|Tigers pitcher Drew Smyly talks with pitching coach Jeff Jones in the seventh inning. (US Presswire)|
SAN FRANCISCO -- Two decisions. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
Welcome to the Detroit Tigers' World Series.
Two decisions. One disastrous. The other left the Detroit dugout "absolutely thrilled."
Yet even the second didn't work. The Tigers still went oh-for-San Francisco. Still went oh-for-two.
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Still head home to a meat locker: In danger of being iced for good in this World Series following a 2-0 Game 2 loss, and headed into a Game 3 looks like it's going to be played in temperatures near freezing.
And if you think that will help coax these Tigers bats out of what appears to be an early winter hibernation, I've got some swampland in Grosse Pointe Woods to sell you.
Or I've got a third-base coach who was ready to lead a chorus of "Go Get 'Em, Tigers" on the charter flight home overnight Thursday.
Which means, I really don't.
There was Gene Lamont, explaining the first decision in the Tigers' clubhouse, and I can tell you one thing about baseball unequivocally.
Nine times out of 10, when the third-base coach is hauled out to explain a decision, there is a train wreck behind him on the field.
The Tigers' pile-up in this instance was Prince Fielder, out at home in the second inning.
"The difficult part is, nobody wants to talk to you unless you mess up," Lamont said evenly. "There are guys in Detroit I see every day who haven't said hello to me all year."
Now, everybody wants answers.
Two decisions. The second came five innings later, in a scoreless game with Giants filling the bases and none out in the seventh. Manager Jim Leyland ordered the infield at double-play depth instead of pulling it in for a play at the plate.
The Tigers got the double-play grounder they wanted, but the Giants got a run and it was all they would need.
"We played double-play depth because we felt like we couldn't give them two runs," Leyland explained. "That's why we did that, and we got the double play.
"To be honest with you, we were absolutely thrilled to come out of that inning with one run. Absolutely thrilled. I mean, we had to score anyway. You give them two, it makes it a little bit tougher, obviously.
"We felt like we didn't want them to open it up."
Two decisions, one Giant hole ... and one team that can't hit enough at the moment to overcome the thinnest of margins.
Which leads back to where this missed opportunity of an evening started in the first place.
Madison Bumgarner drilled Fielder in the shoulder with a pitch to start the second.
Up next, Delmon Young ripped a double into left field. The ball rocketed down the line ... rolled over the bullpen mound ... ricocheted off of the angled wall ... and bounced away from left fielder Gregor Blanco.
Which is why, as Fielder dug for third, Lamont waved him home.
"I think Gene just got a little overaggressive," Leyland said. "We had been scoring runs other than in the final game against the Yankees, and we wanted to be aggressive, and I think he just got overaggressive."
Nobody out, the absolute last thing the Tigers needed was to rack up their first out at the plate.
"I just saw the ball bounce away from the left fielder," Lamont said. "[The ball] wasn't where he was at. I thought Prince would score.
"And they made a perfect relay and I was wrong."
This is how good the Giants are going right now: The relay wasn't exactly perfect, because Blanco missed cutoff man Brandon Crawford. But Marco Scutaro was backing him up, the ball found him, and Scutaro fired a perfect relay throw to catcher Buster Posey.
"I saw the ball, and I was still running, and I saw Gene waving me," Fielder said. "So I kept going." Posey caught the ball, made a swipe tag on Fielder's ample posterior and plate ump Dan Iassogna made the correct call on an earth-quaking, bang-bang play.
"The difference is, if he'd have been safe, you'd probably be talking about me and say he made a hell of a call," Lamont said.
Though Lamont became the fall guy and is the coach everyone is saying did not make a hell of a call, let's make one point clear before moving along:
Fielder could have helped himself, Lamont and the Tigers with a better slide. Had he slid much further to his right, even slid past the plate and reached out to tag it with his left hand, Posey probably would have been unable to reach him, or make the tag in time.
"Yeah, I wish I did a flip," Fielder quipped when someone asked whether he could have slid differently.
Fielder argued, mostly because, in the heat of the moment, he did not feel Posey tag him.
"I thought he missed me," Fielder said.
A moment here, two batters before the fateful second decision, for something else.
Under normal circumstances, would Leyland have called for Smyly, a rookie converted starter, with three lefties due up?
Except, with closer Jose Valverde having melted into a puddle of Jell-O, he felt he needed to save Coke.
"That had something to do with it, obviously," Leyland said.
He was quick to note that Smyly has been pitching well. But, he admitted, "If Valverde was ready, I probably would have had Coke in that situation."
The argument you can make here is that at 0-0 and with the bats asleep, this likely was the most important stretch of the game. So maybe you want your best reliever in now.
Coke is it. But Coke wasn't it, at least, he wasn't the one summoned at this moment. And Smyly immediately walked Belt, and then Blanco dropped a bunt down third-base line that stayed fair.
Now, Decision No. 2.
And in a scoreless game, down to his final six outs, Leyland declined to gamble by pulling the infield in.
If the Tigers do not come back to win this World Series, the Fielder wave home and conceding the game's first run here will be discussed throughout Michigan from now until Mackinac Island is purchased by Canada.
"It's not debatable to me," Leyland said. "Some people might debate that, but I felt we had to take out best shot to come out of it with one run. Because if we don't score, it doesn't make any difference anyway.
"We had to get one run. And if we come out [of this inning allowing] one and we get one finally, then the game is tied. So I thought that was a no-brainer, to be honest with you."
You can still make a strong case that with investigators having a better chance of locating Jimmy Hoffa than the Tigers' offense right now, the Tigers should have pulled the infield in for a play at the plate.
But it's also awfully tough to hang Leyland on this one. He's right: If the Tigers don't score, it doesn't matter what happens. And with the lack of hitting, maybe the smart play really was working to avoid the big inning.
Leyland's plan worked when Crawford bounced into a double play, and Smyly fanned pinch-hitter Ryan Theriot, and the Tigers escaped the inning having allowed only one run.
"I can't let them open the game up," Leyland said. "We're obviously struggling. We only got two hits. You think you've got a chance with six outs to go to possibly get a run."
But the next six Tigers meekly went down in order. They couldn't even get Miguel Cabrera or Fielder to the plate again after that.
"To be honest with you, we were absolutely thrilled to come out of that inning with one run," Leyland said.
And yet, it still didn't work.
"If I had to do it [over] again, I can't say I wouldn't have sent him," Lamont said. "But it doesn't look good."
Now, two losses from an early winter.
"Hopefully," Leyland said. "We'll get our offense going when we get back to Motown."