SAN FRANCISCO The ball bounced, bounced, rolled and died, coming to rest mere inches inside the third-base line. It was for Gregor Blanco the margin between a hit and a foul ball, as thin as the one the Giants needed to take a two-games-to-none lead over the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.
Instead of kicking foul, Blanco's seventh-inning bunt single left the Giants with the bases loaded with no outs in a scoreless game. Brandon Crawford then grounded into a double play, and Hunter Pence sprinted home from third base, the separation in the Giants' 2-0 win on Thursday night.
After the arduous road the Giants traveled to this point, coming from behind in both of their playoff series, Blanco said a two-game lead "feels great, man."
"I came with the mind today that today was going to be the biggest game of the series," Blanco said. "I think if we win this game, they're going to be under pressure now. We have to just keep playing the way we've been playing and see what happens in Detroit."
The series shifts to Comerica Park, the Giants having protected their home-field advantage behind a starting rotation that is suddenly stifling. Madison Bumgarner, who struggled so much in his first two playoff starts that he was moved to the bullpen during the National League Championship Series, threw seven scoreless innings to outduel a game Doug Fister in Game 2.
Santiago Casilla pitched the eighth and handed the ball to Sergio Romo, who set the Tigers down in order in the ninth, letting out his own scream along with the announced crowd of 42,982 at AT&T Park as Omar Infante popped out to end it.
Bumgarner pitched for the first time since Oct. 14, a break during which he said he fixed a mechanical issue with his delivery. After allowing 10 runs in eight innings in his first two postseason starts, the left-hander held the Tigers to two hits, striking out eight.
"I think more than anything, (the difference) was his delivery," manager Bruce Bochy said. "It was a little simpler, more compact, and I think he was able to get the ball where he wanted tonight because of that. He was right on tonight."
He also got one royal assist from his defense in the second inning. After Bumgarner hit Prince Fielder, Delmon Young lined a double down the left-field line that Blanco fumbled in the corner. With no outs, Fielder was waved around third as Blanco's throw found second baseman Marco Scutaro, who whipped a relay home.
Buster Posey, standing well in front of the plate, swiped a tag on the backside of Fielder to deny the Tigers their first run and an early lead. Fielder popped up livid at the out call, and manager Jim Leyland came out to argue, but replays confirmed it.
"I thought (Fielder) would score, to be honest, the way it carried off the wall," Bochy said. "It took two perfect throws to get him."
Said Bumgarner, "That was huge. I think that might have been a momentum shifter."
Indeed, as Bumgarner struck out Avisail Garcia to end the inning, the pitcher lowered his head and pumped both fists. Bumgarner did not allow another runner past first base, and now has not given up a run in 15 World Series innings, counting his Game 4 start against the Texas Rangers two years ago.
After falling behind 3-1 in the NLCS, the Giants have won their last five games, in which their starters have a combined 0.55 ERA in 33 2/3 innings. In their first nine games this postseason, Giants starters had a 5.52 ERA.
"I think fastball command's been big for a lot of these guys," Posey said. "And I mean, they're good. They've been good all year and have an idea of what they're doing, and they've been executing the game plan."
Fister matched Bumgarner zero for zero for six innings, retiring 12 hitters in a row at one point. Pablo Sandoval snapped that streak with a two-out single in the sixth, his lone hit a night after he became the fourth player to homer three times in a World Series game.
In the seventh, Pence led off with a single. Brandon Belt walked, setting up Blanco's bunt, which Pence described as "one of the most beautiful bunts you'll ever see." The Tigers elected not to play the infield in, conceding a run for two outs, and Crawford's double play broke the tie.
The Giants added a run in the eighth without the benefit of a hit on three walks and a sacrifice fly by Pence, who fouled off three pitches against Octavio Dotel before lifting a foul ball into right-center deep enough to score Angel Pagan from third.
"I don't think they're getting any breaks," Leyland said. "I think they've earned everything they've got.
"Up to this point, they've outplayed us. They did a little bit better than us today."