If you are like most baseball fans, you watched the San Francisco Giants steamroll the Texas Rangers in the World Series, beating the vaunted Cliff Lee twice and holding the juggernaut offense to a total of one run in three games, and you wondered how this collection of kids and castoffs who were nobody’s pick for anything in the preseason or even in the postseason could have come this far, to the pinnacle of the baseball world.
The notion of a Giants championship is even more astounding to those of us in San Francisco, where we have become accustomed year after year to season endings of such pain, such heartbreak, such unbearable disappointment that we are wearing shirts proclaiming this, of all years, the year of “Torture.” With a baseball where the “o” goes.
Well, I know how the Giants did it. I am well acquainted with the Giants’ cursed past, and tortured present. I wrote a book, “Giants Past and Present,” that came out this year, and I could see that the Giants had all the necessary ingredients to shed their Sox-like years in the wilderness.
The answers to the question of how the Giants prevailed are many, extending beyond the physical – how the players actually did it – and into both the psychological and the mystical.
The physical answer is the easiest, and it’s the one you’ll hear parroted on all the sports talk shows and Web sites: They won with pitching. Good pitching, the old saw has it, beats good hitting, and the Giants proved that.
Even their worst outing in the World Series, from Jonathan Sanchez, approached a quality start, and the best – shutout ball from Matt Cainand Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum, and an out- of-this-world (and out-of-his-mind) closer in Brian Wilson – put the most powerful lineup baseball on a very short leash.
(The Giants also disproved that adage, as a team that had only one .300 hitter all year – rookie Buster Posey – managed to beat some great pitchers in the postseason, including Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Sometimes, when your hitters swing at anything, the best medicine is a pitcher who can throw strikes – a bat is bound to meet a ball somewhere.)
The psychological answer, which is probably the closest to the truth, is that when announcer Duane Kuiper – a veteran not only of some awful early 1980s Giants teams, but also of the need-I-say-more Cleveland Indians of that era – gave the team its Torture slogan early in the 2010 season for its propensity to win or lose low-scoring one-run games, he gave it an identity that the team was all too happy to embrace.
The Giants organization initially acted as though it would have preferred the phrase “enhance interrogation,” as it had long touted the team’s glorious Hall of Famers without mentioning their failure to win a championship in 52 years in San Francisco. They even told Kuiper to tone down his use of the phrase.
But the fans picked up on it, and so did the players. They relished the tight games. They knew they were never out of any contest. And for the most part, they weren’t.
In addition, most of these guys had nothing to lose. Expectations were so low for veterans like Aubrey Huff, who only had the offer from the Giants in the off- season, or Cody Ross or Pat Burrell, both waived by their former employers, or even Edgar Renteria, who had performed so dismally that he had pretty much already bought his ticket out of San Francisco.
And the mystical answer – well, this is the West Coast, and no one blinks if you mention astrology or Tarot or any other New Age explanation. And the Giants have plenty. One common curse theory held that the Giants had disrespected the memory of Eddie Grant, a utility infielder for John McGraw’s New York Giants who was the only major leaguer to die in World War I.
A plaque honoring Grant stood on a concrete pillar in center field of the Polo Grounds, the Giants’ home in Harlem, but when the team came West in 1958, the plaque never re-surfaced. After the 2002 World Series, when the Giants had a 5-0 lead with eight outs to go and wound up losing two games and the whole shebang, the team commissioned a replica of the Grant plaque and put it up at AT&T Park. This year marked the first postseason with the plaque in place.
This year also marked the passing of Bobby Thomson, who hit the most famous home run in Giants history, and probably all of baseball history, the 1951 Shot Heard Round the World. Nothing like winning one for the Gipper.
Even better, this year, the Giants at long last reached into their New York past and retired uniform number 20, honoring Monte Irvin, a Hall of Famer and their first African-American player. Now 91, Irvin – a member of the Giants’ last world champs from 1954 – came to San Francisco for the ceremony, and again for the World Series, even though he never played a game in the city.
And in return – Irvin brought the Giants a little extra help. Hey, something has to explain it.