Friday, November 2, 2012

2012 World Series Champions: San Francisco Giants are the perfect model of a team


Winning the championship twice in three years is a feat in any sport, but baseball in particular. In basketball, teams are often defined by the individual superstar—from Bill Russell to Larry Bird to Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. In football, you live and die with your quarterback, as Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, and the Manning brothers have shown.

But in baseball, even the best hitters come to the plate only once every nine at-bats. Even the best starting pitchers can only throw every five days. This fact may have something to do with the decline in popularity of baseball over the past decade…but we’ll leave that discussion for another day.

For now, it is time to give credit to the 2012 World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

Quite honestly, as a fan and a San Francisco Bay Area native, I am stunned that they have managed to pull this off—but in only the best way. After the BALCO scandal, I could not see how they would dig themselves out of a hole that baseball had finally decided to clean up. But they have done just that, and more.

It’s nothing short of utterly remarkable for a team that had only two returning position players from the 2010 championship team.

The Giants have had the never-say-die attitude for more than just an incredible playoff run. They’ve had it for the decade since they lost to the then-Anaheim Angels in the 2002 World Series. Now they have two World Series trophies to show for it.

(On a side note, I found it odd that Joe Buck and Tim McCarver failed to mention once that was the second time the Giants and Cardinals have met in the NLCS since 2000. Not only that, the Giants won in seven games both times…but I’ve already established a position on their suspicious ascent to becoming MLB playoff announcers for FOX.)

There are so many ways to approach how great the Giants were this year—and to be honest, I would argue that 2012 team was one of the greatest in baseball history. You cannot pinpoint one hero because Marco Scutaro, Pablo Sandoval, Tim Lincecum, and many others played pivotal roles in their march to a second title in three years.

Game 4, the World Series clinching game, is the perfect place to turn to. Within one game, the Giants embodied a lot of what they represented in 2012. You’re more than welcome to let me know what you think in the comments, but give this extended metaphor a shot…

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Bruce Bochy stuck with his season-long ace for the Game 4 start. Matt Cain had been struggling mightily earlier in the playoffs, but Bochy was not phased. He had stuck with Tim Lincecum throughout the regular season despite his struggles, and he was going to stick with his ace in the postseason. The trust within the organization was not limited to the 25 players on the roster, but the coaching staff also had faith in their guys (see Madison Bumgarner’s Game 2 start).

What does Cain do? Throw seven solid innings, battling through a Miguel Cabrera home run that traveled 350 wind-assisted feet. (There is no way that would have been anything but a fly-ball out at AT&T Park in San Francisco.)

Then there’s Buster Posey. Although the consensus National League MVP had a postseason average more than 100 points lower than his .336 regular season average, he quietly called brilliant games for the pitching staff. Something I found overlooked was his ability to work with Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum throughout their appearances during the playoffs. Why? For the majority of the season, Hector Sanchez caught the two former Cy Young award winners.


Of course, Posey managed to make it work when it mattered most. As I have said before, you will be hard-pressed to find another player in all of MLB with a higher baseball IQ than San Francisco’s All Star catcher.

Game 4 in particular, Posey showed up. After the triple-crown winning Miguel Cabrera went yard in the third inning, it looked like the Giants might have to wait until Game 5 to beat the Detroit Tigers. But only three innings later, Buster Posey made his statement.

A two-run homer that wrapped around the left-field foul pole made up for the long list of strikeouts that Buster had been accumulating over the postseason. The heart and soul of the Giants organization made the statement that they had been making all season long: we’re not done yet.

Even though the Tigers were quick to respond and tie up the game, there was a feeling that something good was still bound to happen. Hunter Pence’s fiery pre-game speeches had led the assault from a 2-0 deficit to the Reds in the NLCS—a tie ballgame in the sixth inning? No problem.

This was in large part due to San Francisco’s outstanding bullpen. Going from Jeremy Affeldt to Santiago Casilla to Sergio Romo without a run in the eighth through 10th innings has managed to become expected—even in the wake of a Brian Wilson season-ending injury. A closer-by-committee bullpen gave way to a stellar Sergio Romo whose antics mirrored that of Brian Wilson, from the beard to the hilarious dugout scenes even to the unique post-save celebration.

But before we get to the bottom of the tenth inning, the Giants offense deserves even more credit. They made the league’s best pitcher look like a rookie. Pablo Sandoval’s ownership of Justin Verlander in Game 1 came in the form of two home runs against the former Cy Young and MVP award winner. The Panda was and is intimidated by nobody. However, Game 4 saw a less impressive 1-for-5 performance with two strikeouts from Sandoval.

The Giants offense as a whole was there to pick up the man who would become the 2012 World Series MVP. The final box score tallied nine hits for the San Francisco Giants—from eight different players.

And the (second) most important one came in the top of the tenth inning from Ryan Theriot, who was starting his first professional game at DH. Theriot did not have a consistent contribution to the Giants in 2012, but his lead-off single in the tenth inning was an all too perfect representation of the little guy stepping up. He didn’t care that it was an extra-inning game against a flame-throwing lefty who had struck out the past six Giants he had faced.

He had a job to do and went out and executed it.

Brandon Crawford was the next batter that Phil Coke faced. Crawford’s brilliant defense has become his signature, but he quietly had some big at-bats for the Giants. And this situation called for a bunt, something that Crawford had had very limited experience with.

Like Theriot, he got the job done.

The bunt that Crawford laid down was not quite as flashy as Gregor Blanco’s one earlier in the World Series that tip-toed the third base foul-line, but he moved Theriot to second base. Two batters later, Marco Scutaro stepped to the plate.

If there is any single player that bests represents the Giants 2012 run, it would be Marco Scutaro. Nicknamed “Blockbuster” as a play on the fact that he was the Giants acquisition after the Dodgers dealt for Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and Adrian Gonzalez, Marco Scutaro had a greater impact than all three of those players combined. Nobody in baseball had more hits than him from the time the Giants acquired him.

And in the playoffs, Scutaro was cold-blooded. He was an assassin at the plate who got every big hit the Giants needed from him. All too perfectly, it came down to him in the bottom of the tenth inning with two outs and Ryan Theriot on second. (It nearly reminds me of Dave Roberts on second with Bill Mueller at the plate in the 2004 ALCS, but maybe this metaphor thing is starting to push its limits…)

Chills still shoot down my spine when I think of Marco Scutaro’s single back up the middle. He had done it. Again. Ryan Theriot’s emotion after scoring the final run in the World Series said it all: it’s us against the world and we’re about to do it again.

As expected, Bruce Bochy gave the ball to Sergio Romo. Maybe the most underrated reliever in baseball, in over 130 appearances since 2011, Romo’s regular season ERA is less than 1.75—and his fastball doesn’t even hit 90 MPH.

Opposing hitters know Romo’s going to throw a slider and it’s still untouchable—eerily reminiscent of Mariano Rivera’s renowned cut-fastball. Romo threw four straight sliders against Austin Jackson, the first batter in the inning. End result? Strikeout.

Romo followed that strikeout with another one for the second out of the inning. And with two outs, how perfect that 2003 World Series champion Miguel Cabrera stepped to the plate, having launched a home run only four innings earlier.

Five sliders later, the count to Cabrera was 2-2. With the sixth pitch in the at-bat, Romo threw…a fastball.

Buster Posey jumped before the umpire could even ring up Cabrera. A four-seam fastball at 89 MPH on the outside corner. Even the Giants’ dugout was probably surprised that Romo elected not to throw his nasty Frisbee slider.

This final pitch mirrors the surprise that baseball felt when San Francisco manhandled a team that had just swept the New York Yankees. For the second time in three years, the Giants proved to be the best team in baseball.

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Six playoff wins in elimination games and a sweep of the best team in the American League.

Brian Wilson’s season-ending injury. Posey returning from a season-ending injury. Melky’s suspension. Lincecum’s regular season struggles. Cain’s perfecto. The 14 consecutive Giant wins in Barry Zito’s final 14 starts. Pence’s pre-game speeches. Marco Scutaro’s (clutch) hit after hit. Pablo Sandoval’s three home run game. Zito’s NLCS Game 5 brilliance. Seven consecutive wins to finish the 2012 playoffs. All beautifully finished with a humble, classy interview after the Game 4 win with Sergio Romo.

The spectacular Giants 2012 World Series championship unfolded in front of our eyes, a movie you couldn't make up. They defined—they perfected—what it meant to be a team.

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