Surely, the Detroit Tigers really wanted to win Game 2 of the World Series Thursday night (Oct. 25).
Falling behind 0-2 in any playoff series—let alone one being played for a championship—is falling into a bad position. Having to win four of five games—even if three of them will be played at Comerica Park—is an extremely difficult path to hike.
But the Tigers' 2-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants was even more painful because it wasted an amazing effort from starting pitcher Doug Fister. It wasn't just an impressive performance in holding the Giants to one run and four hits over six innings. The word effort has to be emphasized.
During the bottom of the second inning, the Giants' Gregor Blanco hit a line drive that struck Fister in back of the head. The baseball ricocheted high into the air before landing in shallow center field.
As terrifying as the scene was, especially when viewed on replay, the fundamentals of the incident seemed to work in Fister's favor.
During the game, I played amateur physicist on Twitter, theorizing that the long carom was actually a good sign for Fister. His head didn't absorb the full impact. Had the ball dropped into the infield area immediately around Fister, that would've indicated that he took the full brunt of the blow.
Think about the crash that took Dale Earnhardt's life in 2001. People saw an impact that looked relatively benign and were surprised Earnhardt was killed.
But the fact that the car didn't ricochet off the wall or go flying into the air and crash back down to Earth meant that Earnhardt took the full force of the crash.
That's not to say Fister wasn't hurt, however. Many fans, reporters and analysts expressed disbelief that the Tigers continued to allow Fister to pitch in the game after taking that blow to the head.
Particularly outspoken (via Twitter) was the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser, who covers the Oakland Athletics beat. She witnessed Brandon McCarthy get hit in the head on Sept. 5, an incident that eventually required the pitcher to undergo emergency surgery to alleviate pressure on his brain from a skull fracture and internal bleeding.
But the Tigers training staff, led by Kevin Rand, deemed Fister all right, and he stayed in the game.
From there, the 6'8" right-hander pitched 4.2 innings in which he allowed no runs, one hit and one walk. Before Pablo Sandoval hit a single with two outs in the sixth inning, Fister retired 12 straight Giants batters.
He treated a line drive off of the head like it was a bug bite!
—Michael Cuddyer (@mcuddy3) October 26, 2012
Yet the Tigers could not score a run for their starting pitcher, who was keeping his team in the game after taking a baseball off his skull.
The Giants' Madison Bumgarner allowed only two hits over seven innings—and this was a pitcher whose rotation spot was in jeopardy after posting an 11.25 ERA in his first two playoff starts. Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo followed with two perfect innings of relief.
Certainly, San Francisco deserves credit for a fine performance from its three pitchers in Game 2. But two hits from a team that finished eighth in MLB and fourth in the AL in total hits and that features the likely AL MVP? That was an embarrassing showing.
How did the Tigers hitters face Fister in the clubhouse afterward (and hopefully, after he was tested further for a concussion or other brain injury)? He probably should have been taken out of the game, and surely would have left had this been a regular-season contest. Yet this was a game in the World Series, and Fister kept pitching, shutting the Giants down until the Tigers could put a run on the board.
Unfortunately, Detroit never did score, and Fister ended up taking the loss in what may well have been the best performance of his career, considering what was at stake and the injury he sustained.
But that's baseball.
Presumably, Fister can always tell his kids and grandkids that he pitched in a World Series game and only gave up one run. But when those children inevitably ask, "And you won the game, right?" he'll have to admit that he didn't. Maybe Fister can then get one of his teammates on the phone to explain himself and the lineup's poor effort.
Hopefully, that child turns on the tears and makes that player feel guilty.
As the Tigers return to Detroit for Game 3 of the series on Saturday (Oct. 27), manager Jim Leyland might want to use Fister's effort for some additional motivation when he meets with his players beforehand.
Maybe he should get Fister to wrap a bunch of bandages around his head and send him into the clubhouse in a wheelchair. Then Leyland can scream, "Win a ballgame for this guy!" Fueled by shame, the Tigers will take the field and attempt to make this a competitive series.
Or Leyland could go with a simpler message, as noted by the Daily News' Mark Feinsand (via Sulia.com):
"You're competing, you're probably competing against yourself," Leyland said, "but it's good to just revert back to your childhood. This is the moment that you waited for. Don't let it pass you by and miss it."
OK, that's probably better than putting Fister in bandages and exploiting his players' emotions. That's why he's the major league manager, and I'm the sportswriter.
Follow @iancass on Twitter