close to a must-win game in their push to bring home the franchise’s first championship since 1984, Detroit fell on the wrong side of a classic pitcher’s duel in a 2-0 loss to the Giants.
Fister and previously underwhelming starter Madison Bumgarner traded zeroes for the first six innings before the night — and perhaps the Series — tilted away from the Tigers in a wild seventh that gave credence to San Francisco’s season-of-destiny feel.
Manager Jim Leyland pulled the tiring Fister after a lead-off walk, only to watch rookie reliever Drew Smyly load the bases with nobody out. Smyly yielded a run-scoring double play that would prove enough in a game that featured seven combined hits.
The punchless Tigers, who contributed only two of those hits, now return to Comerica Park down two games to none and attempting to flout the odds. The last eight teams — and 14 of the last 15 — to take the first two games have won the World Series, with the Yankees brushing aside a 2-0 deficit against the Braves in 1996 as the most recent exception.
The Giants, meanwhile, have won five straight since trailing the Cardinals 3-1 in the National League Championship Series, with the seventh inning representative of their tear.
After Smyly issued a walk on a full count to put runners at first and second with no outs, Gregor Blanco laid down a soft bunt that appeared it would spin foul but instead hugged the line.
Brandon Crawford followed with a sharp grounder to second base. Leyland had kept the infield back in hope of a double play, and that’s what the Tigers got, allowing the go-ahead run to score.
Leyland called the decision to play the infield at normal depth a “no-brainer.”
“To be honest, we were absolutely thrilled to get out of that with one run,” he said. “We knew we had to score anyway.”
That was the problem. In the end, the Tigers just couldn’t score.
The Giants added another run in the eighth before Detroit went down in order against Giants closer Sergio Romo — an ongoing theme for the night.
Bumgarner appeared a perfect reprieve for the Tigers, a surprise Game 2 starter over two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum. The 23-year-old former first-round pick had summoned postseason magic before, tossing eight shutout innings to win Game 4 of the 2010 World Series as a rookie, but that performance seemed distant. This October, he was 0-2 with an 11.25 ERA and had not appeared since Oct. 14.
Just as the lights go down in the city — and the sun shines on the bay — Murphy’s Law worked like clockwork on the Tigers’ punchless offense.
On the rare occasions they appeared set to undam their mounting frustration, their superstar heart of the lineup again failed to deliver. The Tigers had nothing to show for their leadoff man reaching three times in the first seven innings.
They paid in the second for third-base coach Gene Lamont’s decision to windmill the lumbering Fielder home on a no-out double down the left-field line by Delmon Young. San Francisco executed a flawless relay and, not surprisingly, Fielder was out. A rally was over seconds after it began.
“Well, I tell you what, Gene just got a little overaggressive,” Leyland said.
Detroit looked to touch up Bumgarner in the fourth after Omar Infante reached on a lead-off infield hit. This would remain a night of almost. In order, Miguel Cabrera whistled a liner to third base — a seeming sure double off the bat — that was snared by a leaping Pablo Sandoval, Fielder sent an opposite-field flyout to the warning track, and Infante was picked off by Bumgarner.
The seventh provided final confirmation it was not meant to be. After Cabrera worked a nine-pitch walk, Fielder tapped a grounder to the pitcher for a 1-6-3 double play.
Fister, meanwhile, matched Bumgarner pitch for pitch, even withstanding a major scare in the second inning. In fact, after a Blanco liner ricocheted off the top of his head for a single, he only got stronger. Fister did not allow another hit until Pablo Sandoval singled to left in the sixth inning.
Fister allowed one run on four hits over six innings. Bumgarner held the Tigers to two hits and struck out eight over seven scoreless innings.
DESIGNATED PITCHER: Giants manager Bruce Bochy has been contemplating who to use as his designated hitter when the World Series shifts to Detroit for Game 3 on Saturday night — a pitcher has not been among them.
Maybe one should.
Entering Game 2 on Thursday night, San Francisco is the first team to have a pitcher with an RBI in four consecutive games in the same postseason. Barry Zito, who batted .075 with only two RBIs all season, has a pair during the current streak — including an opposite-field RBI single to left off Justin Verlander in the fourth inning of Game 1.
"It's been huge," Bochy said. "Pitchers can just help themselves in different ways, whether it's hold runners, fielding their position or find a way to get a bunt down or even drive in a run. I mean, they're part of the offense, too."
Bochy has been leaning toward backup catcher Hector Sanchez to DH for Game 3. He already has said he plans to have all-star Buster Posey catch every game. Bochy could also have Sandoval DH and shift Joaquin Arias to third. Aubrey Huff and Ryan Theriot are also options to DH.
Since interleague play began in 1997, the American League has a 2,081-1,883 record against the NL in the regular season. The last time the NL won the season series was in 2003. The AL is 8-7 in the World Series during that same span.
Detroit has had to put designated hitter Delmon Young in left field in San Francisco. Andy Dirks and Quintin Berry split time in left most of the season.
"I think it's different for your pitcher not only in that he's pitching a game, but now that those moments that he takes underneath to sit and relax between innings, now he's hitting," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Now he's scuffling to get his helmet. Now he's worried about am I going to bunt or what am I going to have to do here? There's another element that comes into play that affects the pitcher, I think, in a lot of ways."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.
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