x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

MLB: Tigers begin World Series hunt in the land of the Giants

Both teams had players who factored at this year's All-Star game, won by the National League, so it only figures these two storied franchises would meet in the World Series.

San Francisco fans will great the Detroit Tigers warmly when the American League champions face the National League pennant winners in the first meeting between the two storied franchises in the World Series.
San Francisco fans will great the Detroit Tigers warmly when the American League champions face the National League pennant winners in the first meeting between the two storied franchises in the World Series.

Back in March, during spring training, Hunter Pence hit a wicked grounder that smacked Miguel Cabrera in the face. A few months later, Pablo Sandoval launched a bases-loaded triple off Justin Verlander in the All-Star game.

Here they all are again, with everything at stake: the Tigers and Giants in the World Series.

A driven team from Detroit, loaded with power bats and arms, guided by the wily Jim Leyland and coming off an impressive sweep of the New York Yankees.

A surging squad from San Francisco, boosted by their rotation and the talented catcher, Buster Posey, fresh from a National League championship series Game 7 victory over the St Louis Cardinals.

A Triple Crown winner in Cabrera versus a perfect-game pitcher in Matt Cain.

The Motor City versus the City by the Bay, starting with Game 1 today in the California twilight.

"I'll have to learn a lot about them real soon, to be honest," said Bruce Bochy, the Giants manager, of the Tigers.

"I know what a great club they are. And we know all about the guy we're going to be facing opening day and their whole staff.

"They swept the Yankees, that tells you how good they are."

Verlander will throw the first pitch for the Tigers

Bochy said he was unsure about his Game 1 starting pitcher, but Barry Zito is the likely choice.

It certainly is a unique pairing.

Both franchises have been around for well over a century and are stacked with Hall of Famers - Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Carl Hubbell, Al Kaline and many more - yet they have never met in the World Series.

Prince Fielder arrived at Detroit this year after a season-ending injury to Victor Martinez, and teamed with Cabrera as a formidable tandem in the middle of the line-up.

The Giants bolstered their infield by trading for the scrappy Marco Scutaro in late July, and he became the MVP of the NL Championship Series.

They fortified their outfield a few days later by getting Pence from Philadelphia.

Earlier this year, Pence's bad-hop grounder broke a bone below Cabrera's eye and caused a bloody gash that needed eight stitches to close.

Cabrera recovered nicely, and will be the first Triple Crown winner to play in the World Series since Carl Yastrzemski and Boston lost in 1967.

Each bullpen has seen a lot of shuffling.

Brian Wilson, the closer, helped San Francisco win the 2010 World Series, but is out this season because of an elbow injury.

The bearded reliever became a loud cheerleader in the dugout as the Giants overcame a 2-0 deficit against the Cincinnati Reds in the best-of-five division series, then rallied from 3-1 down to beat the Cardinals in the league championship series. San Francisco closed out the Cards 9-0 on Monday night, getting the final out in a driving rainstorm at AT&T Park.

The Tigers, back in the World Series for the first time since 2006 and trying to win their first championship since Sparky Anderson's team in 1984, relied on the excitable closer Jose Valverde until the play-offs.

But when he struggled against the Oakland Athletics and the Yankees, Leyland looked for other options.

Leyland has certainly had time to prepare for this matchup - not that it is a good thing.

The Tigers will have had five days off since dismantling the Yankees, and the 67-year-old manager has done more than work out how to use the hot-hitting Delmon Young in San Francisco since designated hitters are not used in National League parks.

The Tigers also had nearly a week off before starting the 2006 World Series, and the team from the Rust Belt looked rusty.

Detroit pitchers made five errors in a five-game wipeout delivered by the Cardinals.

A trend, perhaps: three previous times one league championship series ended in a sweep while the other went seven games, the team that played a Game 7 easily won the World Series.

Back on the positive side for Detroit, the Tigers have Verlander rested for the opener.

The reigning American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner has been overpowering this month, winning three games with a 0.74 earned-run average and 25 strikeouts in 24.1 innings.

Hardly the form he flashed in the All-Star game, when he could not control his 100mph fastball and Sandoval's triple highlighted a five-run first inning.

Cain wound up with the win and the National League earned home-field advantage in the World Series.

As for Zito, who is likely to pitch Game 1 for Bochy's team, the left-hander, who was left off the post-season roster in 2010 because he had been so shaky, has turned around his career this year and made a key start against St Louis.

sports@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE