SAN FRANCISCO -- Considering it was Barry Zito who dominated and Justin Verlander who struggled, the Tigers' 8-3 loss in Game 1 of the World Series at AT&T Park on Wednesday night certainly carried an element of surprise. But when you consider the year-long struggle the Tigers have had against lefties, particularly those who don't throw very hard, perhaps it wasn't all that shocking that Zito and his mid-80s fastball was able to twirl 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball.
Asked why lefties seem to give the Tigers such a hard time, Price Fielder could only laugh.
"If I knew why," he said, "we certainly wouldn't struggle."
During the regular season, a Tigers team that leans very heavily to the right went 26-25 against lefty starters and 62-49 vs. righties. Their slash line against southpaws was .253/.329/.395; their slash line against righties was .275/.337/.434.
Their results against lefties without much velocity was even worse.
The Royals' Bruce Chen threw eight shutout innings against them out on Aug. 29, the Mariners' Jason Vargas posted a 3.21 ERA in two starts against them and the Twins' Scott Diamond had a 2.11 ERA in three starts.
Game 1 woes
|2006||Cardinals||L, 7-2||Cardinals in 5|
|1984||Padres||W, 3-2||Tigers in 5|
|1968||Cardinals||L, 4-0||Tigers in 7|
|1945||Cubs||L, 9-0||Tigers in 7|
|1940||Reds||W, 7-2||Reds in 7|
|1935||Cubs||L, 3-0||Tigers in 6|
|1934||Cardinals||L, 8-3||Cardinals in 7|
|1909||Pirates||L, 4-1||Pirates in 7|
|1908||Cubs||L, 10-6||Cubs in 5|
|1907||Cubs||Tie, 3-3||Cubs in 5|
One reason for those uncommon struggles, perhaps: unfamiliarity. There aren't a lot of lefties in baseball in general, and there certainly aren't many who do throw left-handed and top out in the mid-80s.
Zito is the kind of novelty the Tigers just can't seem to figure out.
"We don't have a left-handed BP thrower," Delmon Young said. "We don't see lefties every day; we see right-handed pitching all throughout the year and most people who play baseball are right-handed. Lefties are unique. It doesn't matter what velocity you throw, they'll always have a job for you [as a lefty]."
The Tigers hadn't played a meaningful baseball game in six days. Understandably, they were eager.
"You're excited to be in this situation," leadoff hitter Austin Jackson said, "so you kind of get anxious up there."
And that played right into the hands of Zito, who was coming off 7 2/3 shutout innings in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. With a fastball that topped out at 86 mph, a curveball that was as slow as 71 and an arsenal that drew only four swings and misses, Zito scattered six hits, walked one and put just one runner in scoring position through the first five innings, while the Giants' offense built a 6-0 lead.
The Tigers chased a lot of pitches out of the strike zone and were just out in front on breaking balls that were left hanging out over the plate.
"He was hitting his spots," Fielder said. "Not changing speeds much -- the same speed, just different pitches. I think he just hit his spots and didn't really leave too much out over the plate."
Whatever it is that causes the Tigers to struggle against southpaws must be corrected soon. In Thursday night's Game 2, they'll face Madison Bumgarner, who has struggled recently but does, in fact, throw with his left hand.
"You have to have a short memory," Jackson said. "You have to come out and be ready tomorrow. Hopefully we can make the right adjustments."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.