Thrown for a win: Giants on cusp of another title

October 27th, 2012

DETROIT -- If pitching is the currency of baseball, as some say, then the Giants continued to sit on a gold mine Saturday night.

The next time they leave that perch could be to collect more riches -- their newest World Series rings.

Relying on clutch pitching from Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Lincecum, San Francisco crept one victory away from its second championship in three years by edging Detroit, 2-0, in Game 3 of the World Series. The Giants increased their Series lead over the Tigers to 3-0 and appear poised to capture their seventh world title in franchise history.

All 23 previous teams to assume a 3-0 edge in the Series ultimately won it. But assuming is exactly what San Francisco insisted it is striving to avoid.

"After 27 outs, if we win, then we're going to celebrate," said left fielder Gregor Blanco, who accounted for both runs in the second inning by tripling home Hunter Pence and scoring on Brandon Crawford's single. "Before that, we have to maintain our focus on playing hard and winning games."

Lincecum indicated that the Giants intend to stay relentless. That's a good idea, since a plausible scenario can be conceived for the Tigers to bring the Series back to San Francisco. If 16-game winner Max Scherzer can help Detroit capture Sunday's Game 4 (5 p.m. PT air time on FOX, 5:15 PT first pitch), the Tigers will entrust Game 5 to ace Justin Verlander, whom the Giants raked in Game 1. Detroit doesn't expect Verlander to lose twice in a row.

Lincecum said that San Francisco's six consecutive victories in elimination games in the first two postseason rounds "gave us the momentum and the drive to know that we can do anything if our backs are against the wall. So if we're in the driver's seat and we're up 3-0, we're looking to make a statement there."

During the Giants' six-game postseason winning streak -- a span in which they've outscored opponents 32-4 -- their dominant starting pitching has recorded a 0.47 ERA (two earned runs in 38 2/3 innings). Vogelsong sustained that trend, punctuating his 5 2/3-inning outing by coaxing Miguel Cabrera's bases-loaded, inning-ending popup in the fifth.

"You know, it's my first World Series. I've been waiting for this since I was 5 years old," Vogelsong said. "I wasn't going to go down without a fight, that's for sure."

Earlier, Vogelsong induced a pair of double-play grounders in the first three innings, both with runners at first and second and one out, to prevent the Tigers from exciting their partisans at Comerica Park. Taking the crowd out of the game, Giants right-hander Sergio Romo said, was "very uplifting for us."

The same could be said of Vogelsong's overall postseason performance. The right-hander improved to 3-0 in four starts with a 1.09 ERA, the lowest postseason figure by a starting pitcher over at least 24 innings since Los Angeles' Orel Hershiser posted a 1.05 ERA in 1988.

"I don't think I was as sharp as I wanted to be," Vogelsong said. "But when the guys are playing defense like that behind you, it encourages you to try to get the guys to put the ball in play."

Lincecum, the once and future starter, followed with 2 1/3 innings of hitless relief before Romo pitched a perfect ninth for his second Series save. Lincecum's postseason numbers in five relief outings look like the stuff of fantasy: one run and three hits allowed with 17 strikeouts in 13 innings.

"I think just being able to contribute is the biggest thing for me," Lincecum said. "I know this season I didn't do exactly what I wanted to do, so to go out there and be able to do something for the team, whether that's for two innings or an inning or four innings, that's really my goal."

San Francisco blanked Detroit for the second straight game, matching the number of shutout defeats the Tigers absorbed during the regular season. Cabrera (2-for-9) and cleanup batter Prince Fielder (1-for-10) have not wielded their powerful influence.

"The Tigers talk about team, they don't talk about individuals," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "Obviously a lot of people struggle when you get only five hits and you don't score any runs."

The Tigers generated an opportunity to gain a competitive toehold in this Series. But Vogelsong simply stepped on them.

The moment occurred in the fifth inning, when Detroit loaded the bases with one out on singles by Alex Avila and Omar Infante and a walk to Austin Jackson. Vogelsong fell behind on the count, 2-1, to Quintin Berry, but struck him out.

Up came Cabrera, who received the Hank Aaron Award as the American League's top offensive performer before the game. The Triple Crown winner popped up to shortstop on a 91-mph fastball, and that was it for the Tigers.

"Right now he's the best hitter in the game," Vogelsong said of Cabrera. "I just tried to make pitches there. It's a lot easier to face him in that situation when there's two outs."

Crawford, who caught Cabrera's popup, had one thought as he watched the ball arc toward him and prepared to make his fundamentally sound two-handed catch: "Squeeze it."

Squeeze it, indeed. World Series glory is within the Giants' grasp.