The Tigers felt like they played well enough to come out of AT&T Park with a split in the World Series. They knew Fister pitched well enough. After Thursday's 2-0 loss to the Giants in Game 2, they're still halfway to watching their championship dreams end.
The Tigers are going back to Comerica Park, where they owned the second-best home record in baseball during the regular season and are 4-0 this postseason. But they're going there with the teeth of the Giants' rotation -- Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain -- awaiting them. At least those two are right-handers, rather than another round of lefties that have flummoxed them for most of the season, but that's not not much consolation.
"We've been playing must-win games most of the season," said Justin Verlander, who needs a Detroit win sometime this weekend to get another chance at San Francisco in Game 5. "We played them and won when we had to, so ... we've got to win."
The last eight teams to jump out to a 2-0 World Series lead have gone on to win it. The 1996 Yankees were the last to overcome such a deficit, winning four straight after dropping the first two games to the Braves at Yankee Stadium.
In a season like the Tigers have had, a 2-0 deficit in a seven-game series should seem like nothing. They were trailing the American League Central-leading White Sox by three games with 15 games to play before finally rallying, and they had to bounce back from a walk-off loss in Game 4 of the AL Division Series to beat the A's in a decisive Game 5. They won five straight starting with that game before running into these Giants, who have gone from potential elimination in both the National League Division Series and NL Championship Series to a couple of wins from a title, thanks to their current five-game winning streak.
In that sense, Game 2 seemed like the latest addition to the script. In another sense, it seemed like another night of the baseball Gods working against Detroit.
"I don't think we lost," Fielder said. "I think we just got beat."
If not for Hunter Pence's eighth-inning sacrifice fly, it would've been the first World Series game in which the winning team didn't record an RBI. It also would've been the first game in the Fall Classic since 1962 that came down to a run-scoring double play, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
It'll go down as the latest game in which the Tigers have struggled to hit a left-handed starting pitcher; they hit just .253 off lefties in the regular season. In that sense, Madison Bumgarner's seven innings of two-hit ball, which included eight strikeouts, were a continuation of Barry Zito's gem in Game 1.
"Let him off the hook? We had two hits," Delmon Young said. "I don't know what hook you're talking about."
And yet both hits provided a reminder of why these last two nights were agonizing, and why they felt like the Tigers could've earned a split.
The first came from Young, whose ground ball just inside third base followed Fielder's plunking. Young's drive bounced off the fence down the left-field line behind the bullpen mounds in foul territory as Fielder was rumbling into third, where he got the wave home from third-base coach Gene Lamont.
As both Lamont and manager Jim Leyland admitted, it was an optimistic call that became clear once the ball caromed to Blanco. Yet it was a close enough play that it took a catch-and-swipe motion from catcher Buster Posey to retire Fielder.
"Swipe tag," Fielder said. "Nothing you can do. Tip your cap."
Said Lamont: "If I had to do it over, I would have held him. But we haven't really been scoring runs, and I got overly aggressive, I guess."
It was one of those nights for Fielder, whose fourth-inning fly ball sent Blanco to the warning track in left to run it down, just two pitches after third baseman Pablo Sandoval robbed Miguel Cabrera of a hit. Those plays followed Detroit's only hit outside of Young's double, a leadoff infield single from Omar Infante.
Fister shrugged those off, just as he had the Blanco drive that hit him in the second inning. Fister not only stayed on his feet after that liner but fired back, retiring 12 consecutive Giants from the second inning into the sixth and carrying a scoreless gem into the seventh.
Fister didn't get his deficit until he was out of the game following Pence's single leading off the seventh.
With Jose Valverde's availability to close limited and Phil Coke now looking at late-inning duty, Leyland admitted his bullpen situation impacted his decision to go with rookie lefty Drew Smyly. Smyly may have shown his jitters with a walk of Brandon Belt, but his look at Blanco's sacrifice-bunt attempt as it died inside the third-base line was out of the lefty's control.
"Where that bunt is, he's going to be safe," Smyly said.
With the bases loaded and no outs, and with Smyly struggling to throw strikes in relief, the Tigers were willing to concede a run, playing their infielders back in the hopes of avoiding a much bigger inning. Better one run, Leyland's thought went, than two. That much went as planned, as Brandon Crawford grounded into a double play to break a scoreless tie.
"I felt we had to take our best shot to come out of it with one run," Leyland said, "because if we don't score, it doesn't make any difference anyway."
The way this game went for Detroit, it was moot. The way the Tigers' season has gone, it was another shot to take.
"I don't think they're getting any breaks," Leyland said. "I think they've earned everything they've got. Up to this point, they've outplayed us."