The ball bounced, and bounced, and rolled, and died, coming to rest mere inches inside the third-base line. It was for Gregor Blanco the margin between a hit and a foul ball, thin as the one the Giants needed to take a two-games-to-none lead over the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.
Instead of kicking foul, Blanco's seventh-inning bunt single gave the Giants the bases loaded with no outs in a scoreless game. Brandon Crawford then grounded into a double play, and Hunter Pence sprinted home from third base, the difference in the Giants' 2-0 win on Thursday night.
The series now shifts to Detroit with the Giants having protected their own home-field advantage. Their starting rotation is suddenly stifling, as Madison Bumgarner, who struggled so mightily in his first two playoff starts that he was moved to the bullpen during the NLCS, wove seven scoreless innings against the Tigers in Game 2.
The left-hander has not allowed a run in 15 World Series innings, counting his Game 4 start against the Texas Rangers two years ago.
After falling behind 3-1 in the NLCS, the Giants have won their last five games, in which their starters have a combined 0.55 earned run average in 33 2/3 innings. In their first nine games this postseason, Giants starters had a 5.52 ERA.
The Giants added a run in the eighth without the benefit of a hit -- on three walks and a sacrifice fly by Pence, whose single had started their seventh-inning rally. Pence fouled off three pitches in a two-strike count against Detroit reliever Octavio Dotel before lifting a foul ball into right-center deep enough to score Angel Pagan from third.
Santiago Casilla pitched a scoreless eighth and handed the ball to Sergio Romo, who set the Tigers down in order in the ninth and screamed along with the crowd of 42,982 as Omar Infante popped out to end it.
Speaking a day before the game, Bumgarner did not mince words discussing his being removed from the NLCS rotation after his rocky start in Game 2. "It sucked at lot," he said, "not to go out there and pitch the way I wanted to, to ultimately be able to give us a chance."
Pitching for the first time since Oct. 14 -- a break during which he fixed a mechanical issue with his delivery -- Bumgarner did that Thursday, holding the Tigers to two hits over seven innings with eight strikeouts and one royal assist from his defense.
After Bumgarner hit Prince Fielder to start the second inning, Delmon Young lined a double down the left-field line that Blanco fumbled in the corner. Fielder was waved around third as Blanco's throw found second baseman Marco Scutaro, who whipped a relay home.
Buster Posey, standing well in front of the plate, swiped a tag on the backside of Fielder to deny the Tigers their first run and an early lead. Fielder popped up livid at the out call and manager Jim Leyland came out to argue, but replays appeared to confirm it.
Tigers right-hander Doug Fister matched Bumgarner zero for zero for six innings after shaking off more than just a rally in the second. Blanco hit a line drive that ricocheted off the top of Fister's head into center field for a hit. Fister popped up immediately as Leyland and a trainer came out to check on him, threw one warm-up pitch and stayed in.
The Giants loaded the bases in the inning for Bumgarner, a chance for the Giants' best-hitting pitcher to extend their postseason record of four games in which a pitcher drove in a run. Bumgarner, though, popped out to shortstop Jhonny Peralta to end the inning.
It was the first of 12 consecutive batters set down by Fister, a streak broken when Pablo Sandoval singled with two outs in the sixth. A night after he became the fourth player ever to hit three home runs in a World Series game, Sandoval went 1-for-3 with a single and a walk.
Scutaro was hitless in four at-bats, snapping his 11-game hitting streak in the playoffs, but as the Giants slapped hands in the middle of the infield, getting ready to leave town with a 2-0 lead, his relay throw in the second loomed large.