Posted by: Mike Cornelius | November 1, 2012

For Giants Fans, Tantalizing Hints Of A Dynasty

There was a championship parade in the City by the Bay on Wednesday. Even as a quarter or more of the country reeled under the impact of Hurricane Sandy, a million or so screaming fans dressed in doubly appropriate orange and black came out on Halloween to cheer on their world champion Giants. The parade extended two miles from the waterfront Ferry Building up Market Street to City Hall Plaza. The air was thick with orange and black confetti as the players and coaches rode in luxury convertibles along the parade route. This was the second time in three years that San Franciscans have celebrated a World Series championship. While the fortunes of teams can change rapidly in the age of free agency, one has to at least acknowledge the possibility that it may not be the last.

Much was written during the Series, including on these pages, about the sudden and dramatic power outage of the powerful Detroit Tigers lineup. But make no mistake; the 2012 World Series was not just about the Tigers losing. The Giants won it with superior pitching and timely hitting, so it seems only fair to close out the longest season with a few words about the last team standing.

San Francisco was a surprise winner in 2010, and almost equally so this year. Two years ago they nearly coughed up the lead in the NL West on the regular season’s final weekend, before pulling out a victory over San Diego in game 162 and avoiding a one-game playoff for the Division crown. Then after defeating Atlanta in the first round, the Giants stunned heavily favored Philadelphia in the NLCS before shocking equally strong favorite Texas in the Series. A trio of young starting pitchers, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, and Matt Cain, led the way; while unlikely offensive heroes included midseason pickup Cody Ross and veteran shortstop and Series MVP Edgar Renteria.

This year Lincecum was statistically the worst starting pitcher in the league, and the team lost its offensive star in mid-August when center fielder Melky Cabrera was slapped with a 50-game suspension for failing a PEDS test. When the division rival Dodgers traded for what seemed at the time like half of Boston’s starting lineup ten days after Cabrera’s suspension, a lot of smart money was bet on San Francisco being done. But the Giants seemed to thrive on adversity. They went 7-2 in the days between Cabrera’s suspension and the Dodgers’ blockbuster trade, and then 23-13 over the remainder of the season. That 30-15 record down the stretch was more than enough to turn a tight NL West race into an 8 game lead by season’s end.

Having done so well with their backs to the proverbial wall, the Giants went out of their way to return to that position in the postseason. They lost the first two games of the NLDS to the Reds at home, before going to Cincinnati and winning three straight. They fell behind the Cardinals three games to one in the NLCS, before outscoring St. Louis 20-1 over the final three games. It wasn’t until the World Series began that San Francisco finally set aside its pattern of back from the brink heroics.

The Game One matchup of the highly paid but often disappointing Barry Zito versus reigning AL Cy Young and MVP award winner Justin Verlander seemed to clearly favor the Tigers. But Zito scattered six hits over 5 2/3 innings, Lincecum fanned five of the seven men he faced in relief and third baseman Pablo Sandoval earned a spot in the Great Game’s history with three mighty swings of the bat. After that 8-3 win the Giants never looked back. Bumgarner tossed 7 innings of two-hit ball in Game Two, and journeyman Ryan Vogelsong outpitched Anibel Sanchez in Game Three, with help again from Lincecum out of the bullpen.

After consecutive 2-0 San Francisco wins, the question by Game Four wasn’t which team was going to hoist the trophy, but whether Detroit would score again and if so, whether they would ever take the lead at any point in the Series. The Tigers managed to do both on Miguel Cabrera’s windblown two-run homer in the bottom of the 3rd. But the sole Detroit lead in four games lasted only to the 6th, when catcher Buster Posey stroked his own two-run shot to put the Giants back on top. Detroit tied it in the bottom of the frame, but in the top of the 10th Marco Scutaro’s single brought home Ryan Theriot to break the 3-3 deadlock. A few minutes later closer Sergio Romo faced Cabrera, having already struck out Austin Jackson and Don Kelly. Romo threw five straight sliders to Cabrera as the count went to 2-2. The triple crown winner was looking for a sixth slider, but Romo came back with a fastball on the inside part of the plate, and Cabrera could only watch as strike three blew past.

With their unlikely stretch run and six straight elimination game wins in the first two rounds of the playoffs, it is tempting to give a healthy share of the credit for San Francisco’s championship to good fortune. But every team needs some luck to win it all, and the Giants seem capable of making most of their own. If pickup up Cody Ross was General Manager Brian Sabean’s brilliant move of 2010, trading for Marco Scutaro in late July was equally important this year. The well-traveled Scutaro might well have been the Series MVP but for Sandoval’s Game One heroics. But it’s not just a pattern of timely midseason moves that should give happy Giants fans reason to think that more good days lie ahead.

Lincecum, Bumgarner and Cain are all under the age of 30, and each has shown his mettle now in two World Series. While there is obviously concern about Lincecum after his disastrous regular season, he was virtually unhittable working out of the bullpen in the Series. All eyes will be on “The Freak” next spring, waiting to see if he can regain his old dominance; or whether his contorted delivery and heavy workload at a young age have finally caught up with him. If it’s the former, then the Giants will start with a core rotation that is both solid and still young. On offense Sandoval is just 26, and then there is Posey. He is only 25, and after being horribly injured in a collision at home plate early in the 2011 season, has just finished only his second full big league season. But each of them ended with the Giants’ catcher embracing his closer in a celebratory hug. Already the face of the franchise, he has a public persona that is charismatic, articulate, and unfailingly polite. Winner of the Rookie of the Year Award in 2010, he has already been named Comeback Player of the Year this season. As the National League batting leader, the MVP Award could well be next.

In press reports of Wednesday’s celebration, the Giants’ left fielder Gregor Blanco was quoted as saying “This is nice. I could get used to this.” San Francisco boasts a solid young core of both pitchers and hitters, and a front office that has proven itself deft at adding complementary pieces. That has produced two championships in three years, and it’s time for everyone else to stop being surprised. At a time of parity and in the age of free agency the future is anything but certain. But for all of those fans bedecked in orange and black who lined the streets of San Francisco from the Embarcadero up to City Hall Plaza on Wednesday, the opportunity to get used to season-ending parades has never looked better.

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Responses

  1. As always, a very intelligently written, succinct piece. The Giants might do well trying to use Lincecum next year in a role similar to how they used him in the World Series. After all, that’s how relief pitchers used to be utilized. He wouldn’t necessarily have to be the “closer,” but a couple of innings every three days, more or less, might be his most effective new role.
    Regardless, the Giants do have a solid core. If they can make one or two nice little moves in the off-season, there’s no reason they can’t get back to the playoffs.
    Good job,
    Bill

    • A good idea about Lincecum, though they will no doubt go into the new season assuming that he’s still part of the rotation; perhaps at their peril. I think Posey has the makings of a west coast Derek Jeter. Thanks as always for reading!
      Mike


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