When the San Francisco Giants scored twice off Detroit's Anibal Sanchez in the second inning of Game 3 of the World Series, Tigers fans at Comerica Park immediately grew edgy.
In this postseason, two runs can feel like 20.
"They're normally hard to come by in postseason, because you're going to face a good pitcher pretty much every night," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said.
Leyland's observed that firsthand this year. The Tigers reached the World Series thanks to a fabulous performance by the starting rotation — and they entered Game 4 on Sunday night on the verge of elimination for pretty much the same reason. San Francisco led the series 3-0 after shutting Detroit out in Games 2 and 3.
The composite ERA in baseball's postseason this year was 3.04 through Saturday night, the lowest since 1991, according to STATS, LLC. The Giants became the first team to throw back-to-back shutouts in the World Series since Baltimore blanked the Los Angeles Dodgers three times in a row in 1966.
That dangerous Detroit slugging tandem of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder? As quiet as Cabrera's bases-loaded pop-up in Game 3 — and his postgame departure without speaking to reporters.
"The biggest thing is taking care of the guys in front of them," said Giants right-hander Matt Cain, who was set to start the potential clincher Sunday. "If you can get the first two guys out in front of them … it just makes it a little bit easier stress-wise. When you've got a couple guys on with Cabrera or Fielder or (Delmon) Young … things aren't going so well. So you've got to focus on the guys in front of them, as well. It's just not the guys in the middle.
It didn't seem like anyone would top what Justin Verlander and the Tigers did on the mound through the first two rounds of the postseason. The Detroit ace allowed one run over two division series starts against Oakland, shutting out the Athletics in the decisive fifth game. In the AL championship series against the New York Yankees, the Tigers gave up only six runs in a four-game sweep — and four of them were against closer Jose Valverde in one inning of Game 1.
At one point, Detroit's starters went 301/3 innings without allowing a run, a record for a single postseason. Then the World Series began, and the Giants made a bid for some history of their own.
After three games, San Francisco's World Series ERA was 1.00, the lowest since Baltimore's 0.50 in 1966, according to STATS. The only team to post a lower ERA in the Fall Classic than those Orioles was the New York Giants, who did not allow a single earned run in the 1905 Series in their five-game win against the Philadelphia Athletics.
San Francisco's Ryan Vogelsong has become the third pitcher to make four straight starts in a single postseason in which he allowed no more than one run. Tim Lincecum has provided a lift out of the bullpen. Even Barry Zito has pitched well lately for the Giants.
"I've been watching these guys all year," San Francisco shortstop Brandon Crawford said. "They're a lot of fun to play around. They all go out there and compete, throw all their pitches for strikes. It's easy to play defense for them."
With the Giants a win from another World Series title, the Tigers were putting their hopes in the prospects of an improbable rally. It didn't look likely, but Detroit's own rotation was a decent straw for the Tigers to grasp at.
Max Scherzer made the start in Game 4, and would be followed by Verlander, Doug Fister and Sanchez. It was a foursome certainly capable of leading a four-game comeback — if the Tigers could only start scoring.
"It is extremely impressive what we were able to do through pretty much the entire postseason as a staff," Verlander said. "And obviously the Giants all year, their team was built on good pitching and defense and scoring opportune runs. That recipe has led to postseason success for them thus far.
"Obviously it's going to be tough to beat a team like that four in a row, but if anybody is capable of it, we are."