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Two-out bounce off bag turns tide in third frame

Two-out bounce off bag turns tide in third frame

Two-out bounce off bag turns tide in third frame
SAN FRANCISCO -- In that moment of dumbfounded dejection, that moment when, it seemed, the fates were conspiring against his cause, that moment when Game 1 of the World Series went weird, Miguel Cabrera had a thought perfect in its lack of profundity.

"Uh-oh."

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So simple, so summative.

Because here's the thing about postseason play, and the World Series in particular: The simplest, silliest things can swing your season so swiftly. And the last thing you need in this environment is that feeling, however fleeting, that you're opposing not only that club in the other dugout, but the weighty forces of karma or kismet.

We are a long, long way from knowing how the 108th World Series will shake out. But what we do know, for sure, is that the Giants didn't win six straight elimination games in the National League Division Series and NL Championship Series without a few beneficial bounces. And if they're going to keep getting them here in the Fall Classic, well, Wednesday night won't be the last time Cabrera and his mates are uttering an "Uh-oh."

They uttered it in the third inning of Game 1 -- a game that went to San Francisco by an 8-3 count.

Justin Verlander had surrendered a solo shot to Pablo Sandoval in the first inning, but the ace righty seemed to be settling in. Verlander got two quick outs, and he got Angel Pagan to hit a squibber down the third-base line to prompt a play that, if turned by Cabrera, would have gotten the righty out of another inning unscathed and given him a trace of momentum in his battle with Barry Zito.

Well, by now you know the play wasn't made by Cabrera. Otherwise, he wouldn't have said "Uh-oh," would he? Plenty of people said "Uh-oh" when Cabrera made the move to third base to accommodate Prince Fielder this season, but his defensive play at the hot corner wasn't nearly as abominable as it could have been.

But this? Not even a Gold Glove Award winner could do much about this.

Cabrera ranged to his right as the ball lazily lifted in the air, and Pagan hustled down the line. The ball descended and struck not dirt but vinyl, hitting the inside edge of the third-base bag, then scooting -- dully but dramatically -- into left field.

As a result, not only was Pagan safely aboard with two out; he was safely aboard at second.

"I saw it when it got away from Miguel, I was just trying to hustle to first base and create a rally with two outs," Pagan said. "But it hit the bag, and then after that, I was trying to get to second base."

Now, listen, a lot of things happened in this game from that point forward, and very few of them were particularly positive for the Tigers. Verlander had an odd and ugly outing, lasting just four innings and giving up five runs. Pablo Sandoval, of all people, became just the fourth player in Major League history -- joining a list that previously only included such luminaries as Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols -- to hit three home runs in a World Series game. And Jose Valverde ... well, suffice to say Detroit still has an issue on its hands with its closer.

So let's not make the double off the bag out to be the be-all and end-all here.

"I don't know if it was that big a factor," Fielder said. "That was just bad luck. Pablo's three home runs might have hurt us a little bit more."

This is true. It is also true, however, that Sandoval wouldn't have been in a position to hit the second of those homers in that particular inning had the play on the Pagan ball been made. For after the Pagan double, the hot-hitting Marco Scutaro worked Verlander for an eight-pitch at-bat and singled to center to bring the runner home. Then Sandoval drove a 95-mph fastball the opposite way for his second home run, making it 3-0.

Frankly, we'll never know how the inning would have unfolded even if Cabrera had caught it and Pagan had beaten the throw to reach on an infield single. Perhaps the inning would have unraveled anyway, perhaps not.

There was something about that moment, though, when you knew this would not be the Tigers' night and you knew that this would continue to be the Giants' week.

After all, it was almost exactly 48 hours earlier, in the same building, in the same half-inning, when Hunter Pence connected on a ball not once or twice, but thrice on a single swing and sent a line-drive double veering totally out of Pete Kozma's reach for a three-run double in the Game 7 NLCS win over the Cardinals.

People talked about the "baseball gods" working in San Francisco's favor on that Pence play, and they talked about it again after the Pagan bounce off the bag. Whether or not you believe in the gods, you have to believe that a little luck never hurt anybody at this stage of the game, and the Giants have had it in spades.

Want another example? Look at the ball off Delmon Young's bat that bounced in front of the plate with no outs in the fourth. Buster Posey caught it and quickly tagged Young, then fired to second to nab Fielder as he attempted to advance.

"They had a man on first," said Giants special assistant Will Clark, "and they're trying to get back in the ballgame. Then all of a sudden it's a double play and it erases all that momentum they had. And you look at the third inning, Verlander's cruising, and he gets that little bad break right there and then Scutaro puts together a heck of an at-bat and Panda goes yard. If you're Verlander, you're thinking, 'All of a sudden, I'm down three runs.'"

Verlander did, indeed, look miffed as that inning unfolded. He seemed a little peeved when pitching coach Jeff Jones came out to talk to him after the Scutaro at-bat. It's not that the double off the bag got in his head, but it might have messed with his mojo.

"Things happen," Verlander said. "Balls take bad hops, balls do things like that. You've got to try to reset."

The Tigers would love to hit the reset button on this game. It was one big "Uh-oh."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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