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ROIT -- Gregor Blanco was playing baseball at this time last year, too. But it was winter ball in Venezuela, on the heels of a miserable season and as part of a desperate attempt to somehow find another job in 2012.
Being here 12 months later, as an integral member of a Giants team that's now one win away from a World Series sweep over the Tigers, was something Blanco's imagination couldn't even grasp.
"Never. Never in my life," Blanco said while perpetually surrounded by media in the visiting clubhouse at Comerica Park, site of another San Francisco victory that he once again had his hands all over. "I always dreamed about being a Major League player and being successful. But just playing in the World Series, and doing the things I've been able to do, it's just been great, man. I'm very thankful."
Right now, it's the Giants who are thankful for Blanco, the scrappy 28-year-old they took a chance on with a Minor League contract after he mustered 40 hits in 199 Triple-A at-bats last season.
On Saturday night, when the Giants took a commanding 3-0 lead over the Tigers with a 2-0 win, Blanco drove in the first run with a second-inning triple, scored the second on Brandon Crawford's RBI single and made yet another impressive catch, going deep into left-field foul territory to record the ninth inning's first out.
It was the third time in as many World Series games that Blanco has found a way to make an impact.
In Game 1, Blanco made two nifty, almost identical sliding catches on sinking line drives by Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. In Game 2, he had the famous bunt single that somehow stayed fair and the line-drive hit that bounced off the head of Detroit starter Doug Fister.
Pitching has dominated this series, with San Francisco starters Barry Zito, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong combining to give up just one run over 18 1/3 innings. And at the end of the day, it'll probably be Pablo Sandoval, with a .636 batting average and a three-homer game, taking home World Series MVP honors if the Giants win it all.
But there's no dismissing what Blanco has done.
"He's kind of our undercover MVP," shortstop Brandon Crawford said.
"I feel like he's the definition of a ballplayer," right fielder Hunter Pence added. "He does so many little things that go a long way. When you play this game, you can really appreciate his skill -- he can bunt, he's havoc on the bases, he's got a knack for defense. He's just an incredible athlete."
Pence scored from third on Blanco's one-out triple in the top of the second, which came on a 3-2 slider from Anibal Sanchez that stayed up just a tad, allowing Blanco to drive it into the right-center-field gap for his second three-bagger of these playoffs.
"He just hung it," said Blanco, who would have added an infield hit if not for a missed call by first-base ump Brian O'Nora. "He wasn't trying to do it, but I think the weather kind of helped."
To start the bottom of the ninth, Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta skied a high foul popup deep into foul territory in left that Blanco was able to reach out and grab just before it ricocheted off the wall. It was only the third-best catch he's made in this series.
"The defense Blanco has played has been incredible all year," said Sandoval, who watched Blanco save Matt Cain's perfect game earlier this year with a spectacular catch. "He's done his job, and he's helped us in every way possible -- making plays, bunting, moving runners. It's been unbelievable what he's done for us in the outfield."
Most unbelievable, perhaps, is how Blanco has almost made you forget about the man he esentially replaced -- Melky Cabrera.
Blanco chose to sign with the Giants over the Marlins this offseason, then won a job in Spring Training, but was batting .232 on Aug. 15, the day Cabrera was handed a 50-game suspension. Blanco hit .281 the rest of the season and has been critical in these playoffs, especially the championship round.
"I think that's why baseball is the way it is, you know," Blanco said, smiling at the thought he could replace Cabrera's production. "Nobody's going to be there forever.
"I know he's happy for me, to be able to be doing these things."