I’ve found that (for me at least) the biggest moments are often the hardest to write about. The Giants are in Kansas City as we speak, mentally and physically preparing themselves for the final stand… and here I am, stumbling to coherently put my thoughts into words. But my goodness, what a run this has been!
This is the 25th anniversary of the Bay Bridge Series, you know. In mid-May, it seemed like the stars could align to bring the Series back to the Bay Area. On August 1, it was all but determined that Oakland would be carrying the AL flag, while the (excuse my pun) faults were starting to show through at 2nd and King in The City. How many times do we say it? This baseball, she’s a funny game.
On the eve of the Giants 3rd Fall Classic in the last half-decade, I wanted to share some thoughts that I’ve gathered about this organization, from the men who pull the strings down to the guys who put the mitts and cleats on every night. It is truly a difficult task for the rest of the baseball world to understand our situation as fans of this franchise. Between all the successes (and there have been so, so many in its history, both long ago and more recently), they’ve also made us wonder what in the heck was going on? They certainly aren’t world-beaters, and they’re not a star-laden team. Their best players (Posey and Bumgarner) are among the top young talents in the game, yet they aren’t a group that seeks the limelight. Forever the underdogs, you know they prefer it that way… everyone from Brian Sabean to Mike Krukow to the author of this blog hopes like hell that the baseball world continues to sell them short. There is absolutely nothing like a chip on the collective shoulder to push a team to great heights.
So here we are. The Giants, injury-riddled and barely treading water in September, are doing it again. Have they not become the most frustrating team for opposing franchises in baseball? Just when the engine seems ready to stall, they somehow find a gear before continuing the long trek to the summit. 18 inning marathons… walk-off wins on errors… rallies without hits… just HOW do they do it? A little bit of luck here and there, sure. But if these past five years have taught us anything, it’s that clubhouse chemistry goes a long, long way this time of year. From the rookies like Duffy, Panik and Susac to the gritty vets like Vogey, Peavy and Hudson, these guys love playing with each other. They love playing for Bruce Bochy. And they think think the world of those high-energy, quirky sellout crowds at AT&T Park every night. No matter which way you look at it, the Giants have one hell of a great thing going these days. And this franchise has sure figured out how to wreck a party or two this time of year as well. Just ask St. Louis.
When you win two rings like Sabean and Bochy have, especially in such a short amount of time, you get my benefit of the doubt. As far as I’m concerned, there are still way too many Sabean naysayers out there. He’s not a progressive-thinker. He complains too much about the budget. He favors his own guys too often. In my eyes, he’s built the classiest organization in baseball, and he’s done it all after saying goodbye to one of the game’s all-time legends (and lightning rods) in Barry Bonds. Sabean has his quirks, and he has definitely irked some folks in the business. But how many GM’s spend their nights dreaming of the October success he’s had? The attendance records, the oddly successful team PR campaigns… He’s helped build all of it.
But I’ll admit I was still incredibly angry at one point this season. I made it pretty clear via Twitter (stupid social media) that I felt there were offensive upgrades available on July 31, and that Sabean was essentially punting the season away by sitting on his hands. Belt and Pagan were injured, and the team was headed south in a hurry. But it was the one and only move that Sabes made the weekend before the deadline, and the players he stayed true to in his own system, that made all the difference. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I can tell you this with some confidence: Giants fans likely won’t miss Edwin Escobar and Heath Hembree all that much. Hembree had been passed up for promotion too many times to be considered a serious prospect in the organization, and Escobar had been beaten around pretty good in the PCL this season.
Those guys netted Jake Peavy, and Peavy turned out to be one of the major reasons the Giants even found their way into the postseason.
As tempting as a trade for Asdrubal Cabrera, Daniel Murphy or Ben Zobrist sounded at the time, this fan base would have had some serious moping to do in the next few years if Panik and Susac were shipped to another organization. Those kids, along with Duffy and a few others, returned credibility to a farm system that had been knocked left and right by the national pundits during the offseason. Save for a few loopy Giants bloggers (you can put me in that class), there wasn’t much hope for a system that hadn’t produced much talent since the Posey/Bumgarner/Belt days. I love what these guys are doing. Susac’s pinch-hit… Duffy’s gutsy base running (Matt Duffy!)… Panik’s first AT&T Park home run coming in the frickin’ clinching game of the NLCS. You have got to love these kids. Just ask DrB and Shankbone.
It’s not a World Series post if you don’t mention Travis Ishikawa. My goodness, dude. What a story. Baseball, much like life, can bring you to your knees. It can also lift you back up when you least expect it. From an early-season DFA to a non 40-man AAA player, to late-season Belt replacement, to left fielder on the fly in the postseason. Sabean loves to reward guys who’ve contributed in the orange and black. I was laughed off the block in May when I suggested that Ishikawa was a nice pickup to stash away for late in the season just in case. One commenter told me he had bridges he wanted to sell me. Well, you can’t underestimate the power of MLB experience in this game. The guys who have been there before usually get the chances. Ishikawa gets thrust into a messy outfield situation in October, and he runs with it. If the Giants are leading late in Game 5, Bochy puts Perez out there. In a situation where you’re losing late in a huge postseason game, you go with the offense and sacrifice something on defense. And in the bottom of the 9th, when a rusty young (very talented) starting pitcher is hurling fastballs without a clue as to where they’re going, you sit dead-red on a mistake and swing like it’s your last day as a big leaguer. In all the great memories I have as a Giants fan in the last decade and a half, there may not have been one as awesome as Ishi’s walk-off. What a moment for him, and for this franchise. Travis Ishikawa. Postseason hero, and Giant for life.
I wanted to touch on a couple thoughts about the World Series itself. Most are calling “Destiny vs Dynasty,” while an idiot in Bristol, CT billed it as the “Worst World Series Ever.” What a crock. The Royals are young, confident and hungry. Like the Giants, they’ve overcome the odds and beaten some very good opponents this month. Unlike the Giants, they haven’t lost a single game this postseason. They’ll send Big Game James to the bump in front of a raucous crowd in KC, but his performance to this point doesn’t look very Big Game to me. Madison Bumgarner, country strong and 25 years young, has pitched 31 innings in these playoffs. With a frickin’ 1.42 ERA. I really like the Giants chances in this one, and I’m very intrigued to see what will happen in KC if the Royals drop Game 1. All you have to do is take one game to knock the good vibes down a bit. Somehow or another, the Giants are always the underdog. But I’d be lying through my teeth if I told you i wasn’t confident in their chances. Don’t get me wrong, I expect a great series. The Royals, like the Giants, don’t get to this point without showing the ability to come back late in games and nail down late leads. You have to score early on them, and keep their “rabbits” off the bases. But I’m still expecting a 3rd ring in five years. Nothing less will suffice.
We’re at 1,500 words and I’ve barely mentioned Skipper Bochy, and how he’s out-managed the hell out of every opponent he faced in October (again). While Clint Hurdle was failing to utilize his bullpen matchups in Pittsburgh; while Matt Williams was watching his team play 9 extra innings from the clubhouse after GETTING HIMSELF TOSSED FROM A PLAYOFF GAME; while Mike Matheny was clenching his teeth with a wild starting pitcher on the hill in the bottom of the 9th in an elimination game, Bochy calmly won the battle. Replacing your closer in the 9th inning with a bases loaded, 2-out situation? That was one of the gutsiest, and wisest moves I’ve seen from a manager this time of year. Game plans go awry in October, and you have to be ready to adjust. Bochy does it better than anyone else. He’s not perfect, but he makes the right moves when it counts. We’ve come to expect it from him, and I expect no less this week.
It’s time to wrap this monster up, folks. If you’re still reading, thank you so much. When I started this blog last summer, I wondered if I’d ever get to write about another title. Less than two years later, here we are again. Win or lose this week, I’ll tell you this: I love this damn franchise. Kruk and Kuip have taught me the game of baseball, and I’d give anything to sit down and listen to them tell old stories just once. Madison Bumgarner and his obliteration of the 2008 South Atlantic League are the reason why I am the prospect follower I am today. Buster Posey is a man of high integrity. He’s a family-first, quiet but intimidating leader. If you want to model your life after someone, Posey’s not a bad choice. Future Derek Jeter? You won’t here any arguments from me. Seriously though, this team is full of guys (Pence, Pablo, Crawford, Belt, Morse, Blanco, Affeldt, Romo, Peavy, Huddy, Vogey, Timmy, on and on) you WANT to root for… and I think that in itself has been just as rewarding as the on-field success. What a great time to be a Giants fan.
I’ll leave you with these parting words. Mute the tv this week. Crank up KNBR. Tune out the national writer noise, and turn to the beat writer and fan perspective for your coverage. Enjoy the hell out of this run, people. We may never see one like it again. The Giants are the only game in town, the only game left on the docket for the 3rd time in five years.