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9:35AM

The Giants, the Team That Knew How

SAN FRANCISCO – The city that knows how. That’s the slogan of this town, the one of little cable cars and World Series titles. A little too much, perhaps. Or maybe not enough.

This is a city in love with its hills, its food, its views, its bridges, even its fog.

A city of diversity and lunacy, where a century ago a man named Norton declared himself Emperor and the hallowed Rudyard Kipling described the citizens as mad.

A city of hippies and gays and Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Bookstore. And the latest vintages from Napa.

And, now, maybe most of all, of the San Francisco Giants.

The once-again-champion San Francisco Giants.

They weren’t supposed to be there, on top of the baseball world. The Detroit Tigers were the favorites, the overwhelming choice.

The Tigers had – have – Miguel Cabrera, the first Triple Crown winner in 47 years. They had Justin Verlander, arguably the best pitcher in baseball. What they also have now are the blues.

How did it happen? The sporting mavens will spend the winter trying to explain. They’ll decide the Tigers again were burdened with too many off days between the league championship series and the World Series.

Or the baseball gods were totally on the side of the Giants, pointing out Angel Pagan’s ball, which ricocheted off third for a double, or those Tiger line drives that kept ending up in Pablo Sandoval’s glove.

The Giants, we’ll be told, caught lightning in a bottle, and if the teams played again next week, Detroit would win, instead of – how embarrassing – getting swept by a team that hit the fewest home runs in baseball during the regular season.

It’s all true, and who cares? In 2010 it was Brian Wilson closing things out in Texas. This time – with Wilson missing almost from the start of the season because of arm surgery – it was his doppelganger, Sergio Romo.

This team lost Wilson. This team lost Melky Cabrera – and for a while Guillermo Mota. Pablo Sandoval underwent surgery on a hamate bone. Freddy Sanchez never made it out of spring training. Tim Lincecum went from Cy Young winner to Mystery Man, although in the postseason some of that mystery was solved.

But it wasn’t what the Giants didn’t have, it’s what they did have. Which, as that song from the musical “Damn Yankees’’ told us, was heart. Along with some wise thinking just before the World Series by manager Bruce Bochy’s wife, Kim.

Remembering that the Bochys attended the pre-series gala in San Francisco two years ago, and the Giants won, she persuaded him, a bit superstitiously, to take her to this year’s gala, last Tuesday at the Fairmont Hotel, the one night off between the NLCS win and the start of the World Series.

Watching him for a few minutes, you sensed Bochy would rather be somewhere else, but she thought he shouldn’t change the routine from 2010. He didn’t. In the end his team didn’t.

In four games the Tigers, so powerful on offense, scored a total of six runs, three in the first game, three in the second, which the Giants won, 4-3 in 10 innings. Good pitching always will beat good hitting. The Giants’ pitching wasn’t good, it was great.

Add the 27 innings from the last three games against the Cardinals in the NLCS, a total of 64 innings, and the Giants allowed only seven runs.

“Unbelievable,” Vida Blue, the pitching great of the 1970s, said on CSN Bay Area.

“You don’t need a superstar at every position. Just tell a guy, you’re my shortstop, you’re my first baseman and go out and play.”

When you’re playing for Bruce Bochy, who treats everyone with respect, it’s easier.

“Our guys had a date with destiny,” Bochy said on postgame TV. “What made them special was they were such an unselfish group. They played for each other and the fans.”

The fans. San Francisco had its virtues, but one of them wasn’t the way it went about supporting teams. We were blasé, unemotional.   

The 49ers helped change the image. Winning five Super Bowls will get attention. Then two years ago, Giants general manager Brian Sabean, whose handiwork can be seen on the roster, said, “This is a baseball town.”

It hasn’t stopped being one. The Giants sold out every game the last two seasons. On Sunday night, an estimated 10,000 people showed up at Civic Center Plaza to watch Game 4 on a very big-screen TV.

You have to be happy for all of them, in their orange and black, in their Panda outfits – fittingly, deservingly, Sandoval was the Series MVP.

You have to be happy for Barry Zito, who stoically accepted many seasons of boos.

You have to be happy for Ryan Vogelsong, who two years ago seemed at the end of a career that was spent mostly in the minors or in Japan.

You have to be happy for San Francisco, for the whole Bay Area.  

The good guys won. Great Unexpectations.

9:41AM

Giants outplaying, outpitching the Tigers

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO – Jim Leyland took exception to the question. “Breaks?’’ he responded rhetorically. “I don’t think the Giants are getting any breaks. They’re outplaying us.”

Most of all, they’re outpitching the Detroit Tigers. Which in baseball is where it all begins. And ends. The adage can be repeated forever: If the other team doesn’t score, you can’t lose.

The other team, the Detroit Tigers, managed by Jim Leyland, didn’t score Thursday night. And so beaten, 2-0, by a team that barely scored, Detroit has lost the first two games of the 2012 World Series.

Defense wins. In baseball, defense begins with pitching. And ends with pitching.

With Barry Zito fooling the Tigers on Wednesday night. With Madison Bumgarner, who had been fighting himself, who had been getting chased from games in the fourth inning, stunning them Thursday night.

These are the Giants we’ve come to expect, the Giants who throw strikes and make big plays, such as Gregor Blanco firing to Marco Scutaro, whose relay cut down Prince Fielder at the plate. And make scoring against them almost an impossibility.

In the last five postseason games, the closing three against St. Louis in the National League Championship Series and the first two in the World Series, Giant pitching has given up runs in only three different innings. Three of 45.

A run in 27 innings to the Cards. Three runs in 18 innings to the Tigers, who were shut out only twice during the regular season. One run in the sixth on Wednesday, then, almost as a gift, two runs in the ninth. And none Thursday on an evening at AT&T so full of noise and tension that 42,855 fans at AT&T Park may never unwind.

The way they were starting to think the Tigers would never score.

“This was a really good World Series game,’’ said Leyland. “It didn’t turn out right for us . . . I don’t have any perspective. We got two hits tonight. I’m certainly not going to sit here and rip my offense. I think our offense is fine . . .”

It’s just that the Giants’ pitching has been better.

Santiago Casillla took over for Bumgarner in the eighth. Sergio Romo took over for Casilla in the ninth. “Those fans,’’ said Casilla of the crowd, “I’m 5-feet-10. The way they cheer when I’m on the mound, I feel about 6-feet-10. They’re unbelievable.”

A word some might apply to the Giants’ pitching. Zito overcame his demons of the past. Bumgarner overcame his struggles of the present. San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy even took Bumgarner out of the rotation after he couldn’t make it through the fourth inning of the NLCS opener against St. Louis.

“I thought the first inning would be critical for him, for his confidence,” Bochy said of Bumgarner’s opportunity Thursday night. “Also to see where he was at.”

Where he was at was back in 2010, when as a rookie Bumgarner was so impressive in a World Series start against the Texas Rangers.

“I mean,” said Bochy, after Bumgarner allowed only two hits and two walks to the Tigers, “what a job he did. Dave Righetti, our pitching coach, did a great job getting him back on track. He had great poise out there with a great delivery, and he stayed on it for seven innings.

“He needed a break, and I thought he benefited from it, both mentally and physically.”

No question everything so far has gone the way of the Giants, who, along with the nightly sellout crowds, waving their “rally rags,” singing along with the music of Journey, dressing in all sorts of loony attire of orange and black, have turned AT&T into a magical place.

On Wednesday night, Angel Pagan’s bouncer hit third, spun crazily and bounced into left for a double. On Thursday night, Gregor Blanco’s sacrifice bunt virtually dug a hole inches inside the third base line, loading the bases with nobody out in the seventh.

When Brandon Crawford grounded to second, the Tigers chose to go after the double play – which they got – instead of throwing home, and the Giants went in front, 1-0.

“It’s not debatable,” Leyland said of the decision, “because if we don’t score it doesn’t make any difference anyway. I can’t let them open the game up.”

Bochy said the difference in Bumgarner from his last few games was the delivery. “It was simpler, more compact,” he said, “and I think he was able to get the ball where he wanted to because of that.”

Asked if there was a different feel, Bumgarner, a laconic sort, but not without a sense of humor, answered, “Yeah, I went into the seventh inning instead of getting took out in the third.”

OK, his English isn’t perfect, but his fastball was.

“I think the only difference,” Bumgarner added, “was being able to make pitches. I hadn’t been able to do that this postseason, and tonight Buster (Posey) caught a great game, the defense did great.“I wanted to go out there and pitch well for our guys and the fans.”

He, Casilla and Romo couldn’t have pitched any better. If the other team doesn’t score you can’t lose. And the Giants didn’t.

7:49PM

Giants are heads, and hats, above the rest of the West

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO – Hats off. No, hats on. Alex Smith of the 49ers wearing one from the Giants, a dastardly, fineable act according to the uniform police of the NFL. And, in response, Bruce Bochy sitting pre-game in the Giants’ dugout topped by a 49er hat.

Tit for tat. Or, literally, hat for hat.

"Our way of saying thanks,’’ Bochy would point out. “And we’re 1-0 with that hat.’’

The Giants were sending a message. Specifically, two messages: One, we’ve got your back, 49ers. (Or should that be we’ve got your hat?) And two, we’ve almost got the division, Dodgers.

It’s over, the National League West race, even though technically it’s not, and so even if the Giants absolutely couldn’t blow it, they’re saying all the right things about not easing up.

More significantly, they’re doing all the right things to prove they’re not easing up. Instead, they’re revving up.   

They clubbed the Colorado Rockies, 9-2, Thursday afternoon at AT&T Park, a sweep of the four-game series, an eighth win in the last nine games.

These are party days at the ballpark, from the pre-game organ solos – just like in the 1950s – to Pablo Sandoval rediscovering the home run to the seventh-inning Beatles’ recording of “Twist and Shout,’’ one of the great rock songs anywhere, anytime.

"Every single day, 41,000 people excited for us,’’ said Sandoval a short while after the one single day in his career in which he hit home runs both righthanded (in the first with no one on) and lefthanded (in the fourth with two on).

"We play hard for them.”

They’re playing hard and well and entertainingly. The unassailable idea that sport is intended to be tumultuous merriment is carried to the max every game at AT&T, where there’s laughter in the dugout and rejoicing in the stands.

At the so-called old man’s game, the crowds are young and joyful, singing, dancing, cheering.

"We are happy, not satisfied,’’ said Sandoval, the Panda. Until Wednesday, he hadn’t hit a home run in weeks, 161 at bats going back to July. Now he’s hit three in two games.

"We are loose and having fun.’’  He stopped momentarily. “But it’s not over yet.’’

Yes it is. Before the Dodgers played the Nationals, Thursday night, the Giants’ magic number was four, meaning any combo of four Giants wins and Dodgers losses would make San Francisco champions of the West. You think that’s not going to happen?

Bochy, managing his hat off – or on – was asked if he would watch the Dodgers-Nats game.

"No,’’ he answered. “I’m probably going to have dinner, to be honest with you.’’

There’s a man with perspective. A man with intelligence, not that we weren’t previously aware. A night off in the City by the Bay — why waste it watching a ball game?

He’d already been involved in a rewarding one.

Already had seen Barry Zito pitch well enough often enough to get the victory and, when he was removed in the sixth – “He hates it when I come out there,’’ said Bochy -- to get a standing ovation.

Had seen Marco Scutaro, the pickup of the year, at age 36 set a career season mark with his 175th hit (he added another) and raise his batting average to .301.

Had seen the Giants bat around and score six runs in the fourth, when Sandoval and Buster Posey hit back-to-back home runs and Zito had a fine sacrifice bunt that drew an appreciative cheer from a turnout as into the nuances of baseball as it was the taste of the garlic fries.

"The mood, tempo and spirit of the club are very good,’’ said Bochy. “That’s the way it’s been for a couple months. We did a great job on the road. Now we’re playing well here. This club has a lot of character. We’re having fun, keeping it loose.’’

Why be uptight when Matt Cain is zooming along, when Tim Lincecum appears to finding his immediate past, when Buster Posey, the presumptive MVP, is batting .335, when the Panda has found his stroke, when Barry Zito, the man the public despised, has a 13-8 record and receives standing o’s?

"The crowd and that enthusiasm,’’ Bochy said. “The adrenaline. We run on it. These guys feed off that. They’re (the fans) as happy for our success as we are.”

You need to win in sports, and the Giants the past few years have been winning. But there’s more. There’s the realization by management that people want to have a good time, and in the majors’ best ballpark, they must. Or there wouldn’t have been 159 consecutive announced sellouts.

You have to tip your hat to them, no matter if it says 49ers or Giants.

9:32AM

SF Examiner: Too much fumbling, bumbling by Giants

By Art Spander
Special to The Examiner

“These are the major leagues,” insisted Vida Blue on Comcast SportsNet this week. “This has got to stop.” Not the way the Giants are fielding. Or fumbling.

Who knew the Bad News Bears would be resurrected in orange and black? It was one thing when the Giants couldn’t hit a moving ball. It’s another when they can’t catch one.

Read the full story here.

Copyright 2012 SF Newspaper Company

9:29AM

SF Examiner: S.F. Giants refocused after disappointing 2011

By Art Spander
Special to The Examiner

They’re just a baseball team this year, the Giants, not the champions, not the club with the attention, baggage and impossibility of doing what nobody had done for more than a decade — repeat.

“I don’t think any of us knew what was coming,” Tim Lincecum said. He meant about the season of 2011, disappointing mainly because understandably it couldn’t match the season of 2010, the championship season.

Read the full story here.

Copyright 2012 SF Newspaper Company

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