SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Gregor Blanco is chasing down line drives in left field, laying down perfect bunts and making run-saving relay throws.
He has had a hand, glove and bat in just about everything so far in his first World Series to give the San Francisco Giants a commanding 2-0 lead against the Tigers as the Series shifts to the Motor City.
Blanco surprised himself when his bunt single dribbled about halfway down the third base line and stopped next to the white chalk, inches fair. It helped get the Giants on the board in the seventh inning of Thursday’s 2-0 victory _ and all he meant to do was move the runner over.
Several Detroit players stood over the ball, almost in disbelief.
“I don’t know about baseball gods, but I’ll tell you one thing: I hope the ball keeps bouncing our way,” reliever Jeremy Affeldt said. “It’s been huge for us.”
Blanco has been a beneficiary of all that good fortune, all right. And even a scary moment, when his line drive struck Tigers starter Doug Fister just above the right ear in the second inning but the pitcher stayed in the game.
No arguing, the best bunt of his career.
“It has to be,” Blanco said, “and I think the best at-bat of my career, too.”
He sure has helped this city move on from Melky Cabrera, suspended 50 games in August for a positive testosterone test and left off the postseason roster once he was eligible to return.
Blanco ran to first as third baseman and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, catcher Gerald Laird and pitcher Drew Smyly converged on the ball but it settled on the dirt _ a space of maybe six inches _ between the chalk and the grass.
As soon as he hit it he told himself it had to be headed foul. The ball cooperated, though he’s not sure how.
“I was joking with Roberto Kelly when I got to first base, `We practiced that today,’” Blanco said. “That was a perfect bunt. I wasn’t really trying to do that. I think it was just meant to be and I’m thankful that I did it.”
Now, because of plays like that, the Giants go into Game 3 on Saturday ahead for a change. They rallied from behind in both the division series against Cincinnati and NL championship series with the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals.
“You hate to say it, but sometimes you need some luck,” said Ryan Vogelsong, who will start Game 3 at Comerica Park. “I used to be one of those guys who said you create your own luck, but sometimes in this game that’s not the case and the ball has to bounce your way.”
San Francisco also made a great play at the plate to save a run in the second. Had Prince Fielder scored then Detroit might have grabbed some early momentum on the heels of an 8-3 loss in Wednesday’s opener.
After Fielder was hit by a pitch from Madison Bumgarner leading off the second, Blanco _ who made a pair of pretty diving catches in left field during Wednesday’s win _ chased down Delmon Young’s double but overthrew the first cutoff man. Second baseman Marco Scutaro wisely hustled over to third base, however, and caught Blanco’s throw before making a perfect relay home to catcher Buster Posey just in time to nail a sliding Fielder at the plate.
“I don’t know what Scutaro was doing there, but I’m thankful that he was there,” Blanco said. “The ball took kind of a funny hop and I said, `I’ve got to throw to the cutoff man the quickest way I can.’”
Scutaro insists he was just doing his job to back up on the play.
“To cut off relays, always you have to do that,” Scutaro said.
Manager Bruce Bochy figured Fielder would score when the ball hit the wall.
“It was a bang-bang play,” Bochy said. “That’s not an easy call there. He was out, and good quick tag by Buster. It took a perfect relay to get it done.”
Omar Infante hit a leadoff single in the fourth but Pablo Sandoval made a nice play to snare Cabrera’s sharp liner. Infante was later thrown out trying to steal second.
Sure, the Giants made it this far with sparkling defense down the stretch. But a few good hops never hurt.
Bochy has acknowledged that getting some breaks along the way can make a huge difference in October, on the big stage when the stakes are high. And he would know, he took San Francisco to a championship two years ago.
“Baseball’s so hard, this game’s about having luck,” Blanco said. “You can hit the ball 10 times with a line drive to center field and go 0 for 10.”
On Wednesday in the Series opener, Angel Pagan had a double that bounced off the bag at third and shot into left field.
In Game 5 of the NL championship series last Friday at St. Louis, Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn fielded an easy comebacker in the fourth inning and quickly turned to try to start a double play at second base. Instead, his throw caromed off the bag and the throwing error allowed a run to score in the Giants‘ four-run inning.
Barry Zito _ the Game 1 World Series winner _ wound up pitching his team to a 5-0, season-saving victory.
“We’re definitely not going to complain about them,” Vogelsong said. “It’s been crazy, but it’s good. You hate to say luck becomes present in a game, but obviously it does.”
San Francisco flew home to the Bay Area trailing the defending champions 3-2 and won two more to reach its second World Series in three years _ with help from another bizarre ball in Game 7, of course.
Hunter Pence broke his bat making contact in the third inning. The ball then hit the broken barrel two more times on the follow through, sending a slicing liner toward shortstop that fooled St. Louis’ Pete Kozma and went through for a double. Two runs scored and a third crossed the plate when center fielder Jon Jay made an error, breaking the game open.
So, is there any question who has the best bunting skills on the Giants?
“I guess, Gregor,” Scutaro said with a smile. “What do you think? See that bunt?”