Monday, October 29, 2012

The San Francisco Giants won the 2012 World Series over the Detroit Tigers in a four-game sweep. Last night's 4-3 clincher in ten innings followed Saturday's 2-0 victory in Game Three, both played at chilly Comerica Park in Detroit. For the second time in three seasons, the Giants are World Champions. SWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEET!

Sergio Romo struck out Miguel Cabrera a few minutes before midnight last night to record the final out of the Series and send the Giants dugout and clubhouse into wild, exuberant celebration once again. A different ballpark, a different part of the country, a lot of new faces in the mix, but an awfully familiar sight all of a sudden. It appears we Giants fans, especially those of us who have been at this for awhile, are going to have to adjust to a new reality, a new way of thinking about our beloved team-- not just as they relate to us, but as they relate to baseball. By winning two World Championships in the space of three years, the Giants have exited the baseball 'ghetto' they inhabited far too long; no more is this a Little Team That Could (and Did), but a bonafide player on the big-league stage, on the order of the Yankees, the Cardinals, and the Red Sox, with their own distinct identity, style of play, fan base, and latent bandwagon following. The San Francisco Giants have arrived, in a manner this club has not experienced since the 1920s, and don't be surprised if "GiantsNation" merchandise and media become a regular fixture in the modern sports-obsessed culture.

Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain set the tone for each of the last two games, and if neither was at his absolute best in his start, both did exactly what they were needed to do: take the game deep into the late innings with the Giants ahead or tied, and turn things over to the bullpen and the game's most resilient lineup. Both worked fine, and as the zeroes mounted on the Detroit side of the scoreboard, the pressure steadily increased on the Tigers. That they finally responded, in Game Four, is testament to their toughness and talent, but that the response was too little and too late is testament to the Giants'.

Series MVP Pablo Sandoval stood above the four games like a smiling colossus. His awe-inspiring three-homer barrage in Game One set the tone for a Series in which the Giants, not the Tigers, would bring the wood (they outscored Detroit 16-6 over the set). Overall he finished at. 500, with three runs scored, four RBI, and a 1.125 slugging average. Less visibly, he handled six chances in the field without error, and half of those were superb plays on hard-hit balls.

Which brings us to what is typically the least-considered attribute of any baseball team, championship or otherwise. Years ago, Bill James observed, "A great deal of what we call 'pitching' is, in fact, 'defense.' " Perhaps the 2012 World Series will serve to show just how important airtight defense is, and how it can make the difference between a 'dominating' and 'disappointing' start for the pitcher. While the Tigers, like the Giants, made only one error in the field in this Series, is there any doubt the Giants' timely, heads-up play in the field made a huge difference? If there was a 'stealth MVP' among us, it had to be Brandon Crawford. It's not just the 22 chances he handled and the three double plays he made. Time and again Crawford was in perfect position to handle a hard-hit ball; time and again his outstanding throwing arm made the difference between an infield base hit and just another trip to the dugout. This 2011 spring non-roster invitee, who made the club only because of Juan Uribe's and Edgar Renteria's departures, whom as recently as May we were castigating for his league-leading errors total-- Brandon Crawford arrived as a big-time big-league shortstop in this postseason, and is now a key player in the Giants' plans moving forward. While we salute Crawford, let's also note Marco Scutaro had similar numbers over at second, Gregor Blanco's tremendous speed and instincts saved several outs, and both Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence were absolutely reliable. Forgetting anyone? Yes, Brandon Belt, whose steady presence and Hoover glove are either making us remember, or making us forget, J.T. Snow. Which one it is may depend on your level of giddiness this morning, Dear Reader. For lest we forget, THE SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS ARE WORLD CHAMPIONS!


Vogelsong went five and two-thirds shutout innings Saturday night; Bruce Bochy, aware of how many innings have been piling up in these pitchers' arms, was quicker with the pre-emptive hook than he had been in the NLCS. The Tigers had their chances early on; with two on and one out in both the second and third innings, Scutaro, Crawford, and Belt engineered perfect double plays each time. In the fifth, Detroit finally got all their ducks in a row as Quintin Barry walked to load the bases for the mighty Cabrera, the major leagues' first Triple Crown winner since 1967. Vogelsong got him on a inning-ending popup to Crawford, and that was it for the Tiger offense that night.

In the sixth, "Vogey" issued a two-out walk after two hard-hit balls right at Giants defenders; in came Tim Lincecum, who once again found the World Series to be his particular playground. He rolled through the seventh and eighth, allowing one walk and no hits while striking out three. Romo pitched a perfect ninth, and Vogelsong, who really ought to be hearing from Hollywood right about now, had the World Series win he'd dreamed about, he confessed after the game, since age five. His opposing number, the somewhat eccentric righthander Anibal Sanchez, essentially matched Vogey's numbers over six innings. His problem was he pitched seven, and the second inning killed him and his team. Gregor Blanco's monster triple to deep right scored Hunter Pence, who had led off the frame with a walk, bless his free-swinging heart, and Blanco came in to score on the ubiquitous Crawford's two-out single to center. The rest of the way the Giants had no more success against Sanchez than the Tigers had against Vogelsong, but those two runs held up, and as the Giants strutted off the field with a 3-0 lead in games, learned commentators from Cap St Ignace to Imperial Beach noted the Tigers had been held scoreless for eighteen consecutive innings and had yet to take the lead any any time in this fast-disappearing Fall Classic.

That all changed last night. Lord knows, we have our own issues with storms at the moment, as Hurricane Sandy threatens to send these bits 'n' bytes cartwheeling into the vapor before we can post them for your enjoyment. But some sort of storm was blowing through Detroit last night, too: flags on the roof stretched tight and snapping like whips, garbage swirling through the dugouts, balls catching the jet stream and flying over the fence.... shades of Candlestick! Cain certainly didn't need to be reminded of the Tiger lineup's latent power, waiting to strike, and he didn't let it particularly bother him when it did, but it ensured Santiago Casilla would get the win, and not Matty. The bundled-up Detroit fans were raising a terrific din before the first pitch, convinced that a win tonight would turn things around with Justin Verlander set to make a second start in Game Five. Certainly the Giants had no interest in finding out. And when Tigers starter Max Scherzer blew through the top of the Giants' order with a ten-pitch first inning, it sent the rally-towel-waving multitudes into a frenzy.

"Here we go again," those multitudes seemed to sigh just minutes later, after Hunter Pence's towering shot to center in the second hopped the fence for a ground-rule double and Brandon Belt's drive into the right-field corner went for a RBI triple. But Scherzer stranded Belt without further incident, and, like Sanchez the previous night, he settled down and matched Cain through six. Unlike Sanchez, Scherzer finally got some support from his dormant teammates. In the third, Austin Jackson drew a one-out walk and was sacrificed to second. Cabrera hacked at a 1-1 changeup and faded it like a nine-iron to right; Pence's initially confident look was replaced by a steady, then frantic, backpedal until he was against the fence and the ball in the seats. The crowd roared like an angry sea as Cabrera rounded the bases with Detroit's first lead of the series.

That lead lasted two innings. Detroit had a chance to extend it in the fifth on Omar Infante's leadoff single. With two out, Berry dribbled one to the right side of the mound; Cain's ungainly leap avoided Sandoval, whose bare-hand pickup and throw would have been too late had the fleet Berry chosen to leg it out. Instead, like so many others, Berry dove for the first-base bag, sacrificing his speed for-- what? For nothing! Belt made the putout, and instead of first and second with Cabrera at the plate, the Tigers were out of the inning. Any chance this example will stop the headlong-dive-into-first silliness? Not likely, we're afraid. Well, in top of the sixth, Marco Scutaro beat out an infield hit (the type of infield hit the Tigers were unable to beat out on multiple occasions). One out later Buster Posey launched a rocket high and deep into the left-field seats, and for all the world it seemed as though this would be The Hit That Won The World Series. But in the bottom of the same inning Delmon Young hit Cain's first pitch on a straight line into the same right-field seats Cabrera had breached. The game was tied, and when the Giants threatened to untie it in the seventh, Jim Leyland went to his bullpen. The same guys, Drew Smyly and Octavio Dotel, whom the Giants had bedeviled in Game Two teamed up to shut down the budding rally. This ensured Cain's strong seven innings would not result in a win for the Giants' ace.

Jeremy Affeldt, one of four southpaws in the Giants' bullpen, doesn't get a lot if ink, but anyone who strikes out five men over two innings late in a tied World Series game, as Affeldt did in the eighth and ninth last night, deserves his own sentence, don't you think? Phil Coke, the Tigers' closer, matched Affeldt in the ninth, but in the top of the tenth Ryan Theriot, Bochy's DH for the night, opened with a single. Up went the tension level. Crawford laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt. Angel Pagan had first shot at the Series-winning RBI, but Coke fanned him on four pitches. That meant it had to be Scutaro; given the green light on a 3-1 pitch, "Blockbuster"  dropped a soft single into center. Jackson came up throwing, but Theriot, the man Scutaro replaced in the starting lineup, slid across the plate with the winning run as Scutaro alertly took second. That's our Giants! Romo needed fifteen pitches to strike out the side in the tenth, including the called third strike that fooled Cabrera, ended the 2012 campaign, and set the Giants into the obligatory on-field celebration.

Cain, Romo, Lincecum, Affeldt, Barry Zito, Madison Bumgarner, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, and Guillermo Mota already have World Series rings, as do Posey, Sandoval, and the almost-forgotten Aubrey Huff. That leaves thirteen Giants who weren't here in 2010; one of them, Theriot, celebrates his second straight championship, having played a key role for the Cardinals last year. So here we call the roll for the Giants' new world champions: Ryan Vogelsong, Brandon Crawford, Marco Scutaro, Brandon Belt, Gregor Blanco, Angel Pagan, Hunter Pence, Xavier Nady, Hector Sanchez, Joaquin Arias, George Kontos, and Jose Mijares. Gentlemen and Giants! You're all World Champions!

And so are we all. Those great teams of the 1960s, the team of the decade, the '3-M' Giants, never experienced this. The "Miracle of Coogan's Bluff" team never made it this far. The Bill Terry-Mel Ott-Carl Hubbell Giants of the thirties had the talent, but couldn't repeat because they couldn't beat the Yankees. The San Francisco Giants of the 2010s are worthy successors to John McGraw's New York Giants, the greatest team of the past century's first 20 years, the only National League team ever to play in four straight World Series. Whether or not this team can match that feat in a 15-team league with two postseason elimination rounds, the San Francisco Giants today are playing at a level of success none of us has ever seen, and to which we bear witness now.

The San Francisco Giants are World Champions...


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