Detroit Tigers coach Jim Leland watches on during Game 1 of the 2012 World Series. (Photo Courtesy: US Presswire)
SAN FRANCISCO - There was disappointment in the Detroit Tigers' clubhouse following their World Series opener, but little indication of distress.
Justin Verlander noticed the media horde crowded around his tiny cubicle, waiting for his Game 1 postmortem. He hopped up on the sofa, perused the masses and joked about why anyone would want to talk with him.
Prince Fielder succinctly surmised the immediate impact of the Tigers' ugly 8-3 loss Wednesday night.
"It sucks," he lamented.
But he quickly interjected his relief that there was another game less than 24 hours later. No more extended down time.
"It's not like this is the Super Bowl where one bad game can kill you," Fielder added.
Why should the World Series be any different than the regular season?
The Tigers were never comfortable with the role of favorite. They performed best when the masses doubted them, reaching their heights only when the skeptics thought their cleats were cemented in the turf. Showered with endless praise following their pennant-sweep of the Yankees, the Tigers were the overwhelming choice of the national experts entering the World Series. That should have given everyone that uneasy here-comes-Valverde-into-the-bottom-of-the-ninth pit in the bottom of their bellies.
There's no cause for panic. As bad as the Tigers looked, it's still only the first game. They've done a good job - after trailing the White Sox by three games with only 16 games left and losing that 4-0 ninth inning lead in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series - of quickly forgetting prior misery and mistakes. That resilience gets tested once again. There's already a tremendous amount of pressure on the Tigers as they approach Game 2 with Doug Fister taking the mound.
But maybe that's just how this Tigers' team is wired.
That's just how they like it.
It's everybody else who hates it.
"It wasn't a good day for us from the scoreboard standpoint," catcher Alex Avila said. "You always want to win the first game, but it's also important that we got a lot of guys into the game for their first action in a few days. The beauty of this game is that it gives you the opportunity to quickly forget the previous game.
"We've been pretty good at doing that this season."
File away Game 1 of the World Series in that already bloated dossier of baseball unpredictability.
The opening act of the Fall Classic starred the best power pitcher in the game who had been a virtuoso this month against an overpaid retread who required a sundial to time his fastball.
But finesse extinguished flame Wednesday.
Innocent ground balls ricocheted off bases for base hits. And with all the gaudy power numbers and monstrous reputations in the middle of the Tigers' batting order, it was a jovial portly fireplug of a player with an animated movie character as his moniker who blasted his way into World Series lore with a single-game home run Triple Crown.
It figured that Game 1 played itself out in such wacky fashion.
Barry Zito has one of the weakest fastballs in the game.
Radar guns yawn when he pitches.
Justin Verlander rolls the ball to the plate faster than Zito's 86-mile-an-hour "heat."
But Zito effectively changed speeds and locations, keeping hitters off balance. Zito, a left-hander, was the perfect choice facing a team six days removed from its last game. The Tigers learned from the harsh experiences of the 2006 Series that idle time doesn't help. It didn't matter that they brought in Instructional League players for simulated games. It simply doesn't pay to sweep a team if your eventual Series opponent survives an emotionally charged seven-game series.
"We were out of the game before our second at-bat," leftfielder Delmon Young said. "It wouldn't have mattered if we were off two days or two months."
They were officially out of the game after Pablo Sandoval's third at-bat.
The guy they affectionately call "Kung Fu Panda" in these parts joined the august group of Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols as the only players in World Series history to belt three home runs in a single game.
"We were on the wrong side of history with that one," Fielder said. "It's something when you see that happen in the World Series. It was a great game for him, but that game is over now. You put it behind you and move on. And we've done a pretty good of moving on and focus on the next game."
It was an off-night after an off week. It'll raise more questions as to why the Tigers continually run away from the role of America's favorite as if they're running away from a virus. But considering how a bizarre night reflected a bizarre season, the Tigers just might have the Giants exactly where they want them.
By Drew Sharp