The Giants’ championship formula is a familiar one, just with new faces all over the diamond two years later: stellar starting pitching backed by a shut-down bullpen, a late-season surge and a manager making all the right moves.
San Francisco captured its second World Series title in three seasons with a stunning sweep of the Tigers, and only catcher Buster Posey was in the lineup for the Game 5 clincher in 2010 at Texas and also the finale at Comerica Park in 2012.
Two of the four games against Detroit were started and won by a pair of pitchers not even on the World Series roster in 2010, and in Ryan Vogelsong’s case he wasn’t even in the majors back then.
The only regular still around from that team is Posey, and the catcher had to rebound from devastating ankle and leg injuries sustained in a home-plate collision in late May 2011 to put together an MVP-calibre season and become the NL batting champ. He played far more than anybody envisioned his body would allow.
This time, a couple of bench warmers from that last October run shined for San Francisco — MVP Pablo Sandoval and Game 1 winner Barry Zito. The lefty Zito was left off the post-season roster for all three rounds in 2010.
“Just as a player, certainly you want to play on a team that wins the World Series. And to go out there and contribute, there’s nothing like that,” Zito said. “We were very adamant that we have to step on their throats. We saw what they did to New York.”
Marco Scutaro and Hunter Pence were this year’s midseason additions, with Scutaro following up Cody Ross in 2010 to earn NL championship series MVP honours. While Scutaro produced the timely hits, including a go-ahead single with two outs in the 10th inning of Sunday’s 4-3 win, Pence did plenty and became the motivational speaker of this group. He reminded his teammates to keep the focus even when they jumped out to a surprising 3-0 Series lead against the Tigers.
These Giants showed they could rally back — again and again — and also thrive when playing out in front.
They fell behind 2-0 to the Cincinnati Reds in the division series, then became the first team in major league history to rally back in a five-game series by winning three straight road games. They did it again against the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals, erasing a 3-1 deficit thanks largely to Zito’s Game 5 victory at Busch Stadium that sent the Giants back to the Bay Area to finish it off in San Francisco.
Six victories in six elimination games.
“The thing that made this team so special is just playing as a team, caring for each other,” Pence said. “We had our backs against the wall and we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It’s not supposed to be. That was one of our mottos, and we went out there to enjoy every minute of it and it was hard-earned. Just an incredible, incredible group of guys that fought for each other.”
San Francisco ended the season on a seven-game winning streak.
Much like that 2010 team of “castoffs and misfits” as they referred to themselves, manager Bruce Bochy had to make some tough calls. He moved struggling starter Tim Lincecum to the bullpen, and he became a dominant reliever. Another spot-on move by Bochy, who became just the 23rd manager to win two or more World Series titles.
Nobody figured the Giants would leave AT&T Park with a 2-0 lead Thursday night for the Motor City and not have to come back home for a Game 6, or 7 for that matter.
When the Giants take to Market Street in downtown San Francisco for Wednesday’s Halloween championship parade, there will be no costumes needed. Brian Wilson, whose season ended in April when he needed Tommy John elbow surgery, and the man who finished off the clincher in his place by striking out the side Sunday on 15 pitches — Sergio Romo — are still sporting those dark post-season beards that have made these two such huge hits.
Along with their pitching, of course.
Sandoval, the Kung Fu Panda, earned Series MVP honours after sparking his club with that three-homer outing in a Game 1 win against Justin Verlander and Co. He batted .369 this post-season with five doubles, six homers and 13 RBIs. That’s after he was benched for four of the five games in 2010, when he hit .176 with two RBIs.
In three mighty swings last Wednesday night, he showed how far he has come since then. Even after a pair of stints on the disabled list this season, one for a broken hamate bone in his hand that required surgery.
“You know, I still can’t believe that game. It’s the game of your dreams. You don’t want to wake up,” the 26-year-old Sandoval said.
The Giants again will ask Sandoval to shape up this off-season — and he is on board. Sandoval wants to be at his best not only for San Francisco but also to play for Venezuela in next spring’s third World Baseball Classic.
Zito’s turnaround is just as noteworthy. The left-hander, who signed a $126 million, seven-year contract before the 2007 season, went 15-8 for his best season since moving across the bay from the Oakland Athletics, where he won the 2002 AL Cy Young Award.
The Giants won Zito’s last 14 starts, and he didn’t lose after Aug. 2 against the Mets.
“I think there’s a lot of learning that goes on in life away from the ball field,” Zito said. “To go through it on the big stage ... the lows are lower, but I’ve changed the way I think about a lot of things.”
Zito will be part of an experienced rotation heading into 2013, led by ace Matt Cain.