Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The San Francisco Giants are World Series Champions

Just before the World Series started, I put together my 3 Keys to the World Series. I can now say without hesitation that the Giants obliterated my loftiest expectations, and I’m thrilled. The Giants, quite frankly, handled the three “challenges” with flying colors throughout the entire series but perhaps never more beautifully than in glorious game 5.

My first key was to beat Cliff Lee once in the series. Apparently, this key was far too attainable so the Giants beat him twice, making him forever “Mortal Lee” in San Francisco. I even included the caveat that the Giants didn’t necessarily have to beat Lee, but merely battle him to a stalemate and get into the bullpen. Lee wasn’t really Lee in game 1 and they beat him easily. But in game 2, Lee was pitching like Lee, and yet somehow they – read World Series MVP and hero Edgar Renteria* – managed to hit a huge three-run jack and beat him at his best.

*It should be noted that of the many fantastic (and fortunate) occurrences for the Giants down the stretch and within this postseason, perhaps one of the most serendipitous was when Edgar Renteria completely snapped his biceps tendon in the NLDS versus the Braves. To that point, the tendon was injured but not completely torn and caused him pain. After that, he was able to let loose and it carried him through the rest of the postseason and eventually down Market Street.

My second key in the series was the Rangers’ speed. Again, they nailed it – the Rangers down that is. The Rangers’ leadoff hitter (and greatest stealer) Elvis Andrus finished the series with only a .300 OBP, 1 stolen base and 2 runs (both runs came in game 1). In the clincher, Andrus went 0-4 and basically did nothing. Furthermore, the Rangers were only successful 50% of the time on theft attempts (2/4) in the series, and had Renteria not dropped a ball they would have been 1/4.

My third and final key to the World Series was keeping soon-to-be AL MVP Josh Hamilton at bay, and boy did they ever. Hamilton terrorized the Yankees in the ALCS after a cool division series and he was a huge threat coming into the series. Hamilton hit one HR but it was only a solo shot in a game 3 but the Rangers were already likely to win. Otherwise, he was completely shut down. He hit just .100 with a single walk (.143 OBP), 3 strikeouts, and slugged .250 to push his series OPS (on base plus slugging percentage) to a minuscule .393. What’s more, he grounded into a double play. In the clincher, he went 0-4 with two punch outs for his worst and final game of the series.

All that being said, the biggest key to series went unsaid by me at the outset of the series: The Giants’ Pitching. This was the key to their success all along, and it will continue to take them wherever they go in the next few years. And of their top four starters who all pitched in this series, most of them brilliantly, and throughout the playoffs – Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez and Bumgarner – none shined brighter than Tim Lincecum on Monday night.

Game 5 Clincher

When they opened the broadcast on Monday night, they said it was clear and a bit cooler. Lincecum was on the bump, and it just had to be the night.

For a full six innings on November 1st, 2010, and really though out the entire game, we finally got to see the heavyweight pitching battle we’d been waiting to see since game 1 of the NLCS (Lincecum vs. Halladay), game 2 of the same matchup and Game 1 of the World Series (Lincecum versus Lee).

In the first, Lee dispatched the Giants relatively easily by striking out Torres, and sandwiching a nice first pitch swinging, opposite field single by Buster Posey between a harmless groundout to Sanchez and pop out to Cody Ross – who is still Boss, by the way. Lincecum retired the Rangers in order with just 13 pitches.

In the second, Lee retired the Giants in order but it took him 9 pitches to whiff Uribe, which may have been a sign of good things to come, especially when Burrell shortly thereafter put a good swing on a ball for what seemed like the first time since his 3-run job in game 2 of the NLDS. Lincecum, again, mowed through the Rangers and only needed 6 pitches to get through his frame after two first pitch outs to Vlad and Cruz – it was a quick U-turn and back to work for Lee.

In the third, Lee continued to pitch sharply and retired the side with relative ease with the exception of a single by Torres. Lincecum finally allowed a base runner in the third when he walked Moreland, but it didn’t much matter because he struck out the side while making David Murphy look ridiculous – with his old toy, the gnarly changeup – on three pitches, as well as his former battery mate Bengie Molina with his shiny new toy, a two-plane slider that Molina had never seen Lincecum throw before except for probably on video. So much for that supposed advantage.

In the fourth, Lee put the Giants down in order again but Posey took another 10 pitches out of him to open the inning before grounding out. It was a shame Posey’s swing came alive so late in the series when he belted the dinger off O’Day, because I’m sure the country would have loved to see him when he’s hot; they will soon enough. In the bottom half, Timmy finally gave up a hit but stranded the runner at first by striking out two more batters and receiving an excellent play by Renteria for a fielders choice out at second. It was looking like we were in for a long night. That would be assuming extra innings, of course, as the game was literally zooming along. Someone tweeted the commercial time was likely exceeding the actual baseball air time, and I think they may have been right.

In the fifth, the Giants caught probably the first break of the game. Kinsler made an outstanding play on a weakly hit ball but first baseman Moreland simply dropped the putout. Lee, undeterred, helped Burrell to continue his abysmal postseason and especially dreadful World Series by striking him out and then got the double play grounder out of Renteria to end the minor threat. Lincecum got two more weak groundouts in the fifth as well as striking out Murphy, again, who learned nothing from his previous at bat and retired in three pitches.

In the sixth, the Giants almost got their man. Lee punched out Rowand and got another ground out to retire Torres, but Sanchez – who was robbed by Lee with a nice catch on a liner up the middle earlier in the game – singled to center. Up came the dangerous Buster Posey. He drove a ball to deep right field and I screamed my patented “Get OUT! GET OUT!” Unfortunately, the ball landed in Cruz’s glove on the track and I was left with a hollow feeling and my 10 pound dog scared half to death – for the 40th time this month**.  Lincecum gave up slightly better swings to the Rangers in the sixth, but the results were harmless as he stranded Moreland at first after a leadoff single with a couple of hard hit balls to center and groundout.

**Quick primer on my dog: He’s actually a 12 pound darling of a dog named Oscar – half Yorkie and half Shih Tzu –  whom I wonderfully fell into when I met my lovely  fiancĂ©; he’s now half mine. He’d been getting a treat per run in the NLDS, half because it somehow became good “luck” amidst my many superstitions I began adopting one after the other during the series, and half in apology for the loud yelling. Anyway, I had to stop giving Oscar the treats because he had recently lost a pound –  he’s supposed to be closer to an 11 or 10 pound dog than a 12 or 13 pound dog – but mostly because my beautiful fiancĂ© told me to. Thankfully, the Giants won and the ritual stopped long before the 11 run outburst in game 1 of the World Series!

My prayers were answered in the seventh. Cody Ross went down 0 and 2 but singled to center. Juan Uribe started 0 and 2 but then singled to center – he literally made every hit count this postseason – bringing up the Giants’ best offensive player in 2010. Remarkably, Aubrey Huff laid down a perfect bunt for the first time in his career to advance the runners like he’d been doing it since 1993. After another brutal strikeout by Burrell, I believe his 11th in 12 World Series at bats – he would add a 12th in the ninth – the collective fan base of the Giants had to again start recalling Ashkon’s rendition of “Don’t Stop Believing.” After getting ahead 2 and 0, Renteria delivered a mistake cutter over the left center field fence for a game changing, history shattering, Ranger razing 3-run HR, bringing Giants fans to a fever pitch and my household into a hooting sh*t storm. I was literally shaking and struggled to text friends as I knew he’d just won the Giants the World Series. Lincecum gave up a solo homer to Cruz in the bottom half after the ump squeezed him on a should-be strike two, but after beginning to look a bit human and following that with a walk to Cruz and bringing the tying run to the dish, he struck out Murphy (again) and Molina (again) with his usual array of spinning, dizzying, gravity defying, air bending - not the M. Night Shyamalan kind - batter battering pitches.

In the eighth Ron Washington finally displayed understanding of how best and properly to use his closer and brought in Neftali Feliz. Feliz gave up an infield single to Posey but otherwise moved through the Giants quickly. Lincecum retired the side with his tenth strikeout of the game to open the bottom half and needed just 9 total pitches. Even with one of the very best, elite closers in the bullpen ready to go, I wondered if Bochy might let Lincecum*** finish it. He did not, which I felt was the correct move. And anyway, it was nice to see Lincecum show off his gymnastic athleticism as he gracefully leaped over the dugout barrier and attacked the mound to meet his battery mate and black-bearded savior.

***Lincecum’s line: 8 IP, 1 ER, 3 hits, 1 BB, 10 K’s.
Lincecum’s career pelts: 2 NL Cy Young awards, 3 NL All-star selections, 3 straight NL strikeout titles – joining only Spahn and Randy Johnson in the NL since WWII, and a World Series clinching win. The 9 teams that passed on him in 2006 are weeping somewhere right now and none more sobbingly than his hometown of Seattle.

Feliz tossed a couple of strikeouts in the ninth to give his team a shot and keep it close, but then they really didn’t have a shot anyway. The Giants’ feared and bearded closer came trotting in to end all the torture of 2010 and of the last 52 years for San Franciscans, and he had no intention of making it interesting this time. He struck Hamilton out with a belt high heater, looking. He got Guerrero to meekly ground out to short; I was suddenly grinning ear to ear. After going 3 and 2 to the dangerous, right-handed Nelson Cruz, Wilson never gave in and planted his filthy cutter in much the same spot of the plate he did to the left-handed Ryan Howard to clinch the Pennant. Unlike Howard, Nelson swung but missed as so many hitters had against Wilson before him, and the San Francisco Giants were World Series Champions for the first time in history, and I was – along with countless other fans, including my family and father who forged the passion for Giants baseball in my belly – smitten.

Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, Gaylord Perry, Will Clark, Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent, Juan Marichal, and Willie McCovey are all Giants greats, Hall of Famers, or will be – or at least should be, see Barry Bonds – Hall of Famers, but none of them won a World Series with the San Francisco version of the Orange and Black. But now Andres Torres, Freddy Sanchez, Cody Ross, Juan Uribe, Aaron Rowand, Edgar Renteria, Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, Javier Lopez – the greatest deadline deal of them all in 2010, even bigger than Cliff Lee as it all turned out –  have.  And though this team is filled with dazzling arms like Tim “The Franchise” Lincecum and budding young stars like Buster Posey, they brought home the hardware with a lineup largely assembled of guys no other team really wanted, and I would never have wanted it any other way.

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