Misfits

In the fourteen game stories I’ve written during the San Francisco Giants’ playoff run in the last two and a half weeks, I haven’t written a word about 2010.

2010 was a dream. It was the culmination of year after year of heartbreak (& 808s). The franchise had last won a World Series in 1954 as the New York Giants, but for the San Francisco version of the Giants, they’d never won it all. They’d come close, like in 1962. They were in control in 2002. But it never happened prior. That all changed in 2010. You could call them misfits like many did (which spawned a really good book about the team by Andrew Baggerly). You could call them castoffs. But I liked to call them the epitome of team. Guys who came together as a unit and played like only the best teams could when it counted most.

What reminded me of that 2010 team today was the excuses. The national media, either trying to keep the interest alive in this series, or just being dumb, have called the Giants lucky. They’ve said that the ball has bounced their way. They’ve said that the Detroit Tigers were a better team, but they were in a slump as a team because they had to wait five days to play after winning the ALCS in a sweep.

The same lame excuses were made in 2010. The Giants weren’t supposed to beat the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS, yet they beat them in four games. The Philadelphia Phillies were supposed to be the best team in the National League led by the great Roy Halladay. The Giants beat them in six. And then they weren’t supposed to beat the great Cliff Lee and the Texas Rangers, yet they beat Lee twice and routed the Rangers in five. But those Giants were just a bunch of lucky misfits. That team went 12-4 against three of the best teams in baseball, outscoring them all 61-41.

The Giants haven’t been favored by the majority of the national media in any of the three playoff series’ this year. The Cincinnati Reds were supposed to have too much offense. The St. Louis Cardinals were supposed to have too much offense and too much grit. And the Detroit Tigers’ rotation was supposed to be too strong and Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder were too solid in the middle of the order. Yet, low and behold, after Saturday night’s shutout, the Giants are one game away from winning their second World Series title in three years.

As Mel Allen used to say on “This Week In Baseball”, how about that?

This year’s team still has a few misfits left over from 2010, but the lineup is completely different with the exception of Buster Posey. And talk about the antithesis of misfit. Buster Posey is the most business-like player on the team and he sticks out like a sore thumb. But the misfits follow his lead. Sergio Romo may enjoy Romo-bombing Fox stand-ups and shadowing Matt Cain in an interview during the game. But when it’s time for him to enter, he’s a fire-breathing dragon.

Hunter Pence may look like a Brandon Belt (baby giraffe) on ice skates when he swings and misses, but he’s the ultimate motivator on a team where everyone seems so high strung, you can’t imagine that they need a motivator.

The team is built on starting pitching. And yet, the best pitcher on their team is pitching out of the bullpen and had the worst ERA of a starting pitcher in baseball this season. Ryan Vogelsong who looked like he was tiring and pitching himself out of the playoff rotation at the end of the season is now the guy Giants fans want most in a must-win situation. Bruce Bochy and Dave Righetti push all the right buttons. The national media hasn’t even talked about how badly Bochy out-managed the likes of Dusty Baker, Mike Matheny, and now Jim Leyland. Bochy nearly put a clown suit on Matheny who was one game away from getting to the World Series three games in a row and yet was out-managed on his way out.

This World Series is the closest thing to what Giants fans imagined when they looked at their team last year. We expected the team to have dominating starting pitching with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Jonathan Sanchez, Barry Zito (okay, maybe we didn’t expect it from him), and out of nowhere comes Ryan Vogelsong. Buster Posey’s injury was the biggest reason the Giants didn’t get back to the playoffs last year, and really, 2012 was just what 2011 was supposed to be.

In the last six playoff games (since the Giants were on the brink of elimination in the NLCS) starting pitching has given up just two runs.

But out of the gate, 2012 looked like a dud. The team looked doomed at least three times during the year (when Brian Wilson went down, when we realized Lincecum wasn’t getting better, and when Melky Cabrera failed his medicine test), yet they persevered through each time and come out a better team. Brian Sabean pulled the trigger on the Hunter Pence deal even if had a faint smell of Carlos Beltran over it. And then he made a secondary deal that was one of the most stellar trades of the entire season in getting Marco Scutaro for Charlie Culberson.

In game three, the Giants just looked like the more confident team. Ryan Vogelsong was escaping trouble throughout most of his five and two-thirds, but made every big pitch when necessary including popping up Miguel Caberera with the bases loaded. The defense was magnificent and if Brandon Crawford doesn’t become the best fielding shortstop in the National League by next year, something is funky. Their offense struggled, but I expected it to. They simply have never hit Anibal Sanchez. And if the Tigers scored some runs for him, it might’ve been Sanchez as the winning pitcher rather than Vogelsong.

Gregor Blanco’s thudding triple in the gap in right center scored the Giants first run. And Brandon Crawford’s dunk single into center scored the second. And that was it. But it was all they needed. When Vogelsong ran out of lives in the sixth inning, Bochy brought in the most electrifying middle reliever in baseball today, Tim Lincecum. Lincecum came in to relieve Vogelsong and went two and one-third innings, striking out three. In a postgame interview, Lincecum called himself a safety net. ESPN writer Jim Caple smirked at Lincecum’s description.

A safety net? Having Lincecum in the bullpen is more like having a child-protective seat and an air-bag inside an armor car surrounded by a police escort and followed by an ambulance while driving through Kansas.

I’m writing in such glowing terms about this team because they are very close to winning a second World Series title. But more so, I like their make up. When most of the MLB Network broadcasters were saying that Detroit was going to win the game today (and again, it’s partly their job to make it interesting for the viewer), I thought right then and there that the team was going to win. When the Giants’ radio home KNBR 680 had color man Mike Krukow on the air before the game and he said that Giants players knew most of the media called them lucky, I knew they were going to win.

To be fair to the Detroit Tigers, they need to win one game in order to get back to their world class ace Justin Verlander. Max Scherzer, who strikes out hitters by the bunches, faces off against El Perfecto, Matt Cain. If Scherzer can beat the Giants’ ace and the Tigers can get back to Verlander, they can make this series interesting. But in order for them to beat Cain, they’ll have to go through Cain and a very rested bullpen. The Tigers will have to jump on Cain early and hope that Scherzer’s pitch count doesn’t go crazy, especially considering he’s had shoulder problems this year, which he tried to hush on the air in an interview during the game.

The next post will either be titled, “Tigers Extend The World Series,” or “The Giants Are The 2012 World Series Champions”. I’m ready for the former, but hoping for the latter. There is at least one more game to go. And I hope the national media sticks with their tune. I even hope to hear someone say the Tigers will win in seven. And I hope the Giants hear it.

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