DETROIT – Finally pressed in the World Series, the San Francisco Giants finished off a most unexpected and stunning sweep.
Marco Scutaro delivered one more key hit this October, hitting a go-ahead single with two outs in the 10th inning that lifted the Giants over the Detroit Tigers, 4-3, Sunday night in Game 4.
Nearly eliminated over and over earlier in the playoffs, the Giants sealed their second title in three seasons when Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera looked at strike three right down the middle for the final out.
On a night of biting cold, stiff breezes and some rain, the Giants combined the most important elements of championship baseball – great pitching, timely hitting and sharp defense.
Series MVP Pablo Sandoval and the underdog Giants celebrated in the center of the diamond at Comerica Park after winning six elimination games this postseason.
“Tonight was a battle,” said Giants star Buster Posey, who homered. “And I think tonight was a fitting way for us to end it because those guys played hard. They didn’t stop, and it’s an unbelievable feeling.”
Cabrera delivered the first big hit for Detroit, interrupting San Francisco’s run of dominant pitching with a two-run homer that blew over the right-field wall in the third.
Posey put the Giants ahead 3-2 with a two-run homer in the sixth and Delmon Young hit a tying home run in the bottom half.
It then became a matchup of bullpens, and the Giants prevailed.
Ryan Theriot led off the 10th with a single against Phil Coke, moved up on Brandon Crawford’s sacrifice and scored on Scutaro’s shallow single. Center fielder Austin Jackson made a throw home, to no avail.
Sergio Romo struck out the side in the bottom of the 10th for his third save of the Series.
The Giants finished the month with seven straight wins and their seventh Series championship. They handed the Tigers their seventh straight World Series loss dating to 2006.
“Obviously, there was no doubt about it. They swept us,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “So there was certainly no bad breaks, no fluke.
“Simple, they did better than we did.”
An NL team won the title for the third straight season, a run that hadn’t occurred in 30 years. Some find the streak surprising, considering the AL’s recent dominance in interleague play. Yet as every fan knows, the club that pitches best in the postseason usually prevails.
Until the end, the Tigers thought one big hit could shift the momentum. It was an all-too-familiar October lament – Texas felt the same way when the Giants throttled them in 2010, and Tigers knew the feeling when St. Louis wiped them out in 2006.
Howling winds made it feel much colder than the 44 degrees at gametime. Two wrappers blew across home plate after leadoff man Angel Pagan struck out, and fly balls played tricks in the breeze.
The Giants started with their pregame ritual. They clustered around Hunter Pence in the dugout, quickly turning into a bobbing, whooping, pulsing pack, showering themselves with sunflower seeds. A big league good-luck charm, Little League style.
And once again, San Francisco took an early lead. Pence hit a one-hop drive over the center-field fence for a double and Brandon Belt tripled on the next pitch for a 1-0 lead in the second.
The next inning, Cabrera gave the Tigers a reason to think this might be their night.
With two outs and a runner on first, Cabrera lofted an opposite-field fly to right – off the bat, it looked like a routine out shy of the warning track. But with winds gusting over 25 mph, the ball kept carrying, Pence kept drifting toward the wall and the crowd kept getting louder.
Just like that, it was gone.
Cabrera’s homer gave Detroit its first lead of the Series, ended its 20-inning scoreless streak and reaffirmed a pregame observation by Tigers Hall of Famer Al Kaline.
“The wind usually blows to right at this time of year,” Kaline said.
In the fourth, Max Scherzer and catcher Gerald Laird teamed on a strike ‘em out-throw ‘em out double play. Scherzer yelled, first baseman Prince Fielder clenched his fist and the Tigers ran off the field on a chilly, windy, rainy evening. At last, it seemed, all the elements were in their favor.
Trailing for the first time since Game 4 of the NL championship series, Posey and the Giants put a dent in Detroit’s optimism. Scutaro, the NLCS MVP, led off the sixth with a single and clapped all the way around the bases when Posey sent a shot that sailed just inside the left-field foul pole for a 3-2 lead.
Posey, the only Giants player on the field from the starting lineup in the Game 5 clincher in 2010, almost tripped nearing first base and he watched the ball and began his trot.
Detroit wasn’t about to go quietly, however. Young, the ALCS MVP, made it 3-all with another opposite-field homer to right, this one a no-doubt drive.
Fielder finished 1 for 14 (.111) for the Series.
All 24 teams to take a 3-0 lead in the World Series have won it all. In fact, none of those matchups even reached a Game 6. This was the first sweep for an NL team since Cincinnati in 1990.
Working on nine days’ rest and trying to extend the Tigers’ season, Scherzer kept them close into the seventh. Often recognized for his eyes – one is light blue, the other is brown – he’s also known as a solid postseason pitcher.
Ditto-plus for Matt Cain, who was working on a nearly perfect year.
The Giants’ ace threw a perfect game in June, was the winning pitcher in the All-Star game in July, beat Cincinnati to clinch the division series and topped St. Louis in Game 7 of the NL championship series.
After they left, the relievers decided it.
Octavio Dotel shouted, “Yeah! Let’s go!” toward his dugout after striking out Posey to end the eighth. In the bottom half, winning pitcher Jeremy Affeldt got around a leadoff walk when he struck out Cabrera, a flinching Fielder and Young.
Coke returned the favor in the top of the ninth, fanning the side. With Jose Valverde having lost his closer role during a shaky month, Coke stayed in for the 10th and faltered.
The Giants became the first champion that hit the fewest home runs in the majors since St. Louis in 1982. Sandoval’s three drives in Game 1 started San Francisco’s romp, and its dominant pitching took over from there.
The parade to a sweep masked the problems San Francisco overcame to get this far.
Closer Brian Wilson pitched only two innings before an elbow injury ended his year. All-Star game MVP Melky Cabrera was suspended 50 games for a positive testosterone test, and not welcomed back when the ban ended. Two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum struggled and wound up in the bullpen.
Swept in a three-game set at Arizona to start the season, the Giants were floundering under .500 in mid-May. They soon hit their stride and, boosted by trade deadline deals for Scutaro and Pence, passed the Dodgers in the NL West for good in late August and posted 98 wins.
Getting past Cincinnati and St. Louis in the playoffs presented challenges. Down 2-0 in the best-of-five division series, they rallied for three straight victories in Cincinnati. Trailing the defending champion Cardinals 3-1 in the NLCS, they again took three in a row to advance, clinching in a driving rainstorm.
Six elimination games, six wins. Facing the Tigers, San Francisco proved it could play with a lead, too.
The Giants became the first NL team since the Big Red Machine in the mid-1970s to win two titles in a three-year span. Shut out for 56 years — Juan Marichal, Willie McCovey and Barry Bonds never won it all — their self-described “misfits” captured that elusive crown in 2010.
While many of the pitchers have remained, the lineup has seen quite a turnover. Posey, the NL batting champion, was the only position player to start Sunday night who also started the Game 5 clincher in 2010 at Texas.
The Tigers’ flop finished off a season in which Cabrera became baseball’s first Triple Crown winner since 1967. Detroit overtook the White Sox in the final week to win the AL Central and wound up at 88-74, the AL’s seventh-best record.
NOTES: Theriot and Laird had a nice reunion at the plate. They were St. Louis teammates last year when the Cardinals won the title. ... Laird started after Alex Avila was scratched. Avila’s right arm was still sore after being hit by a foul tip in the opener. ... Ann Romney, wife of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was at the game. ... Cabrera has reached base in all 24 of his postseason games with Detroit.