Giants Pitch Their Way Into History

DENVER—Once the Giants put the Barry Bonds era behind them and focused on building a foundation from within instead of signing aged free agents, general manager Brian Sabean and his staff were able to focus on what they do best: finding and developing strong-armed talent.

The payoff for the patience came in the form of the 2010 World Series championship.

The Giants finished off the Rangers in five games to claim the World Series, ending a drought that dated to 1954, when they still played at the Polo Grounds in New York.

“We had our share of skeletons in San Francisco and these guys buried them,” said Will Clark, a first baseman for the Giants team that got swept by the Athletics in the earthquake-interrupted 1989 World Series.

A lineup filled with questions found all the necessary answers with a pitching staff built around first-round picks Matt Cain (2002), Tim Lincecum (2006) and Madison Bumgarner (2007) and handled so deftly by catcher Buster Posey, the first-round pick in 2008.

“We thought they were going to be good, and the big thing is they actually were this time,” vice president of player personnel Dick Tidrow said. “When you look at those kind of arms . . . and to have them all develop at the same time . . . It’s, well, it’s special.”

How special? Consider that Lincecum put the final touches on what some viewed as a disappointing season by beating the Rangers and Cliff Lee not once but twice in the World Series, becoming the 15th pitcher in major league history to win four games in a postseason. Both times he beat Cliff Lee, who was unbeaten in his six previous playoff starts.

“They were talking about Cliff Lee and what he’s done,” Clark said after the series. “Well, Cliff Lee got outpitched, again.”

With the Giants’ pitching, games were never out of hand, and any clutch hit likely would become a big hit.

“These guys showed what pitching does for you in this game,” Clark said.

Remember, the Giants ranked 17th in the major leagues in runs scored during the regular season. Their pitching staff, however, had a major league-leading 3.36 ERA, ranking second in bullpen ERA and rotation ERA.

“There’s no question what our pitching staff did for us,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “We knew we were not going to slug it out with other teams, but we knew we didn’t have to. We knew if we would make the plays and get a big hit, our pitchers were going to give us an opportunity to win.”

And the Giants won. In claiming the National League West, they played more games decided by three or fewer runs (115) and had more success (63-52) than any other team. They limited the opposition to a best-in-baseball .216 average with runners in scoring position.

They added to the legacy in the playoffs, becoming the third team in history to have four postseason shutouts, joining the 1905 New York Giants and ’98 Yankees. The first team to have a homegrown four-man postseason rotation—Lincecum, Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Bumgarner—since the 1986 Red Sox, their starters had a 2.38 World Series ERA and limited the Rangers to a .190 average.

“You look at the pitching,” Bochy said. “We had to beat Lee twice. I’m sure a lot of people didn’t think that was going to happen. But you know, because of our pitching, that gave us a chance.”

And the Giants took advantage of the opportunity.

Expanding The Field

If the big push behind expanding the playoffs is that the networks want more postseason programming, which could mean higher rights fees for Major League Baseball, that’s one thing. But don’t think that adding a second wild-card team will create an opportunity for new faces to show up in October.

In the last decade, the Blue Jays, Expos/Nationals, Orioles, Pirates and Royals are the only teams that have not made a postseason appearance. Had there been a second wild card in each league, that would still be the case.

The Yankees, who have advanced to the playoffs nine times in 10 years, would be a perfect 10 with a second wild card (in 2009). The other AL teams that would have benefited were the Red Sox (2010), Rangers (’08), Tigers (’07), White Sox (’06), Indians (’05), Athletics (’04), Mariners (’03) and Twins (’01). Seattle and Boston would have had a playoff for the spot in 2002.

San Francisco, which made the playoffs in 2002, ’03 and ’10, would have been the second NL wild card in 2001, ’04 and ’09. Other NL teams to benefit would have been the Cardinals (’10), Mets (’08), Padres (’07), Phillies (’06 and ’05), Astros (’03) and Dodgers (’02).