Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How the 2012 Giants Became World Champions

You're going to hear people say, "I believed in them from the start!" or, "I knew they would do it!"  Don't believe those pinheads for a second.  And if you're the one saying it, I don't believe you either.

Bruce Bochy with the trophy
No one picked these 2012 Giants to make any noise above a whisper in the postseason let alone take their 2nd World Series title in three years.  This team devoid of the characters from two years ago did not have enough talent surrounding the almost certain MVP Posey.  Gone were Cody 'the Boss' Ross, Pat 'the Bat' Burrell, and Juan 'Jazz Hands' Uribe.  The Freak was much less freakish and sent to bullpen duty, Brian Wilson's Beard was merely on bench duty and Aubrey Huff was no longer sporting a lucky red thong. 

Yet these Giants seemingly devoid of character made up for it with something much more important: Heart.

You saw how important heart is to a team, and perhaps it was none more evident than in 2011 when all of our hearts wrenched watching Buster Posey writhe on the ground after a vicious hit at the plate.  That is the day the 2011 season died.  A season removed from the Giants' first World Series in San Francisco, and hope had been lost.

When he came back in spring training for 2012, Bruce Bochy cautiously predicted that he would be happy with Buster playing in 100 games this season.  Instead, Buster played in 148 games with a few starts at first base sprinkled in between, not to mention that he played in all 16 postseason games.

With a healthy Buster Posey back, this team rallied around him and their two additions this year, Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro.  Hunter Pence now famously rallied the Giants who were down 0-2 against the Cincinnati Reds with his first of many sermons as the Reverend Pence telling them to play for the man to the left of you instead of yourself, and that the man to the right of you would be playing for you.  Scutaro now known as the Blockbuster would continue his tear right through the playoffs which earned him the NLCS MVP and showed Matt Holiday that it would take more than a dirty slide to disrupt the steady heartbeat of this team. 

That steady heartbeat was displayed in every player on this team.  Gregor Blanco was an afterthought on this team.  The much weaker and less intimidating left field replacement for the disgraced Melky Cabrera.  It was fitting that he would be a hero in a World Series game, smashing a triple off Anibal Sanchez in Game 3 to finally open up the scoring.  But it was his glove that did most of the work, making excellent plays this postseason especially in Game 1 against the Tigers where he caught sinking line drives from Miguel Cabrera and then Prince Fielder in nearly identical fashion to keep their bats cold.

Pablo Sandoval was left off the starting lineup in 2010 because of his struggles and vowed never to be in that position again.  In Game 1 he sealed his World Series MVP with 3 kung fu swings of his bat taking Justin Verlander deep twice and hitting a third home run just to put himself in the record books.  Afterwards you did not see the bouncy and playful Panda, but rather a calm and reverent Pablo, who knew that this was finally his time.

Ryan Vogelsong knew he was meant to be here, and do what he did.  He knew that for all his struggles in Pittsburgh,  all the years his spent in the minors or Japan, it was all boiling down to this moment.  Without Tim Lincecum starting games, these starting pitchers knew that they needed to step it up in the playoffs and start performing the way they knew they were capable of performing.  After watching both Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner struggle in the first 2 games of the NLDS, Vogelsong was picked to be the Game 3 starter and to turn the series around.  What he did was to fight through 5 innings, but not allow a run to the Reds and give the Giants a chance to win on an infield single beat out by Joaquin Arias.  That started the Giants on their roll of 6 straight elimination games won in the postseason which tied a league record.  Vogey was spectacular the rest of the playoffs as well, earning 2 wins in the NLCS and then a third in the World Series. 

Barry Zito did what many thought was impossible.  Facing a 3-1 deficit in the NLCS against the mighty Cardinals, Zito pitched against a team that had crushed left handed pitching in the season and were licking their chops waiting for their 2nd World Series berth in as many years.  Zito never let that happen, blanking them over 7 innings of work and turning it over to that bullpen that had stayed as steady as it was in 2010.  He then did it again, this time against the Tigers in Game 1 of the World Series and turned it over to the Giants' secret weapon in the bullpen Tim Lincecum.

Timmy was not the focal point this time, he was relegated to the bullpen due to a terrible regular season where he had the worst numbers of any starter in the league.  Instead of complaining or moping, Timmy took this new challenge and dominated.  He pitched in over 13 innings and struck out 15 batters to keep the Tigers' frustrated throughout the series.

This bullpen also did what people thought was impossible, and that was to come together to close games without a clear cut closer.  Affeldt had over 10 innings of work without a run allowed and Casilla was also brilliant, but without Brian Wilson, the Giants turned to Sergio Romo to save the most important games of his life.

Romo was absolutely dominant, he said that despite his 5'10 frame, he felt 6'10 on the mound with the support he felt from the fans and his teammates.  If there's any guy who exemplifies heart on this team, it would be Romo.  In this World Series he pitched 3 and a third, did not allow a run and struck out 5 Tigers.  The last strike out he recorded happened to be against the 2012 Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera on an 89 mph fastball on the outside corner of the plate.

During the regular season, Miguel Cabrera had been struck out looking just 12 times, yet Sergio knew that sometimes you can't always beat your opponent with your best, sometimes you just need heart.  He believed that as good as his slider had been against the Tigers that Cabrera would be looking for it, looking for Romo's best pitch.  Instead what he got was a fastball down the heart of the plate, and a winter of regret.

This is how these 2012 Giants got it done, they weren't the most talented team, they didn't have the most stars or the 100 mph fastball closer, they had guys who believed in themselves, each other and the strength of human spirit.

As they say, these Giants were 25 men with 1 Goal.  That goal was accomplished

San Francisco Giants, 2012 World Champions

Laws of the Day

With such a team effort it was hard to fit in all the players who made this happen so I'll mention them here briefly

Madison Bumgarner - huge Game 2 win in the World Series after struggling for the better part of 2 months.
Matt Cain - only 1 of 2 pitchers to be the starting pitcher in the clinching games for the division series, league championship and world series.
Brandon Belt - triple in Game 4 to drive in the Giants' first run
Brandon Crawford - big time defensive plays including a throwout at first base on a ball that ricocheted off of Cain in Game 4
Jeremy Affeldt - 3 strikeouts to the heart of the Tigers' lineup: Cabrera, Fielder, Young
Angel Pagan - Giants were 2-0 when Pagan led off a postseason game with a home run.
Ryan Theriot - led off the 10th inning with a single as the Giants' DH and scored the eventual winning run.
Bruce Bochy - Hall of Fame manager in my book

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