keyboard_arrow_uptop

Guess the MLB.com headline!

a. Panda Express: Giants Jump Out Quickly
b. Mr. Octobear
c. Zito Catches Tigers By The Tail
d. Law Of The Jungle: Panda Bites Tigers
e. Pandamonium Breaks Out in San Francisco
f. Mr. Thrice Guy

Well I'll be honest, there's one perfect answer slipped in here that Joe Peta came up with, and it's wrong. So listen to your gut, then eliminate that answer, and go with what your gut likes second best. Answer at the bottom. 

***

And just like that, this World Series has decided what it's about.

On Wednesday, Pablo Sandoval hit three home runs, in a park where only three Giants hit three (or more) home runs all season, against a pitcher who—well, Verlander's home run rate is probably the most human thing about him, besides his opposable thumbs (one of which he uses to deploy his unhuman and dangerously fast assortment of pitches) and his physical attraction to other humans. Also on Wednesday, in the same game, coincidentally, Barry Zito earned a victory by pitching excellently against a team that was expected to hit him, by dint of having brought baseball bats. He also got a base hit and drove in a run against Justin Verlander. Against Justin Verlander he did that. Barry Zito has now matched Pat Burrell's career World Series RBI total. Pat Burrell batted in the middle of the order on two World Series champions. This is all so unthinkable. 

But somebody steps up in every World Series game. What this World Series is about is 2010. It's about carrying forward a narrative through time for the payoff that is all the greater for this narrative having made us wait. In 2010, Barry Zito was left off the postseason roster, a shame (because of his salary) on a level greater than Alex Rodriguez's forced inactivity in this year's ALCS. He was not just booted from the rotation, as Tim Lincecum was this year, and as some starter is every year; he was left off the roster entirely. Instead of Zito, the Giants carried Mike Fontenot: 0-for-0. He made one appearance as a pinch-hitter and was immediately pinch-hit for.*

So (with the caveat that this all gets undone if the Tigers win the next two or three games) what the 2012 World Series wants to be is the final act of the 2010 World Series. The 2010 World Series, in this narrative, is actually just the instigating event; the 2010 World Series lays the gun on the dresser, then moseys off, distracting us with all manner of plot twists and substories, David Freese and Mike Trout and the fish structure in Miami. But, sure enough, that gun will be fired. 

So let's take each shot separately. 

***

We had a bit of fun with Pablo Sandoval's pitch chart in Game Six of the NLCS, when he singled on the 10th pitch of an at-bat that saw perhaps 10 pitches thrown out of the strike zone. For that reason, for the Panda reason, it can sometimes be hard to determine how much blame to give the pitchers and how much credit to give Panda (and, in the case of Sandoval's outs, the reverse). What about Wednesday? Here are the three home runs, as shown by Dan Brooks' extremely nifty match-up tool

The first home run

This looks like beautiful pitching. The first pitch hit the catcher's target perfectly, at 95 or so. Sandoval took it for a strike, with a grimace. The second pitch was a fastball that missed it's target, but Sandoval swung at it in all it's absurd hitlessness. The third pitch changed his sight line, was up and in at 95, and a borderline strike at best. Tim McCarver sums it up: "That's a situation where Justin Verlander did exactly what he wanted to do. Up and in. Sometimes you have to tip your hat to the hitter, and I think Justin would say that." 

Well, geez, Tim. You couldn't be more wrong**. Here's where the pitch was supposed to be, and here's where the pitch was: 

He missed almost as much as he could miss. Does that mean Sandoval hit a cookie? Not a bit. This is perhaps the perfect case of a pitcher who gets 100 percent blame and a batter who gets 100 percent credit. 

The second home run

Sandoval took the first two pitches, both changeups, for balls. Neither was very close, and so that brought out the pitching coach, which we'll get to a bit later in this piece. Verlander's next pitch could have worked well, as it starts about where he would normally start a changeup and could fool Sandoval, and Verlander did hit his target perfectly. But perhaps Sandoval was following the long-accepted myth that a pitcher will follow up a trip to the mound with a fastball. Verlander does a hop and spin to watch, but his arms flop limply, like unoccupied rope swings, so you know he knows it's a bad scene. 

Of this, Grant Brisbee says it well

The second swing is the one that would scare the giblets out of me if I were a Tigers' pitcher. Pablo going the other way with power. He used to do that all the time. Some of the time, at least. That's like Happy Gilmore saying "Uh oh, looks like somebody learned how to putt."  

And in his third trip, against Al Alburquerque, a sinker just out of the zone away for a foul, then a slider out of the zone low that Sandoval gets.

To evaluate Sandoval's role in each: 

1. He hit a very difficult pitch for a home run. 
2. He hit a difficult pitch for a home run. 
3. He hit a very difficult pitch for a home run. 

To evaluate the pitchers' role in these three: 

1. Verlander blew it. 
2. Verlander fell behind and had to come in with a fastball; he made his pitch, but was count disadvantaged.
3. Alburquerque threw a very respectable slider out of the zone low. He's a victim here. 

You can see why Sandoval is so difficult to beat when he's on. If he can hit your best pitch, then he can hit your best pitch and there's nothing you can really do about it. You can also see why Sandoval is so easy to get out when he's off; or, if you don't much believe in on/off, why he looks so garbage when he doesn't get a hit. He saw nine pitches in those three at-bats (there's actually another pitch that didn't make it onto the chart; it was thrown by Alburquerque and landed, oh, 15 feet in front of the plate). Three were balls that he took. The other six were all either out of the zone, just a touch out of the zone, or just barely in the zone. From a Process standpoint, Sandoval is terrible, even on good nights. But on a good night, there's nobody tougher.

***

As for Zito, before this game I kept thinking about Bob Gibson. Gibson won those three games in the 1967 World Series, maybe the most famous World Series performance by a pitcher. Partly he was a spectacular ace, like Verlander. But also, he was going up against a pitcher who was, like Zito, just nobody's idea of a Game One starter. 

He was Jose Santiago, and he was 27 years old. Twenty-seven, and he had thrown enough innings to qualify for the ERA title just once. His career ERA+ was 93; his ERA+ that season, 1967, was 98, worse than the league average. He was starting Game One because the Red Sox had needed their real ace, Jim Lonberg, to pitch the final game of the season (they won the American League by just one game), and because the World Series started just three days later. (Lonberg was so much better than Santiago that he would end up making three starts that series anyway; he started Game Two, then Game Five, then came back for Game Seven on just two days' rest.)

Bob Gibson vs. Jose Santiago might have been as big a mismatch as Verlander vs. Zito, but maybe not. This was Zito's good year, remember, and in his good year he had the worst FRA on the Giants (minimum 30 innings pitched). There are 100 pitchers who have thrown at least 400 innings since 2010; Verlander has the best ERA+, and Zito is 94th. 

Hopefully you read R.J.'s piece about Zito this week, which blew my mind a bit and I'll tell you why. When I was reporting on Mike Trout, two things stuck with me about how to pitch him. Mike Scioscia told me that most teams pitched him hard up and in, soft low and away, but admitted that "that's just pitching 101." In other words, that's how everybody gets pitched, Mike Trout included. But a scout told me that Mike Trout's bat is so fast, and he hits fastballs inside so well, that pitchers should try to do the opposite and unlearn everything: throw  soft stuff in fastball locations, etc. If his bat is going to be so fast, the thinking went, maybe pitchers could take advantage of that by throwing him mistakes, mistakes he would be too quick for. 

Well, Zito is sort of the pitching opposite of Trout. He throws everything slow. He can't beat anybody the traditional way, because against Zito's slow stuff everybody is as quick as Trout. But Zito, in a way, also pitches opposite. Look at the pitches he threw to right-handers: 

Zito doesn't go up and in, and he doesn't go down and away. He does the opposite, almost exclusively. And, as you can see, he got loads of strikes where he wanted them: high and outside, low and inside. R.J. pointed out that this works because the fastball up and away looks like the curveball he throws in the strike zone, so it's not really analogous to the Trout/batspeed thing. But it is fascinating to see Zito pitch so deliberately and so unconventionally. 

That's not to give Zito more credit that he deserves. He has found a way to narrowly survive with stuff that shouldn't work, is all. (And another way of framing this is to note that he can work only in two quadrants, where pitchers with better stuff can work in all four.) Anyway, Zito. Barry Zito did it! 

***

So if that's the narrative about the Giants this series, what will it be in Detroit? If this blows up into a two-day story, it might be about the Tigers getting progressively less happy with each other: 

Add to that the likelihood that Jose Valverde won't pitch a meaningful inning again, and there could be a lot of psychoanalysis going on in the press box. Or the Tigers could win Game Two and everybody could just move on. Regardless of what happens in the next three games, I can guarantee you're going to see a lot of these two stats before Game Five, whether you like it or (more likely, and justifiably) not: 

Barry Zito, postseason: 2.85 ERA, 60 innings
Justin Verlander, postseason: 4.22 ERA, 70 innings

I'm sorry to be the first to bring that pairing to your attention. I just want you to be prepared for what is to follow. 

***

So if each game is a coin flip, the Giants are about 65 percent favorites right now. You probably thought the Tigers were better coming in, though, so maybe every game isn't a coin flip. Adjust down as you wish. 

***

Answer: 

Pete's perfect one was the Pandamonium one, made more perfect by the subhead: "Verlander can't bear to watch." 

*The Giants also carried Eli Whiteside on that roster, as a backup catcher. He didn't play an inning, but his college still wrote about his World Series championship on their website. They didn't mention the not playing an inning. They wrote this: "The duo of Posey and Whiteside carefully managed the Giants pitching staff through the rest of the reason and past the heavily favored Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS and NLCS." The duo of Posey and Whiteside! Tremendous. Whiteside did not appear in the NLDS, or the NLCS.

** After the game, Verlander said of that first home run, "I was trying to elevate and didn't get it high enough." As noted, the target was not anywhere near that location. So either: Verlander is misremembering, which happens way more than you would think; Verlander is lying, because he doesn't want to give too much of his game plan away to Sandoval; Verlander is just talking and doesn't really care about giving the right answer; or the catcher's target means absolutely nothing. I don't think it's this last one, particularly on fastballs, where location is agreed upon. If it is this last one, it makes analysis of pitching virtually impossible for all of us, forever and ever. 

You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
harderj
10/25
This is pretty good redemption for the Panda from 2010. And in contrast to 2010 there's a left fielder out there for the Giants who can catch the ball.
thegeneral13
10/25
Sweeto Zito Defeatos Los Tigros?
DetroitDale
10/25
Really really hard to find anything good about this game if you're a Tigers fan like myself. I could brag about predicting The Tiger's hitters struggling with Zito, but all that does is make me want to channel John McClain in Die Hard and say "I hate it when I'm right." There were no bad umpire calls but a lot of fluky things happened and it seems every break went the Giants' way. I know that sounds like a sore loser's comment but c'mon, A ball that hits the base that would have been a sure out that prevented Sandoval's second home run and Zito's RBI single? Not one but two miracle diving catches by Pagan? That wierd double play on Delmon and Fielder? There's a lot of random rare events every one breaking for Frisco. This wasn't just a loss, this wasn't just a big loss, this was the kind of confidence braking loss that makes future wins harder. Their struggling stars (Sandoval and Posey) showed signs of breaking, out ours (Cabrera and Fielder) didnt. Our Ace, who always comes up big in the clutch, completely lost his composure on the mound after the third base fluke and the second Panda Homer. Our closer failed to get through the garbage time stint to get his confidence back. There's no silver lining anywhere to point to better things in better games. And worse, the desperation latch ditch play of brining in Verlander on short rest in game three and game seven, now doesn't look like a plan that'll help. I can't even complain about Leyland's pinch hitter and pitcher selection. By the time he had to make a decision, it was over. I'm not jumping off a ledge, because it's still a great season, but I just don't see anything anywhere to help me believe the Tigers are here for anything other than playing Goliath to SF's David.
oakwcj
10/25
Gregor Blanco, not Pagan, made those catches, and don't call it Frisco!
DetroitDale
10/25
I regret the error, on both counts
greendrummer
10/25
overall your takes are exactly right though - EVERY break went the Giants way tough to win anywhere when that is the case
rweiler
10/25
The weird double play was a heads up play by Posey and a brain freeze by Young. Young assumed the ball was foul and didn't bother to run. Posey did not. I was hoping for the super slo mo replay on that one because seeing it in regular speed I couldn't tell for sure what happened though there isn't any doubt that Posey fielded the ball in fair territory.
Mikeyruler
10/25
Could not disagree more. It's super rare that a tapper like Delmon's goes just fair like that. Couple that with the fact that you lose sight of the ball when you hit it like that and pretty much every player, every time will pause and give the illusion of not hustling. Secondly, Delmon's so slow that even if he had run Posey would have plenty of time to throw to 2nd and then double him off. People just want to read into the situation beacuse of Delmon's past issues.
rweiler
10/25
I don't know anything about Young's past issues, though I concede that he had no idea where the ball was.
juiced
10/25
The luck whines begin. The Tigers got smoked plain and simple by a team that outplayed them. The Goliath analogy implying that the Tigers are the more talented team is , well, laughable. The great catches by Blanco reflect that the Giants play excellent defense, and Young's bounced throw to home reflects that the Tigers don't. Pagan's ball hitting the bag was the difference between an infield single and double not the difference between a hit and an out. The Tigers are certainly good enough to still win the Series, but the Giants are an exceptional team of exceptional talent not luck
anderson721
10/25
Which they showed by winning 116 games in the regular season! Oh, wait...
lewish
10/25
DD - come on especially after last night can't you see how beautifully awesome baseball is?...anything is possible at anytime, and so you better play till the last out is finished...yeah it might be over, if it weren't baseball, but you have Fister tonight who pretty much is a metaphor for possibility...I mean a couple years ago nobody predicted the success he has had.
thedaves
10/25
Sorry to jump on you here, but I think you're also giving to much credit to the gods of luck here. Pagan would likely have been safe on the slow, high bouncer even if Cabrera had been able to field it behind the bag.
Oleoay
10/25
The Tigers sweep the Yankees and now the sky is falling? Gotta have faith for more than one game, or to paraphrase a person in a different thread, "The difference between a casual fan and a longtime baseball fan is that a longtime baseball fan knows anything can happen."
juiced
10/26
The Giants have twice faced two game deficits in these playoffs needing to win 3 in a row to survive, and they survived. They weren't devastated by their situation. If the Tigers are devastated after going down 1-0 in a 7 game series well then the Giants are simply the better team.
sam19041
10/25
MLB did ok getting a Panda Express reference in there. Not sensational but a brief moment of (predictable) redemption. Keep em coming, Sam!
shmage
10/25
Verlander's mistake was mental. He intended first to waste a pitch low and outside and follow with the high inside fastball. But he was so certain of the sequence that he blacked out for a split second and made his second pitch before the first. It's a mistake that has gotten me a zero at the bridge table more than once!
DetroitDale
10/25
Agreed, I don't even care about the two homers to Panda, that has happened and will happen, my main source of concern is he lost his mental compsure after the ball hit the base and never got it back. If the ball doesn't hit the base Cabrera makes the play and the Giants' big rally never happens, but it's still up to the player to hold concentration and not let something like that throw them, and that never happened to Justin, until today. That more than anything is why I'm scared. This was the equivalent of that point in "Miracle" where the Russian's pulled their goalie, and Rusell pointed it out to the team. It was the first clear sign that the Russians were in trouble. Besides the obvious issues to the team, this is a blow to his own reputation as well. The talking heads were already making hey over Justin's past problems in the postseason, now that he has a bad game that can't be attributed to inexperience or bad weather, expect that meme to gain strength.
gtliles82
10/25
Dale, have to disagree. Valverde's meltdown was the lone silver lining in my opinion. At least now we know he's finished, can't be trusted, completely unplayable. If Val smokes the Giants last night, maybe Leyland goes to him in a meaningful spot later this series. I'd like to think that Delmon's butchery in left field would also relegate him to the bench, but we all know that's not happening.
Oldwell89
10/25
This kind of stuff is what makes baseball so awesome much more often than any other major sport. The ultimate combination of one on one matchups yet team play woven in. Of course the Tigers can still overcome Game 1 and win. I will say that after Panda hit that second homer the boys walked by the tube and said "Oh boy he is a chubby fella isn't he!" They are used to seeing the NFL studs or LeBron, so to see a specimen like that is apparently funny to them. I told them his nickname is Panda to which the youngest replied "Ooo he's fatter than a Panda!"
junglechef
10/25
Nice analysis of Panda's magic night. Sufficient whining by the Tigers fans. Blessed little East Coast press syndrome which posited up until about 5:20 PDT yesterday that the Giants had NO CHANCE AGAINST VERLANDER, and that they should probably not even bother dressing for Game 1. This is precisely what happened in 2010. Get used to it, the Giants are an excellent baseball team.
flyingdutchman
10/25
JungleChef, first of all, Detroit is not on the East Coast. Those are lakes, not an ocean. Second of all, the national media favored the Tigers for an entirely different reason, and it's because they have more star players. The national media just isn't very sophisticated. I live in the Bay Area, and I hear this nonsense about media bias all the time. You're going to call the Tigers fans whiners? Maybe they are, but there seem to be a lot of mommy/daddy issues here too, most of them revolving around not getting enough attention from a national media geared for 6th graders. Get the chip off your shoulder and just enjoy another championship.
klipzlskim
10/25
Have to disagree with you on the headline. I actually loved "Mr. Octobear" (was that yours?). "Pandamonium" is too easy and has been used a million times already (in fact, Googling "pandamonium pablo" returns almost exactly one million hits). Maybe it's just because I live in the Bay Area and have to hear endless panda puns.
lyricalkiller
10/25
It's not perfect because it's good; it's terrible! It's perfect because it's exactly mlb.com's kind of terrible. This is really more an exercise in mimicry than art.
thegeneral13
10/25
Mr. Octobear is undeniably awesome.
Lindemann
10/25
I was waiting for someone to say this.
barryge
10/25
Wow to read these comments I guess I am to think the series is over....sure Verlander vs Zito looked like money in the bank but it is still only one game, long way to go. The Tigers starters beyond Verlander are still no easy task so take heart DetroitDale all is not lost.....yet.
tradeatape
10/25
Agreed. The Tigers hit, fielded, and so were not rusty --I was more worried about a 2006 replay, which didn't happen, than a first game loss. Verlander simply just got psyched out, which he suffers from from time to time. Fister has shut down stuff. Now--if Fister gets blown up/melts down, and if Lady Luck still fully resides in the SF camp, then I'll start worrying.
rweiler
10/25
It's also worth pointing out that for the last months or so, Madison Bumgarner has been terrible. If Bumgarner really has fixed his mechanical issues, it is a much more competitive series. If he hasn't, the Tiger's prospects improve considerably.
howlingmoon
10/26
No, no, the Series is over. I don't even know why they plan on playing anymore games. Detroit should just go home and head to Florida to play golf. Man, oh, man, one game with good luck, good D by the Gs, bad luck by the Ts (throwing out Fielder at 2nd was heads up, but a strange play still), is still one game. I mean come on Barry Zito has pitched very, very well the last two games. It don't mean he will the next time he goes out there. I have been a Giants fan from 1959, and I am greatly enjoying this post-season, but I ain't betting the house on the Giants. I will be happy to see them win four, but I ain't counting chickens yet.
Oleoay
10/25
The nice thing about a series like this is, for the first time in a long time, there's not a team or a particular player that I'm rooting for. Usually I get personally invested in a Josh Hamilton or a Roy Halladay and root for a team that hasn't won it in a long awhile. But as a Cubs fan, even the Tigers winning in 1984 seems "recent" and they were in the World Series as recently as 2006. I love Sandoval but his ring's only two years old. etc.