Giants make their outs count to tame Tigers in Game 2

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Giants make their outs count to tame Tigers in Game 2

SAN FRANCISCO Tim Flannery does it every spring.

Hell receive throws at first base during infield practice,leap off the bag the instant the ball slaps leather and pump both arms like hejust clinched the World Series.

Because thats what you practice for, the Giants bald,crystal blue-eyed third base coach said. If it doesnt matter then, when willit?

Relay throws. Bunting situations. Productive outs. Theymattered on the World Series stage on a warm, late-October night at AT&TPark. And thanks to the small stuff, the Giants are thinking very, very big.

They scored their Game 2 runs on a double-play grounder inthe seventh inning and a sacrifice fly in the eighth. They were aided by aperfect, shuffleboard bunt that delivered more than the intended bargain. And theGiants prevented a run, too, because a second baseman smartly wandered acrossthe diamond to back up a relay throw that arrived with too much thrust.

RELATED: Anatomy of a perfect relay

The Giants did what they were supposed to do in a 2-0victory over the Detroit Tigers. They played National League baseball in aNational League ballpark, and made their AL opponents look like a bunch of fat,stodgy, athletically challenged softball players.

Madison Bumgarner possessed something well short of dominantstuff, but he had enough bite on an improved slider and he varied its location.That was sufficient to frustrate the big-swinging Tigers, who kept snappingtheir jaws only to find the chain didnt quite reach.

And all of the sudden, the Giants -- this collection ofcockroaches, survivors of six elimination games against the Reds and Cardinals-- are up two games to none as the series shifts to the Motor City. Thats notto suggest the ring fittings should commence post haste. The roaches have notbecome the exterminators yet, and this World Series is far from over.

But after besting Justin Verlander and Doug Fister, letsjust say the house is tented.

You cant count anybody out, said right-hander SergioRomo, who retired three hitters in smoke-bomb fashion to record his first WorldSeries save. I mean, just look where we came from. And besides, theyre the ALchamps. They were picked to be here from the get-go. But to beat those twounbelievable starters? To shut down that lineup? Yeah, we like our position.

There will be much blathering and bloviating over thingslike fate and destiny, citing paranormal signs such as Angel Pagans doink shotoff third base in Game 1 or Gregor Blancos masterful bunt, which came to reston the fair side of the chalk to set up the first run of Game 2.

But lets leave a seasoned observer to dispel all that.

I dont think theyre getting the breaks, Tigers managerJim Leyland said. I think theyve earned everything theyve got. Up to thispoint, theyve outplayed us.

They did a little bit better than us today. They did quitea bit better yesterday. But I always tip my hat. I mean, theyre playinggood. Theyre playing like the Giants play, and we expected that coming in.Theyre good. Theyre really good.

Game 2 was about outs, what you did with them and how hardyou made your opponent work to achieve them. The Giants saw enough pitches to getFister out of a scoreless game following Hunter Pences leadoff single inthe seventh, and Brandon Belt drew a walk from left-hander Drew Smyly.

That brought Blanco to the plate, and even when an erratic Smylystarted him with a 2-0 count, the bunt sign stayed on. Blanco fouled oneattempt but could not have placed the 3-1 pitch any better, hugging it up thethird base line as three Tigers stood over and watched it to a stop, as if tryingto see their reflection in their shoes.

I was hoping their guys would grab the ball because Ithought it was going foul, said Flannery, noting that a ball on the dirtusually hits the lip of the grass and takes a left turn. Well, I guess thisone didnt tonight. When it didnt do anything else, I thought, This is one ofthose weird things.

You just go home and you thank the higher power orwhoevers in charge, and try not to piss any others off.

Leyland had a choice to make, and it wasnt Vishnu or Yahweh. Withthe bases loaded and no outs, the manager stationed his infielders atdouble-play depth. Sure, Leylands lineup had six outs remaining and an emptystomach, but he figured one run would be easier to make up than two, should theGiants bleed something through a drawn-in infield.

Brandon Crawford delivered the grounder to second base thatgave both clubs what they wanted.
Flannery watched that 4-6-3 grounder and knew Marco Scutarohad a hand in it. The veteran second baseman, the most significant late Julyacquisition since Neil Armstrong picked up a moon rock, had been tutoringCrawford and other younger players, telling them always to think about usingthe middle of the field with a runner on third and less than two out.

If Crawford hits that to first base, the run doesntscore, Flannery said.

Scutaro's awareness extends to run prevention, too. If he had not driftedover from second base to back up Blancos throw from left field on DelmonYoungs double, then Prince Fielder would have scored from first base. And ifScutaros relay to the plate had been less accurate, perhaps steering catcherBuster Posey into the baseline, the Giants might have lost much more than aWorld Series game.

You can ask Todd Greene about that. (Or you can just GoogleToddGreene PrinceFielder collision.)

When the throw went over my head, I thought, I hopeMarcos there, Crawford said. I didnt really think about it. But thinkingnow, its a dangerous play (for Posey), I guess. But he got in the rightposition and made a good tag.

The Giantsadded a run in the eighth after Angel Pagan stole his way into scoringposition, enticing Leyland to intentionally walk Pablo Sandoval with a baseopen. Posey walked to load the bases, and Pence already owner of a 10-pitchat-bat and a rally-starting single -- completed a tenacious night at the platewith a sacrifice fly.

But all of those small deeds would have amounted to nothingif not for the littlest player on the field.

Me? Im 5-foot-10, Romo said. But I dont feel 5-10 outthere. I feel 6-10. I feel like Im legitimately somebody out there and I feellike my teammates look at me as someone whos important.

Especially here, when you hear that crowd. Its electric.Its somewhat indescribable.

Romo only began to address reporters after taking severalminutes to compose himself. He arrived at his locker 15 minutes after the finalout and buried his head in his hands, still shaking with the tension of hisfirst World Series save opportunity. He almost seemed to hyperventilate whileripping off his uniform as if having hot flashes.

No, he did not stop to think that he needed a 1-2-3 inningto keep Miguel Cabrera and Fielder from batting in the ninth. He only stareddown the hitters as they came at him, cocking his arm and daring them to hithis 88 mph two-seamer and running slider. And when they could not, Romo punchedhis glove and started the handshake line.

Ive heard it said some guys can get outs in certaininnings and some guys cant, Romo said. Me, I dont have time to worry aboutthat. I just know a lot of guys are riding on the pitches Ive beenthrowing.

Romo delivered them. Belt caught the last one near the coaches' box. And seven months after the last early-morningfrost thawed away on the grass in Scottsdale, the Giants are one step nearer topumping both arms.

Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

Giants spring training Day 7: Rule change should help Bochy

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On one of the many nights last season when his bullpen imploded, Bruce Bochy nearly put a catcher on the mound. Trevor Brown ended up playing an inning of third base on June 28 as the Giants gave up eight runs over the final two innings in a brutal loss to the A’s, and he said this week that he was told he was the next man up on the mound. 

That night was an odd one, as a tired bullpen was waiting for Sergio Romo to get activated off a rehab assignment and trying to get by without long reliever Chris Stratton, who had thrown 57 pitches out of the ‘pen the night before. The bench was also short because Joe Panik was about to be put on the concussion DL.

Bochy hopes he doesn’t have to deal with such a situation this season, and not just because the bullpen should be much improved. The disabled list lasts 10 days now, not 15, and Bochy is thrilled with the new rule.

“The DL thing, I really like it,” he said. “You get caught in that gray area so often.” 

Bochy met with league officials on Saturday to go over some of the rule changes. DL stints can now be made retroactive just three days, but it’s still a vast improvement overall. 

“With (position) players and pitchers it’s going to make it easier to DL guys,” Bochy said. “If you’re looking at (starting) pitchers, they could miss just one start.”

The Giants have often played a man or more short, trying to get by day-by-day to give a position player or starter time to heal. Around camp, this could be called the Angel Pagan Rule, as the former Giants outfielder often missed a week or so before officially going on the DL. At times, Bochy has been patient with players like Buster Posey and Hunter Pence, knowing that even if they missed a week, keeping them off the DL could still earn the Giants seven or eight games with a big bat back in the lineup. If a future diagnosis is that a player will miss a week, it’ll be much easier to swallow putting him on the 10-day DL than it was for the 15-day. Likewise, the Giants will take advantage of the change if a pitcher will have to miss a start. 

Bochy has said often that he would like every reliever to go on the DL during the season to freshen up. That’ll make more sense now, and it should keep the Giants from having to play as many games where the bullpen is gassed and a backup catcher is preparing to pitch. For guys like Stratton — a versatile pitcher on the 40-man roster — it should also lead to increased trips up to the big leagues to fill gaps. 

INJURY UPDATE: Pence (side muscle) took 25 swings during a live BP session in the cage and Bochy said he’s doing much better. That was about the only significant activity Sunday. Once again, the workout was rained out. Bochy said the Giants have enough time to get guys ready for the Cactus League opener on Feb. 24, but they’ll likely hold some big-name pitchers out of the early games. Brandon Crawford and Posey will get plenty of early starts to prepare for the WBC. 

PROSPECT WATCH: If the early games are turned over to prospects, Dan Slania will be an interesting guy to watch. Slania is listed at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, so he always had the look of an imposing reliever. But his greatest success last season came after a surprise move to the rotation. 

Slania, a 2013 fifth-round pick out of Notre Dame, got a call on his 24th birthday telling him to prepare to start because of an injury in Richmond’s rotation. He had not started a game since high school, but his four-pitch mix worked. He had a 5.32 ERA out of the bullpen but it dropped to 1.48 in 10 starts for the Flying Squirrels. In two Triple-A starts, he struck out 14 over 13 innings while allowing just eight hits and two runs. The Giants put him on their 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. 

“He had a great year last year,” Bochy said. “He’s in camp for a reason. He’s got great stuff and a good makeup.”

RULE CHANGE: One more thing that came out of that rules meeting: Managers who are out of challenges now have to wait until the eighth inning to ask an umpire to look at a play.

QUOTABLE: “We know he’s better off taking some days. We talked about it (with him). He agrees that it’ll help him.” Bochy on Pence’s workload. The right fielder is coming off two injury-marred seasons, and the Giants have no intention of even trying to get him back to his Iron Man days. 

Tomlinson still a fit as Giants put bench together

Tomlinson still a fit as Giants put bench together

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The “options game” can be a cruel one. It can also be one of the most important parts of spring training. 

If two players are relatively even at the end of camp but only one can be optioned to the minors, he’s usually the man left out. Giants officials have already made reference to this several times in discussing left field, where Jarrett Parker — who is out of options — would surely be claimed off waivers if the Giants try to sneak him back to the minors before Opening Day. Mac Williamson, on the other hand, can be shuttled back and forth. 

The same holds true for Kelby Tomlinson, and while it was easy during the first week of camp to see him as the odd man out, manager Bruce Bochy said that’s not the case. What do all the veteran infielders mean for the young one already in-house?

“It hasn’t affected anything for Kelby, really,” Bochy said. “It’s all about competition for spots on this team.”

Tomlinson played 54 games in 2015 and 52 a year ago, but the Giants put a clear emphasis this offseason on finding backup infielders. Jimmy Rollins, Jae-gyun Hwang, Orlando Calixte and Gordon Beckham were among those brought in before camp, and Aaron Hill arrived on the fourth day. Sure, Ehire Adrianza — who was seemingly perpetually out of options — is no longer around, but if the Giants carry just two backup infielders, one of them will almost certainly be Conor Gillaspie. 

Tomlinson isn’t bothered by the offseason of additions. He said he can take knowledge away from six weeks spent with guys he grew up watching.

“Rollins’ prime was right in my later high school years,” he said, smiling. “I’ve got a lot of guys to learn from and watch. It’s a little of both (a competition and learning experience). We’re all fighting for the same job, but we’re still on the same team and we’re all trying to learn from each other and help each other.”

Tomlinson is the incumbent, and the Giants certainly know all about his speed and ability to play all over the field (he continued to take fly balls this winter, just in case). They also now know that Tomlinson adds something that’s needed on any bench. Last season, he emerged as one of Bochy’s most reliable pinch-hitters. 

Tomlinson’s seven pinch-hits were tied for second on the team after Gillaspie’s 11. He was 7-for-17 in a pinch, adding three walks. Tomlinson’s simple swing and up-the-middle approach have proven perfect for important spots. He’s a .315 career hitter with runners in scoring position, a .373 hitter in situations baseball-reference deems “late and close,” and a .367 hitter in “high leverage” spots.

“I’m just trying to compete up there every at-bat, especially in that pinch-hitting role,” Tomlinson said. “It’s a grind, but that makes it fun when you give the team a quality at-bat. Even if it’s not a hit, you go up there and try to see five pitches and have a good at-bat.”

Tomlinson has given the Giants plenty of them over parts of two seasons. With Brandon Crawford headed for the World Baseball Classic, he is sure to see increased time this spring, and while the options game or non-roster list might catch up to him, the Giants haven’t forgotten what they already have. 

“He gives us versatility,” Bochy said, “So he’s in the mix, too.”