Jarring loss in Game 1 stops Tigers in their tracks
SAN FRANCISCO -- Justin Verlander hopped onto a chair in the visiting clubhouse at AT&T Park and smiled as he looked down at the dozens of reporters gathered in front of his empty locker.
"Who are you guys waiting for?" he asked.
How's that for cracking the tension? Across the room, Prince Fielder laughed. And that was the message from the Detroit Tigers after Game 1 of the 2012 World Series on Wednesday night.
They were lousy. One minute, it was the pitching. And then it was the baserunning. And the offense.
When it finally ended, the San Francisco Giants had ridden three Pablo Sandoval home runs and 5 2/3 sold innings from Barry Zito to an 8-3 victory on Wednesday night.
This being a World Series game and all, every little thing is magnified, held up to the light and pondered and commented on. For instance, were the Tigers showing the rust of a five-day layoff?
"Unfortunately, I wish we'd won so we wouldn't have to deal with that," Fielder said. "Of course, that's the first question. We've been playing for what -- eight months, seven months? I think five days can only help, in my opinion. My body feels a lot better. Like I said, it was just one of those nights. I don't think it had anything to do with the layoff. This is the World Series. There are no time for excuses. We just didn't get it done."
So had the Tigers just blinked on their game's largest stage? Whatever the reason, they interrupted their terrific stretch of baseball with a bad night at the office.
"We just got beat," manager Jim Leyland said. "I'm not going to get too excited. When I go back to my office when I'm through speaking with you folks, I'll take some time to think about tomorrow."
Leyland will have to hope this one game doesn't end up costing the Tigers. They'd ridden a great stretch of starting pitching into the World Series, and with their best guy going, they'd been soundly beaten.
Now they've got a smaller margin for error as their next three starters -- Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer -- get the ball in Games 2, 3 and 4.
"It's disappointing," Verlander said. "Would you like to have won Game 1? Absolutely. I don't know if you guys have been watching, but the three guys behind me have been pitching pretty doggone well. It's not the end of the world. I think the team is just as confident. I don't think you're going to see anyone hanging their hat."
The Tigers said one bad game is one bad game is one bad game.
"Obviously, it [stinks]," Fielder said. "All we have to do is win the next game. There's no formula. You have no choice but to put it behind you. Unfortunately in baseball, sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. The great thing is we get to play tomorrow."
Twenty-four hours from now, the Tigers can get past a night when Verlander was kicked around for five runs in four innings. He dug his team an early hole, and the Tigers never were able to even make it a game.
Once Angel Pagan bounced a double off the third-base bag to start a three-run rally that made it 4-0 in the third inning, the outcome never seemed in doubt. That play was unlucky, but Detroit didn't do much else, either.
"Moving on to the next day is not difficult," catcher Alex Avila said. "You have to have that mentality. That's what we do for a living. There are plenty of times you're going to lose games, you're going to fail. That's part of the mentality as a player."
They Tigers had been so good in a sweep of the Yankees in the American League Championship Series that a game like this seemed so unusual.
It began with Verlander. He hadn't pitched in eight days and never was able to locate his fastball. He missed with some of his other stuff, too.
Verlander wouldn't blame the longer-than-usual layoff, saying he had some days during the regular season when he also wasn't sharp.
And Fielder wouldn't blame the layoff for running himself into a double play in the fourth inning. It happened when Delmon Young bounced a ball in front of the plate and was promptly tagged out by Giants catcher Buster Posey.
By that time, Fielder was on his way to second base and was easily thrown out by Posey. The play didn't cost the Tigers the game, but it symbolized what this game became for them.
"It's not fun," Fielder said, "but we have a game tomorrow. It just didn't work out tonight."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.