Continuity brings Giants title, well-deserved praise
DETROIT -- There were moments when it never seemed possible, down 2-0 at home to the Reds to winning an extra-inning game in Cincinnati on an unearned run to Sergio Romo escaping Jay Bruce and Scott Rolen in the clincher, knowing Rolen will see that final hanging breaking ball all winter.
It certainly never seemed possible down 3-1 to the defending-World Series-champion Cardinals with Barry Zito on the mound, only to have it turn into seven games that no Giants fan will ever forget.
Or how it ended. A single served into right field leading off the 10th in a 3-3 game by Ryan Theriot, in pursuit of back-to-back rings. Then a perfect Brandon Crawford bunt. And after an out, another single volleyed into center by Marco Scutaro, in his 19th professional season, with Theriot sliding home. It ended with Romo throwing a fastball right down the middle that American League Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera stared down, sending the World Series trophy home to San Francisco for the second time in three years. Home to AT&T Park, where these Giants hit just 31 home runs in 81 home games during the regular season.
They did it without Melky Cabrera, a statement about the players that were on the roster rather than some shining moral statement. Hey, as much as we know, the game has changed because of the drug testing mandated in 2005. Teams scored an average 3.71 runs per game in the postseason, and if you're thinking the Giants were the great grandchildren of the Hitless Wonders White Sox, they averaged 4.31 runs a game, bettered only by the Cardinals at 4.38 among the final eight teams. Sure, sure, we know there are ways to find chemists who make a lot more than the testers. There is stuff going on and this is a one-year sample, but this Giants title is a testament to pitching, to organizational continuity and to attention to detail.
The pitching was very good, and that's with Madison Bumgarner pitching one normal game. In winning 11 of 14 games after arriving in Cincinnati for Game 3 of the National League Division Series, San Francisco allowed no runs four times, one run three times and three runs four times. Zito, Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain allowed one run among them in winning the final three games against the Cardinals. Zito, Bumgarner, Vogelsong and Cain allowed four runs among them in the World Series. The Giants dominated two very good offensive teams, and they did it bringing Tim Lincecum out of the bullpen.
Their attention to detail left teams around baseball thinking that maybe Spring Training should be more than stretching, BP and golf. Think where some of these guys were in Novermber -- Theriot was a World Series champion looking for a job; Scutaro was in Boston waiting to learn where he was going to be stationed as the Red Sox cleared his payroll to sign an outfielder; Gregor Blanco had been released by the Washington Nationals.
Blanco and Scutaro pulled the double cut to perfection to nail Prince Fielder at the plate in the second inning of Game 2 in the World Series. Crawford laid down that perfect bunt, turned two very difficult double plays in Game 3 and showed off his hands and extraordinary exchange, release and arm in every game.
We stood at the cage and watched how seriously they take their batting practice, how Blanco worked daily at his bunting, how this pitching staff -- the only one to hit every day during the season -- worked at contact and bunting. In the final seven-game run, Zito had two key bunts and two hits, Vogelsong turned a game with his fake bunt and butcher-boy slap hit and Cain had an important hit. Their offensive game plan Sunday night was to try to avoid too many deep counts with Tigers starter Max Scherzer and his filthy arsenal, and in the second inning, Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt jumped on fastballs for a double and a triple.
"That is the way we have to play," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "I'm particularly proud of these guys, because they play so tough. They come to the park expecting to play a tough game, and they prepare for it."
There was a time when Bochy was not exactly a household name. When Larry Lucchino took over the Padres, Bochy says "he thought I was Bruce Bochte." Lucchino learned fast. The Padres finished first in 1996, won the pennant in '98, then when they had to sell off to lower payroll to pay for Petco Park, Bochy suffered through lean seasons. But he finished first in 2005 and '06, moved to San Francisco, has won two World Series and is back to 10 games over .500 in regular-season games, in addition to three pennants.
Watching this series, the thought was raised by many in the media and throughout the game that if the Giants were to win, we were watching two Hall of Fame managers. Jim Leyland is a no-brainer, but Bochy has managed all of his 18 years with 10 p.m. ET starts, off the East Coast Bias radar.
Then again, this entire organization has been off the radar. The continuity is remarkable. Brian Sabean is the general manager with the longest tenure in baseball, dating to 1996 and including three pennants and two World Series championships. He is a hard-core, traditional, scouting-and-development guy from Concord, N.H., raised in a terrific Yankees organization, loyal as can be. His two most-trusted aides, Dick Tidrow and Bobby Evans, have been with Sabean for 14 and 19 years, respectively. Bench coach Ron Wotus, who should be a manager somewhere, has been with San Francisco for 24 years. Dave Righetti has been the pitching coach for 12 years.
"The game isn't as complicated as some people think it is," Sabean said. "It's about doing things to win. Pitching. Do little things. Hit. Situational hitting. Defense."
WAR and VORP and OPS+ are useful, and legitimate, but there is a difference between statistical science and playing the game, the difference between two-dimensional analytics and three-dimensional humans. For 11 games in October, no one played the three-dimensional game better than the Giants, and now that it's been two times in three years, they should be admired, respected and lauded for doing what they do and doing it right.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.