DETROIT – The San Francisco Giants are so lucky. Every time Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder come up, they make outs.
While the World Series trundles along under the impression the Giants get breaks while the Detroit Tigers get the pine-tarred end of the stick, a fresh explanation bloomed on a chilly Saturday night at Comerica Park.
The offensive center of the Tigers has failed them, and failed them miserably. The superstars feted en route to the World Series – one gifted a Triple Crown trophy prior to Game 3 and the other a symbol of team owner Mike Ilitch's financial and spiritual commitment to a championship – have been insignificant but for their blinding insignificance.
Together, they have three hits, all singles, in 19 at-bats against the Giants. They have left runners on base and left small deficits standing.
Save the small sample-size arguments. This is the World Series. One size fits all. The notion that the Tigers also are waiting on Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila, that Delmon Young and Austin Jackson and Omar Infante could do more -- well, Cabrera hits third, Fielder hits behind him, and the Tigers, like any team that wishes to run it to the end, produce from the middle out.
When they produce.
The Tigers have gone 18 innings, inning 1 of Game 2 to inning 9 of Game 3, without a run. In the six-month regular season, they were shut out twice. Over the past two games of the World Series, they've been shut out twice. They've been pitched to earnestly, without a doubt. The Giants are good at this, good enough after their 2-0 win Saturday night to be one victory from their second World Series title in three years.
Lay this as well on Fielder and Cabrera, whose bats have abandoned the Tigers.
Still in uniform some half-hour after the Tigers had slipped into their oh-three crevice, Fielder talked about getting pitches to hit, seeking pitches to hit, then putting a bat barrel on them and hoping for the best. He's 1 for 10 in the series, after batting .235 in the ALCS and .190 in the division series. In 100 career postseason at-bats, he's batting .190 with an on-base percentage under .300.
He came up in the eighth inning of Game 3 against Tim Lincecum. With one out and none on, Lincecum fed him a slider, a fastball and a changeup. Strike one, strike two, strike three. Before that, he'd killed a promising first inning by grounding into a double play, struck out looking on a fastball away in the fourth and flied to right on the first pitch of the sixth.
"You obviously don't visualize this," he said.
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He shrugged a lot and sighed some. A teammate whispered that this is killing the affable, hyper-competitive Fielder. Of course it is.
"You gotta give them credit," Fielder said, meaning the Giants. "They're in the World Series too."
The question, presumably, is when Fielder gets to the World Series.
"It is what it is," he said. "Everybody's playing hard. … It's about the next at-bat. It's not about the past. Just trying to get a pitch to hit, man."
I'd like to tell you what Cabrera thinks about all of this. About the fact he's 9 for 37 with two extra-base hits since the middle of the division series. About the one-strike fastball from Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong in the fifth inning, the one he popped up to shortstop Brandon Crawford, the one that left the bases loaded with the crowd on its feet and screaming for its MVP.
He, however, was not in uniform. He was in a green sweater and jeans. He loaded a plate from the buffet in the players' dining room, sat at a round table with a couple teammates and waited out the questions concerning his responsibility for this. Several minutes later, he was gone into the night, the team's best player having left his friends to explain a series that is all but over, along with his part in the sudden inevitability.
It's not the first time. He disappeared from some mid-series wreckage against the Oakland A's as well. The veteran Octavio Dotel reportedly scolded him over it, but the public did not hear from Cabrera until after the Tigers won again, when accountability came easier.
The world will be kinder to Prince and Miggy, because they play here. The New York Yankees came through not so long ago with the same sort of superstar issues, and near the end of that series a five-man guillotine had been erected in the Bronx and Alex Rodriguez was halfway to the Miami Marlins.
Jim Leyland will not pinch-hit for Cabrera or Fielder. He will ride them to the greatest comeback in World Series history or watch them fail.
"The Tigers talk about team, they don't talk about individuals," Leyland said when asked about Fielder and Cabrera.
When they talk, that is.
"Obviously a lot of people struggle when you only get five hits and you don't score any runs," he said. "We don't point fingers at anybody in particular. We say as a team, tonight we didn't get it done. That's the way we work here. That's the way we've operated since I've been here, and that's the way we'll always operate."
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The standard is laudable.
After an erratic regular season that very nearly cost them their place in the postseason, the Tigers for several weeks pulled together something special. They'd discovered that in the urgency of the final days of the season, and ridden their stars, and even won a pennant. Perhaps they were due to return to the personality they'd previously established.
But their old selves were strong with Cabrera and Fielder first. That was who they were. And now that they're gone too, well, Fielder shrugged. And Cabrera skulked away. And the Tigers are almost sure to follow.
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