Angel Pagan hit a harmless grounder down the line that Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera had covered. All he had to do was field the ball, show off his strong arm, and the Giants would be done in a 1-2-3 third inning.
But the ball hit the inside portion of the bag and ricocheted like a hockey wrist shot into shallow left field. Cabrera stood and shook his head, and Pagan easily reached second base for a fluke double. Then Marco Scutaro, the NLCS MVP, singled to make it a 2-0 lead for San Francisco.
Tigers starter Justin Verlander had been singed by a little bad karma. Pablo Sandoval then burned him, hitting an opposite-field, two-run homer for the second of his World Series record-tying three homers.
The pitcher who had given up only two runs in three previous starts this postseason was on his way to an inexplicable early shower after one more inning.
And the Tigers, coming off five days of rest after sweeping the Yankees in the ALCS, were on their way to an 8-3 loss Wednesday night in Game 1 of the World Series.
They couldn’t catch a break or make anything happen in San Francisco.
“We were just beat,” said Detroit manager Jim Leyland. “There was nothing flukey about it.”
Cabrera was asked about Pagan’s crazy double.
“I don’t know if I got a play,” Cabrera said, “but it’s a big play in that situation. Yeah, it opened up a big night.”
Was it a night for Murphy’s Law, when anything that could go wrong did go wrong?
“At that point, yeah,” Cabrera said. “When the ball hit the bag, you just say, ‘Wow! Anything happen right now.’
“Those guys, they’ve been hot. You’ve got to give credit to those guys. They swing the bat very well, score a lot of runs.”
About the only solace Detroit could take is that it takes four wins to become champions.
Thankfully for the Tigers and their fans, history shows that a bad start in the Fall Classic is hardly foreshadowing of pending doom.
Detroit has won the World Series four times, and lost the opener in three of those triumphs.
• The Cardinals beat the Tigers, 4-0, in St. Louis to start things in 1968. Detroit overcame a 3-1 deficit to win in seven games.
• The Cubs hammered the Tigers, 9-0, to take the opener at Briggs Stadium in 1945. Detroit also won that time in seven games.
• The Cubs beat the Tigers, 3-0, to win Game 1 in Detroit in 1935. But the Tigers won that one in six games.
The only World Series title for the Tigers that began with a victory came in 1984, when they never trailed in the standings or a postseason series.
Detroit is now 2-8-1 in World Series openers. There was a 3-3 tie in 12 innings to begin the 1907 Fall Classic with the Cubs, who then won the next four games for the championship.
So Tigers fans should not despair — even if the loss came with Verlander starting.
The breaks seemed to go with the Giants, who took full advantage.
That’s how you win big games. San Francisco grabbed opportunities and cashed them all night long.
Prince Fielder singled to lead off the fourth inning, when Detroit needed to begin chipping away at a 4-0 deficit. Delmon Young, the ALCS MVP, bounced a grounder in front of the plate and did not run. Catcher Buster Posey grabbed the ball, slapped a quick tag on Young and fired to second baseman Scutaro, who tagged a sliding Fielder to complete the weird double play.
Giants left fielder Gregor Blanco also made a big difference in the game with a pair of diving catches that denied big innings.
Blanco charged in to take a hit away from Cabrera in the third inning, with Austin Jackson on first base and running hard with two out. Jackson likely would’ve scored if the ball got behind Blanco.
The bigger catch by Blanco came in the sixth, when Cabrera had just singled to score Jackson, who had doubled. Fielder sliced a one-out liner to left that Blanco again left his feet to snag before it reached the grass.
When Young followed with a single, starter Barry Zito’s game was over. Tim Lincecum came on to strike out Jhonny Peralta.
Detroit got one break, but it came too late. Center fielder Pagan jumped at the wall and got the tip of his glove on a shot by Peralta. The ball deflected and hit the top of the wall in straight-away center before bounding over it for a two-run homer in the ninth.
“They did everything right and we didn’t tonight,” Tigers catcher Alex Avila told reporters afterward. “That’s why you play a seven-game series. Tomorrow’s important, though. We’ve got to split here.”
History also backs Avila’s point. In the three World Series that Detroit won after losing the opener, it won Game 2 each time.
The outcome of Thursday night’s game likely will prove critical to the victor of the 108th World Series.