Entering into the World Series, there was not a baseball expert or fan outside of the Bay Area that gave the Giants a chance of winning against a Detroit Tigers team that boasted the best pitcher in baseball (Justin Verlander) and the Sporting News Player of the Year (Miguel Cabrera).
Individual brilliance aside, the Tigers were coming off a dominant sweep of the New York Yankees, whereas the Giants had to come back from 2 games down to book their place in the World Series.
The cards were all in the Tigers favour and they even had the rare benefit of additional rest and preparation time. Little did anyone know that the Giants would be so relentless in their 7 game unbeaten streak to win it all. Even after the final out, closer Sergio Romo was left in awe.
It was the perfect evidence to demonstrate the remarkable feat that the Giants had pulled off.
However, when reflecting upon the result it is easy to comprehend what helped them complete the sweep against the much-favoured Tigers. The first thing was pitching rotation.
In the playoffs, a strong bullpen is just as, if not more important than a deep batting line up. Verlander’s World Series woes continued in the only big defeat. The biggest beneficiary of Verlander’s misfiring arm was World Series MVP, Pablo Sandoval, who dispatched him for 2 of his 3 home runs of the night.
Zito, on the other hand, pitched masterfully, and even with his limited weaponry when compared to Verlander, he was too much for the Tigers line-up to handle on the day.
The remaining three games were a much closer affair in which starting pitching could not be faulted for either side. Instead, the strength of the bullpen played its part. Where the Giants had the ever reliable Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo, the Tigers had Phil Coke who only replaced closer Jose Valverde as the Tigers designated closer in the middle of the playoffs.
It would be harsh to criticise Coke as his play wasn’t as poor as some of his teammates, but he ultimately conceded the winning run in game 4, so will be remembered for causing the sweep.
However, it would be unfair to ignore the failure of two of the Tigers’ big names. While Verlander can only impact a limited number of games, the poor play of Prince Fielder, a former home run champion, limited the offense of the Tigers.
In fact, Cabrera’s homer in game 4 aside, the Tigers entire offense was rather impotent. With that being the case, it is a rather simple formula. If you can’t put runs on the board, then you aren’t going to win games. In addition to this, if you go 20 innings in a row without a score, it is simply unacceptable.
This is perhaps where the distinguishing factors of champions over ordinary teams play a part. Those factors: psychological approach, mental toughness and ultimately team chemistry in a pressure situation. All three are interlinked, and were clear to see throughout the World Series.
In all of the close games, the Giants always seemed to be the more likely to win as they were more aggressive on both offense and defence whereas the Tigers looked more disjointed and too heavily reliant on one man, Miguel Cabrera.
This key man dependency was the clearest demonstration of the flawed psyche that the Tigers maintained during the series. Alternatively, the Giants put on show the counter style in the clearest way possible: on the final out of the year.
Facing the best bat in baseball and Tigers star man in the bottom of the 10th inning, Romo in tandem with catcher, Buster Posey, masterminded a strike out in the most pressure filled situation imaginable.
So when the dust has settled and the Tigers get a chance to review each game, they can have no qualms as to how the series played out. In the depths of the playoffs, results are determined as much by mental toughness as they are by technical ability.
While the Tigers may boast a playoff ready team in terms of ability, they can only consider ending their 28-year drought when they are able to utilise a winning mentality in the clutch.
For the Giants on the other hand, the party starts now. They have added their 2nd title in 3 years and the front office will no doubt be planning how they can improve this team further to make them into a dynasty.
For the people of San Francisco, they will hope that the party doesn’t stop here. Instead their attention will be turned to rooting for the 49ers to bring home more success to the Bay Area. For now though, San Francisco’s sports fans will no doubt be chanting Jim Harbaugh’s now famous mantra: “Who’s got it better than us? Nobody!”
image: © harshlight