Because if Detroit was going to swing this series, this was its time to do so. And if San Francisco was going to choke away a 2-0 lead, both in best-of-seven scope and Game 3 score, this was about when the wheels would have to come off.
"That was the turning point of the game," Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt would say later. "Nobody had momentum in the game, but that could have been a momentum shift."
If the Tigers could pick one guy to be at the plate in that fifth-inning spot, Miguel Cabrera would be the guy.
In fact, if any
team could pick one guy to be at the plate in such a spot, Cabrera might still be the guy.
So for Ryan Vogelsong, the matchup was far from ideal. But the approach was simplistic.
"I was just trying to make a pitch," Vogelsong said.
That was the approach all night, of course, but Vogelsong was having particular trouble making them in that fifth inning. This would prove to be another in a sequence of extraordinary postseason starts -- both by Vogelsong and the Giants' starting staff as a whole -- but his command was not at its apex, and in this inning, it became an issue.
Staked to a 2-0 lead by an offense that delivered early against Anibal Sanchez, only to fall silent for the remainder of the game, Vogelsong had only the slightest bit of breathing room. And there had to be heavy breaths in San Francisco's dugout when he gave up a line-drive single to Alex Avila followed by a bloop single from Omar Infante. That put two on with one out. And when the payoff pitch to Austin Jackson in a 3-2 count was a wayward fastball, Detroit had the bases jammed with its Nos. 2 and 3 hitters due up.
"We had the right guys coming up," Avila said.
Well, the plural might be debatable there, because Quintin Berry had come across as overly aggressive (much like many of the Tigers in this series) in his previous at-bat in the third. Detroit had put two on with one out, and Berry found himself chasing a low changeup on the first pitch, rather than remaining patient or perhaps even putting down a bunt attempt that would have moved the runners over for Cabrera.
"I was kicking myself right there," Berry said. "If I bunt right there, worst-case scenario I'm out and we've got second and third for Miggy."
So this time around, Berry came to the plate with a different mindset. He knew Vogelsong was having trouble finding the strike zone, and he also knew to lay off the low stuff that had tripped him up earlier.
"I was just trying to get a ball up," Berry said. "You know, he's a sinkerball pitcher. After grounding out on a changeup and getting into a double play, I was definitely not looking for something down."
Berry worked the count to 2-1. He had Vogelsong right where he wanted him. If Berry keeps the bat on his shoulder, perhaps Vogelsong does the damage to himself, for his 2-1 offering was a head-high changeup well out of the zone.
But Berry swung. He fouled it off. Now the count was 2-2, and the tone of the at-bat had changed considerably.
"I extended the strike zone a little too much," Berry said. "Maybe I was a little overanxious right there."
Berry would get a more hittable pitch at 2-2 -- a 91-mph four-seamer out over the plate. But he swung right through it, and now there were two away.
Still, Cabrera was due up. The Tigers still had life, or so they assumed.
"Right now," Vogelsong said, "he's the best hitter in the game."
Earlier in the day, Cabrera had been presented with a trophy to honor his AL Triple Crown achievement, as well as the Hank Aaron Award. This had the makings of a moment befitting such hardware.
Turns out, this was a moment that will be remembered more for Vogelsong's punishing poise. He got Cabrera to foul off a first-pitch sinker and then tossed him a four-seamer in on the hands. Cabrera swung hard, and instead of launching a game-changing grand slam, the result from the would-be MVP was something else entirely:
Most Vexing Popup.
Cabrera didn't bother to stick around to talk about it afterward, but Vogelsong shared his thoughts.
"The way we were playing defense, I was really just trying to get him to put a ball in play somewhere," Vogelsong said. "Because I had a good feeling we were going to catch it if he did."
Shortstop Brandon Crawford caught it after settling on one thought as the ball came toward him:
The Giants have put the squeeze on the Tigers, and this moment was illustrative of just how tight that grip can be. Detroit looks tense, while San Francisco looks calm and confident. And the fifth inning was the most tell-tale moment this series has provided thus far.
"That fifth inning," Affeldt said, "was a jab that made them stumble a little bit."