Giants take Game 2 over Tigers

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Giants take Game 2 over Tigers

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) A Giant dose of small ball, and suddenly San Francisco finds itself in a most unique position - way ahead in a postseason series.

Madison Bumgarner shut down the Detroit Tigers for seven innings, then the Giants took advantage of a bunt that stayed fair to eke out the go-ahead run in a 2-0 win Thursday night for a 2-0 edge in the World Series.

Gregor Blanco's single trickled to a stop inches fair on the infield dirt, setting up Brandon Crawford's run-scoring double-play grounder in the seventh. Hunter Pence added a sacrifice fly in the eighth, and that was plenty for the Giants.

Game 3 will be Saturday night in Detroit and for once, the masters of the October comeback aren't playing from behind. The Giants overcame a 2-0 deficit to beat Cincinnati in the best-of-five division series and escaped a 3-1 hole against St. Louis in the NLCS.

The loss certainly left the favored Tigers wondering what else could go wrong. Prince Fielder was thrown out at the plate by a hair and moments later starting pitcher Doug Fister was struck squarely in the head by a line drive.

The 6-foot-8 Fister managed to stay on the mound, and even excelled. Bumgarner more than matched him, however, allowing just two hits before the San Francisco bullpen closed it out before another pulsating crowd.

Santiago Casilla pitched a perfect eighth and Sergio Romo worked the ninth for a save in the combined two-hitter, leaving Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera in a huge hole heading back to Comerica Park. Anibal Sanchez will start for the Tigers against Ryan Vogelsong in Detroit.

The Tigers looked foggy at the plate, maybe still lost following a five-day layoff after an ALCS sweep of the Yankees. Cabrera hopped up and twisted away after third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who homered three times in the opener, snared his early line drive.

Bumgarner had something to do with the Tigers' troubles, too.

Bumped from the NLCS rotation after two poor postseason starts, he returned with a flourish. The left-hander struck out eight and looked as sharp as he did in the 2010 World Series when, as a 21-year-old rookie, he stopped Texas in Game 4 on the way to a championship.

This game was scoreless in the seventh when the Giants went ahead, right after actor Tom Hanks - a former peanut vendor at the nearby Oakland Coliseum - sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" on the field.

Pence led off with a single and Fister departed, getting lots of hugs in the dugout. Rookie reliever Drew Smyly walked Brandon Belt on a full-count pitch and Blanco's bunt loaded the bases.

The Tigers kept their infield back up the middle, and had no play at the plate on Crawford's bouncer.

Pence added the insurance run the next inning with his flyball off Octavio Dotel.

Fielder and the Tigers came up inches short of taking an early lead, the result of yet another alert play by second baseman Marco Scutaro and a dubious decision by third base coach Gene Lamont.

Fielder was hit by a pitch to lead off the second, Delmon Young followed with a double and when the ball rattled around in left field, Lamont waved the burly slugger home. Even with no outs, Lamont sent him.

Scutaro, in the middle of every big play for the Giants this month, dashed across the diamond, caught Blanco's relay and unleashed a strong throw to the plate. All-Star catcher Buster Posey made a swipe tag to Fielder's backside, just as the Tigers star slid home. Umpire Dan Iassogna had a clear look and made a demonstrative call - out!

Fielder immediately popped up from his slide and pleaded his case with two hands. Tigers manager Jim Leyland rushed out and pointed to the plate. At second base, Young yelled, "No!"

But even if there was replay review, it wouldn't have helped the Tigers. Because TV replays showed Iassogna, working his first plate job in a World Series, got it right.

There was no dispute that Fister somehow avoided a serious injury moments later.

With two outs in the Giants second, Blanco lined a shot up the middle that hit Fister on the right side of the head and deflected on the fly to shallow center field.

Fister showed no visible effect from the blow - in fact, some in the crowd wondered whether the ball perhaps glanced off his glove because Fister stayed on his feet. Only when fans saw replays did groans echo around the ballpark.

Leyland, pitching coach Jeff Jones and a trainer went to the mound, and Fister insisted on staying in the game. He walked the next batter to load the bases, but retired Bumgarner on a popup, starting a streak of 12 straight hitters set down by Fister.

Among those who winced was Oakland pitcher Brandon McCarthy, who sustained a skull fracture and brain contusion after being hit by a line drive last month.

"I'm not watching but did just see the replay. Certainly hope he's ok," McCarthy tweeted.

NOTES: Bumgarner struck out Austin Jackson and Omar Infante to start the game. Two other Giants fanned the first two batters in a Series game: Christy Mathewson (1905) and Carl Hubbell (1933). ... Bumgarner picked off Infante at first base to end the fourth. Infante made a break for second and, like Fielder earlier, came up short with his slide. ... Scutaro was the only Giants hitter to have previously faced Fister. ... Posey has a hit in all seven World Series games in his career.

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Bullard a prime example of how, why and where Bears can improve

Bullard a prime example of how, why and where Bears can improve

This Bears rebuild has taken longer than expected. Ideally, in year three of a GM/head coach tandem, they should be contending for the playoffs. 

That’s not to say the 2017 Bears can’t. It’s just unlikely. They don’t have enough players opponents have to gameplan for. They don’t have the depth to overcome key injuries. When franchises get on a winning roll, it’s when they have enough of those studs on both sides of the ball, and have the depth to avoid as many emergencies as possible. And that happens when second- and third-year players make a jump in their play.

Offensively, we saw an impressive jump by Cam Meredith, but another left leg injury still have us wondering exactly what Kevin White is, and how good he can be. Jeremy Langford’s growth was stunted by his ankle injury. Second-year center Hroniss Grasu missed the entire year. On the defensive side, we never got to see if Kyle Fuller could’ve proven his first-round status in his third year. Safety Adrian Amos started another full season, but is now in a battle to do the same a third straight year. We can see star qualities in Eddie Goldman, but how much of a difference-maker can he be by remaining on the field? We’ll learn the same about Leonard Floyd if he can do that this fall. And there are a handful of other second-year players we’ll be watching, from Deon Bush to Deiondre Hall to Cre’Von LeBlanc. There’s also 2016 third-round pick Jonathan Bullard, who learned what it took to become a 3-4 defensive end in the NFL.

“It was okay. I got about 17 snaps a game,” Bullard said of his rookie season during last month’s minicamp. “That’s not what I wanted coming in. But it is what is. I want to move on to the next year and hopefully be able to help this team in a big way.”

Rookie seasons for every player lay the groundwork. How high their ceiling goes starts to get established in year two, between the player’s effort, and getting coached-up correctly.

“They asked me to gain a few pounds. I was like 282 last year, and right now I’m at 296, so hopefully that helps me, said Bullard. “I’m just trying to make all this solid and not lose my burst that got me here. So I’m looking forward to it. I got a year under my belt now, I know what they expect. I’m gonna be ready.”

Part of Bullard taking things upon himself was hooking up with a former defensive end, from the same alma mater, who happens to be fourth in franchise history in sacks (albeit in a 4-3 scheme): CSN’s very own Bears analyst, Alex Brown.

“We saw each other at the Florida spring game and we kind of linked up and put in some work at his facility down the road,” Bullard explained. “We’ve met up quite a few times, just working on little things. He’s just trying to give me a better understanding of the game, and some of the veteran things he knows that I want to incorporate into my game.”

So what kind of a teacher is Alex?

“He’s alright. I make him him jump in there. I tell him he’s not that old.”

And while Pace didn’t make the big splash in free agency as he tries to match up salary with his grades for players, Bullard has to prove he’s now better than last year’s starter, Mitch Unrein, as well as a hungry fellow former Gator, Jaye Howard, who was brought in on a “prove it” one-year deal after being cut just before the draft by Kansas City.

“As far as him being a Gator, it’s exciting. But it’s a competition. He’s gonna come in and try to win the starting job, and I’m gonna do the same. It’s just gonna have to be a friendly competition when training camp comes, and may the best man win.”

Let this, and many other Bourbonnais battles, begin.

Kyle Hendricks is back, but Cubs will likely have to wait for their next shot at Yu Darvish

Kyle Hendricks is back, but Cubs will likely have to wait for their next shot at Yu Darvish

Within the first several weeks of the Theo Epstein administration, the Cubs finished second in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes, though nowhere close to the $51.7 million the Texas Rangers bid for the exclusive rights to negotiate a six-year, $60 million deal with the Japanese superstar.

The Cubs will probably have to wait a few more months for their next shot at Darvish, who is “unlikely to move” before the July 31 trade deadline, a source monitoring the situation said Monday. Darvish means enough to the franchise’s bottom line as a box-office draw and magnet for corporate sponsors that the Rangers would be reluctant to trade a player with global appeal and potentially jeopardize that relationship heading into free agency this winter.

Beyond the possible impact on re-signing Darvish, that would also mean foreclosing on a season where Texas is only 2.5 games out of an American League wild-card spot, making this final week critical to the buy-or-sell decision.

The Cubs would obviously prefer to stay out of the rental market after shipping two top prospects to the White Sox in the Jose Quintana deal. Quintana’s reasonable contract – almost $31 million between next season and 2020 once two team options are picked up – creates financial flexibility for a free-agent megadeal (Darvish?) or the next big-time international player.

But the cost of doing business with the White Sox probably means the Cubs wouldn’t have the super-elite prospect to anchor a trade for Darvish, anyway. That would be another obstacle in any possible deal for Sonny Gray, with an AL source saying the New York Yankees are going hard after the Oakland A’s right-hander (and have a deeper farm system and a greater sense of urgency after missing on Quintana).

All that means Kyle Hendricks could function as the trade-deadline addition for the rotation, with the Cubs instead trying to shorten games and deepen their bullpen by July 31.

After spending more than six weeks on the disabled list, the Cubs activated Hendricks for the start of this week’s crosstown series, watching him pitch into the fifth inning of Monday’s 3-1 loss to a White Sox team that had lost nine straight games.

[Willson Contreras may be ‘the f------ Energizer Bunny,’ but Cubs still need to get another catcher before trade deadline]

Hendricks is a rhythm/feel pitcher who blossomed from an overlooked prospect in the Texas system into a piece in the buzzer-beater Ryan Dempster deal at the 2012 deadline into last year’s major-league ERA leader.

Hendricks clearly isn’t locked in yet. He gave up eight hits, but minimized the damage against the White Sox, allowing only one run while putting up five strikeouts against zero walks.

“He wasn’t as normal,” manager Joe Maddon said. “The velocity was still down a little bit. There was not a whole lot of difference between his pitches. He was not what you would call ‘on.’ He would be the first one to tell you that. He looked fine delivery-wise, but the ball just wasn’t coming out as normal.”

Hendricks described his fastball command as “terrible,” called his secondary pitches “OK” and ultimately came to this conclusion: “Health-wise, everything felt great, so we’ll take that. Just got to get back (to my routine).”

The biggest takeaway is Hendricks didn’t feel any lingering effects from the right hand tendinitis that was initially classified as a minor injury in early June. Meaning the Cubs (51-47) are just about at full strength and have another week left to upgrade the defending World Series champs.