I blogged about Game 1 of the 2012 World Series once already, so I’ll keep this brief. A few things spring to mind as I replay the game in my head.
1. The Three Stooges and Angel Pagan
If any single plate appearance was the undoing of the Tigers on Wednesday, it was Angel Pagan in the third inning. Justin Verlander had two strikes on Pagan, looking to make short work of the Giants and get into the dugout at a reasonable pitch count despite some tough early going. Pagan battled and kept putting wood to rawhide, as is the team maxim in San Francisco, but Verlander kept attacking, and the at-bat ended with a chopper down the third base line that had Pagan visibly frustrated.
That frustration would not last long. The ball found the side of the third-base bag on its third hop, and shot into left field. In route, it rolled past third baseman Miguel Cabrera, who had failed to even feign interest in changing direction to stop the ricochet; past shortstop Johnny Peralta, who had made no move to back up Cabrera and lacked the speed to recover; and out toward Delmon Young, who was a member of the Devil Rays organization when last he had the arm or athleticism to competently patrol the outfield.
Pagan simply never stopped running. It was an easy double. No problem. It threw open the floodgates. Marco Scutaro worked Verlander for eight pitches, singling home Pagan on the eighth. The Tiger’s pitching coach came to the mound, and Pablo Sandoval (operating on the well-worn axiom that the first pitch after a mound visit is usually a fastball strike) hit his second home run of the game.
Rewind. Let’s assume for a moment, and it’s the only fair assumption, that very few third basemen find a way to turn Pagan’s trick shot into an out. Most third basemen play shallower than Cabrera does, especially against left-handed batters, and that would have helped. Still, the Tigers knew what they were getting themselves into when they shifted Cabrera across the diamond prior to the season. Prime Scott Rolen he ain’t. Even well-positioned, Cabrera probably doesn’t get Pagan on that play.
The crime is not the first base, though. The crime is the second. That second base meant Verlander pitched Scutaro differently. It put Pagan in scoring position. It opened the inning up in myriad ways. Cabrera, Peralta and Young never should have allowed Pagan to gain it. Cabrera very literally gave up on the play, and the entire trio had too little speed to get the ball and peg Pagan once it got to grass. It’s not how one might have expected the Tigers’ defensive liability to flare up, but that’s what happened.
2. Justin Verlander Looked Tired, and No Wonder.
The seeds of the Tigers’ Game 1 loss may have been planted over the previous month and a half, but the best problem point I see came October 11. That was the night of Game 5 of the ALDS against Oakland, a game the Tigers won behind a complete-game shutout from Verlander.
That game was taut at its start, 2-0 through six frames. At that point, Verlander had thrown only 88 pitches, and given how badly the bullpen had pitched in the series, Jim Leyland likely never even considered lifting his ace.
As the top of the seventh progressed, though, he might ought to have changed his mind. The Tigers scored four runs, breaking the game open, and the last nine outs of that contest could safely have been recorded by any available Detroit hurler. Even Jose Valverde would have been unlikely to cough up such a large lead.
Verlander retook the hill anyway. He would throw 34 more pitches in completing his effort, a stirring performance, but an unnecessarily stressful one for even the game’s most durable arm. It was the cap on a month in which Verlander pitched more often than even he ever had before, and it showed up in his next outing, when he impressed but needed 132 pitches to beat the Yankees, and was clearly not his usual self. Ironically, Verlander does not seem to lose velocity when pitching with fatigue, but rather, the ability to mix his velocities as well as he does at other times. That was the case Wednesday night, as it was against the Yankees, and it all traces back to his being used in a 6-0 game until the final out, shooting bullets that would have been better used if saved for later.Next post: Jacques Barzun and Baseball in America
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