Baseball: Detroit motor to World Series as battling Giants do it the hard way

 

Washington

The comeback team against the would-be comeback city. Such is the 2012 World Series which opens tonight in what is probably the major leagues' most beautiful ballpark, where Barry Bonds used to lash his steroid-fuelled home runs into San Francisco Bay.

The city in question is Detroit, the team are San Francisco's hometown Giants. Six times in this frenetic baseball post-season they have played an elimination game, win or go home – and the Giants have stayed alive by taking every one of them.

In the best-of-five National League division series against the Cincinnati Reds, they lost the first two games at home before going to Cincinnati and reeling off three straight victories on the road.

The same thing happened again as the Giants came back from a 3-1 deficit to snatch the best-of-seven NL championship series from the previously indestructible St Louis Cardinals, World Series winners last year. The Giants kept hope alive with a 5-0 game five win in St Louis behind a masterful display of pitching guile by Barry Zito.

They tied up proceedings on Sunday and then applied the finishing touch on Monday evening with a 9-0 rout, sealed by a towering home run from Brandon Belt, struck into the right-field bleachers.

Over those last three games, they out-scored St Louis by 20-1. "These guys never quit," the Giants' manager Bruce Bochy said afterwards. "They just kept believing and they got it done."

And so too, but with far less drama, did the Detroit Tigers as they took the American League pennant from the New York Yankees in a four-game sweep.

So one-sided was the series that it will be remembered not for the Tigers' all-round excellence, led by baseball's most overpowering pitcher, Justin Verlander, and the game's best hitter, Miguel Cabrera, the first winner of the batting triple crown since 1967.

Instead, the 2012 American League play-offs will surely go down as the end of the latest Yankee dynasty – or rather what might have been a dynasty had Alex Rodriguez and a clutch of hitters, collectively paid over $100m (£62.5m) a year for their efforts, not failed so abysmally when it mattered most.

Not that the Detroit's owner Mike Ilitch has exactly played "Scrooge", signing free-agent slugger Prince Fielder in the 2011 close season in a $214m (£134m) nine-year deal, the fourth richest contract in baseball history.

Together, Cabrera (himself midway through an eight-year $153m – £95.5m – contract) and Fielder form perhaps the major leagues' most redoubtable hitting duo.

Those acquisitions were not, however, just to revive one of baseball's most venerable franchises, that had not won a World Series since 1984, and which in 2003 lost 117 regular-season games, a record for the American League. The resurgent Tigers would be symbol of a reborn Detroit – and with the revival of the Motor City's signature industry, that too may be starting to happen.

Six years ago, the Tigers reached the World Series, but were soundly defeated by the Cardinals. This time the foe in the sport's marquee event is San Francisco and the Tigers start as favourites.

They have better hitting, as well as a fearsome all-rightie pitching rotation, led by Verlander and Max Scherzer. Thanks to the quick despatch of the Yankees they have also had the luxury of five full days to prepare. But even a seven-game series is a lottery. In baseball, as in life, too much rest can do more harm than good. And this season has proved one thing above all... never, ever, count San Francisco out.

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