SAN FRANCISCO — Twenty-seven seasons after their first game together, Jim Leyland was in the dugout, Gene Lamont the third base coach’s box. Like spouses who gravitate to the far side of the house.
But the two baseball men had cause to talk late Thursday night.
Unfortunately for Detroit Tigers fans, it was a universal reason that would bring them together — misery loves company.
Snap decisions meant a lot in Game 2 of the World Series. Everything, really. And when it mattered the most, Leyland and Lamont got it wrong.
The Tigers are going home to Detroit down 2-0 to the Giants after losing by that exact score.
Like the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals when it meant the most, among the things they’re wondering about is what happened to their hitting.
Bruce Bochy and his San Francisco Giants pitching staff are on quite the roll. Bochy punches the button, whoever is on the mound puts up a zero. That’s the way it seems, anyway — and this was a starting rotation that had a 5.44 earned-run average through its first nine postseason games.
With Madison Bumgarner giving up two hits in seven innings Thursday night, it now has allowed two runs in 33 innings over the last five games. Suddenly it has hit the same level that buried the Texas Rangers in the 2010 World Series, the difference being that Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti were rebuilding the rotation on the fly this time.
To beat the Giants, who seem to get dazzling fielding every night, the Tigers know they have two choices — pound the ball or play almost perfect games. They couldn’t do either in Game 2, when they badly wanted to reward Doug Fister for staying strong after a Gregor Blanco liner caromed frighteningly off the side of his coconut.
The Tigers’ one shot at a big inning died when Lamont belatedly decided to let the lumbering Prince Fielder try to score from first base on a Delmon Young double to left field with none out in the second inning.
The ball briefly bounced away from Blanco, the left fielder, and his relay throw sailed over the head of shortstop Brandon Crawford, the first cutoff man. But Marco Scutaro — hustling over from second on a two-cut defense — took the throw and fired a strike to Buster Posey, who tagged Fielder as he picked the wrong side of the plate to slide into.
“Gene just got a little over-aggressive,” Leyland said. “The bang-bang play, the umpire made the absolute terrific call on the play.”
In a scoreless game in the seventh, Leyland managed as if it was the third or fourth inning. He chose not to bring his fielders in with none out and the bases loaded, conceding the go-ahead run when Crawford hit a double-play grounder to second baseman Omar Infante.
“We felt double-play depth, because we felt we couldn’t give up two runs,” he said. “To be honest, we were thrilled to get out of the inning with one run.”
With the National League Championship Series going seven games, Bochy couldn’t use Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong in the first two games. He was lucky to have three guys to choose from, but it would have been easy to make a poor choice. He didn’t.
Bumgarner, who had been bumped from the rotation after Game 1 against the Cardinals, was indeed better after work in the bullpen over the last week. He didn’t have much velocity Thursday but was changing speeds and missing bats with pitches that were never straight.
He was just as good as Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum in their Game 1 roles of starter and reliever.
No matter what happens from here, Bochy will know the rest of his life that he got it right. Lamont should be so lucky. Leyland could be tormented by the infield-in second guess forever.
At least they’ll have each other.
Lamont first worked as one of Leyland’s coaches with the 1986 Pirates. He left a couple of times to be a manager, first with the White Sox and then the Pirates, but both times went back to Leyland.
Never have they shared the headlines like this.
In time, maybe they’ll laugh about what just happened. The best time would be during a World Series parade.
Time to get to work on that.