SAN FRANCISCO – Gene Lamont is the third-base coach for the Detroit Tigers. The job is ingloriously thankless. He sends Tigers safely from third base to home and everyone wonders who the big lug in the frame was. He sends the same men into dusty, fiery, regret-soaked outs and the world wants his head in a ball bag.
Wave them into outs in the World Series, in scoreless games, with none out and the reincarnation of Tom Glavine on the mound, when the alternative had baserunners on second and third, then Gene Lamont emerges from the showers at AT&T Park with a heavy sigh of have-at-me.
"Well, you know, if I had it to do over I probably would have held him," he said. "We haven't been scoring runs and I got overly aggressive, I guess. I just saw that ball bounce off the wall…"
Yes, this is the man who took Prince Fielder off third base in Game 2 of the World Series on Thursday night in what would become a 2-0 win for the San Francisco Giants, along with a two-games-to-none lead.
Yes, Fielder, every bit of Fielder, was thrown out by an inch or two from near the left-field foul pole. A long throw, a cut, another long throw and a swipe tag, and the Tigers never again reached third base. When the second inning died without a fight, the Tigers did not have another runner reach second base. Lamont's job basically concluded for the night in that second inning, when he giddy-upped Prince into a bang-bang play that left the game to be settled by a single run.
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That's all very neat and clean. Blame Lamont. Wasn't Jhonny Peralta on deck? The same Jhonny Peralta who'd batted .361 over his previous nine playoff games? Wasn't Avisail Garcia, another right-handed hitter against Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner, behind Peralta? Weren't there none out? Wasn't this a chance to grant Doug Fister a lead, the first of the series for the Tigers?
All that, yes.
To hand this entirely to Lamont, however, would be to miss the broader issues as the series returns to Detroit. After two games, the Tigers have been outplayed to the very last inch of this World Series. They've batted .167, continuing their season-long inelegance against finesse lefties. Their bullpen is in pieces. Their ace was run off the mound after four innings of Game 1. And then they wasted a borderline brilliant start from Fister in Game 2, when he pitched into the seventh inning and left with a runner at first in a scoreless tie. He allowed four hits and threw 114 pitches, 85 of them after taking a line drive off his head and waving off the trainer.
Then, they've been out-reasoned, as well.
Beyond Lamont's overstep, the Tigers lost a baserunner when Omar Infante was picked off first base in the fourth inning. With two out and the batter Delmon Young, apparently the only Tiger who brought his bats to San Francisco, Bumgarner didn't throw a pitch. He threw to first base twice, the second time catching Infante in a first-move frame of mind. He was out trying to steal. The Giants had sniffed it out.
Beyond Lamont's transgression, manager Jim Leyland chose to play the infield at medium depth with the bases loaded and none out in the seventh, when a run for either side seemed enough to win. When Brandon Crawford, the Giants' No. 8 hitter, bounced into a middle-infield double play, the Giants had their run.
"We felt like we couldn't give them two runs," Leyland said. "To be honest with you, we were absolutely thrilled to come out of that inning with one run. Absolutely thrilled."
What Leyland had seen from his offense to suggest it might put up two runs was unclear. What he'd seen from the Giants' bullpen to suggest it might give up two runs was equally vague. One run seemed sure to beat the Tigers. At that point, one might as well have been three or four or 22.
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These are grays of late October. You call on the rookie left-hander Drew Smyly in the seventh inning, you hope to withstand some wildness and hope more there's a good reason later to call on the veteran left-hander Phil Coke, like when there's a lead. But the lead never comes, and a scoreless game becomes a 1-0 deficit, then a 2-0 deficit, and Coke comes in to preserve that instead.
The Giants are playing the Tigers into some of this. Gregor Blanco played that kick off the wall in left, made the relay to Marco Scutaro. And Scutaro turned and threw out Fielder by just enough, no matter how eloquently Fielder or Leyland argued against the call. The execution had to be perfect. The Tigers simply couldn't risk perfect, because the Giants are in one of those places where perfect can happen.
"Let them off the hook?" Young asked incredulously. "We got two hits. I don't know what hook you're talking about."
That's about right, too. Through two games – five if you count what they did in the National League Championship Series to the St. Louis Cardinals – the Giants are playing as well as they're capable. They pitched their Nos. 3 and 4 starters against the Tigers' front-enders, and still take that two-games-to-none lead to Detroit. They've turned the Tigers' missteps into opportunities, turned the opportunities into leads and the leads into wins.
[Y! Sports Fan Shop: Buy Detroit Tigers championship merchandise]
In a game in which the first serious mistake probably would decide whose flight was happiest, the Tigers committed a handful of them. It's not who they were against the New York Yankees, but then the Giants aren't the Yankees.
So, yeah, Gene Lamont should have held Prince Fielder at third base. Maybe things would have turned out different. But that's not fixable. The Tigers need to change the stuff that can be. And that might be the only job that's tougher than Lamont's.
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