SAN FRANCISCO — It was a classic pitchers' duel into the seventh inning Thursday, the Giants' Madison Bumgarner and the Detroit Tigers' Doug Fister softening the bats and lighting up zeroes on the scoreboard at AT&T Park.
The difference came when the relievers took over. Detroit's bullpen labored in Game 2 of the 2012 World Series, San Francisco's clamped down, and the Giants escaped with a 2-0 victory, their fifth straight postseason win.
The team that rebounded from desperate deficits in two National League playoff series now finds itself in an odd position — heading to Michigan with a formidable lead, two games to none.
"We're in a good position," catcher Buster Posey said. "But I think we also know we were in a similar position as these guys were in the previous two series. So there's not any time to let up, that's for sure."
Bumgarner and Fister raced on parallel tracks Thursday. They survived threats in the second inning, settled into dominant grooves as the game progressed and gave way only when their pitch counts climbed.
Fister was just 10-10 this season, but it wasn't shocking that he would contain the Giants. He struck out nine consecutive batters against the Royals on Sept. 27, an AL record, and brought a postseason ERA of 1.35 into Game 2.
Fister's chances seemed to dim in the bottom of the second inning when Gregor Blanco sent a line drive off the pitcher's head. The shot probably would have missed any other pitcher — Fister, the Merced native, stands 6 feet 8 inches. The scene brought back scary memories for Bay Area fans, who remembered Oakland ace Brandon McCarthy's season ended by a similar liner to the skull in early September.
Fister regained command as if nothing had happened, allowing five baserunners and one run in six-plus innings.
"He has a good sinker that he throws on both sides of the plate," Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford said. "He mixes up his off-speed a lot. I mean, when he's throwing that stuff for strikes, he's tough to hit, and that's what he was doing tonight."
Bumgarner's strong effort may have come as a pleasant surprise to Giants fans. He was fantastic as a 21-year-old rookie during San Francisco's World Series run in 2010, and was superb early this season. But he was yanked from the rotation after yielding six earned runs to the Cardinals in 3? innings in Game 1 of the National League championship series.
He got his spot back only because his replacement, Tim Lincecum, was equally ineffective.
Thursday, Bumgarner bedeviled the Tigers with pitches at the corners. He retired 10 of the final 12 batters he faced, yielding only two walks in that time, and gave up just two hits over seven innings of work. Bumgarner struck out eight batters.
"He moved the ball to both sides of the plate, threw some off-speed pitches when he needed to, had the cutter going," Posey said. "And I thought really just competed well, obviously kept us right there where we needed to be and gave us a shot to win the game."
Bumgarner got a lot of help from his defense. Second baseman Marco Scutaro threw out Detroit's Prince Fielder at home on a relay from left field in the second inning, Pablo Sandoval snagged a screaming liner off the bat of American League triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera in the fourth, and Bumgarner helped himself by picking off Omar Infante at first in the same inning.