Here is a link to my Friday column from the Giants’ pennant-clinching game against the Cards. I wrote this for the front page of the PD, as requested, so it is less sports and more scene and context than usual. I hope you approve. The full text runs below:
SAN FRANCISCO — When Travis Ishikawa hit the three-run homer that won the game and put the Giants into the World Series, the water fountains in right field started to spray upward. They sprayed to the heavens, giving thanks to the gods of baseball.
The Giants players ran onto the field and hugged as a group. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval tore off his jersey revealing his black T-shirt underneath and waved it to the crowd. Because, really, this was so unexpected. The Giants defeated the favored St. Louis Cardinals 6-3, banished the Cardinals in five games. They never had to make the scary trip back to St. Louis for possible Games 6 and 7. And they made it look easy.
As the players celebrated, more than 40,000 fans stood and waved their orange towels, making an orange canopy in the stands. So, take it in. Enjoy the miracle. The Giants are going to the World Series.
This is their third trip to the Series in five years. They went in 2010 and beat the Texas Rangers. They went in 2012 and beat the Detroit Tigers. And they are going now. Inscribe it in your diary — the Giants go to the Series in even-numbered years.
It all started before the bottom of the eighth inning, the stadium loudspeakers playing, as they always do before the bottom of the eighth, a recording of Steve Perry singing, “Don’t Stop Believing.” Perry was there Thursday night singing along with himself, the crowd singing along with him. “Don’t stop believing.”
They all had someone to believe in. Michael Morse, who has been hurt, led off the inning with a home run to left field. The ball left his bat with a loud crack. And now the score was 3-3. Don’t stop believing. It was just a matter of time. That was so obvious.
The idea that Ishikawa would administer the kill shot was less obvious. He came to the Giants in late July when Morse got hurt. The Giants signed him as a minor-league free agent. He is the embodiment of these Giants. Call them unknowns and call them overachievers.
Less was expected of this team than either of the previous two World Series teams. These Giants were not even a division champion. They were the lowest seed in the National League, had to play the Pirates in the wild-card game just to qualify for the real playoffs. Had to play the Pirates in Pittsburgh. They were those geeks in “Animal House” who tried to pledge a fraternity but always got diverted to the nerd room
Baseball tried to divert the Giants to the nerd room, but the Giants refused. Even thought they lost to injury star players Angel Pagan, Morse, Marco Scutaro and Matt Cain, and lost Tim Lincecum because of bad play, they have prevailed. They prevailed with Joe Panik, a rookie, at second base. They never wanted to bring him up this season – he’s so young you wonder if he shaves. And they have used Ishikawa as a left fielder even though he’s a first baseman.
They have improvised. They beat the Washington Nationals who had the best record in the National League. And now they have run the Cardinals into the offseason. Washington and St. Louis were division champs. The Giants didn’t care, had no respect.
Only a small core group survives from the earlier World Series teams — Jeremy Affeldt, Buster Posey, Sergio Romo, Madison Bumgarner, Santiago Casilla and Javier Lopez. This team seems more serious than the 2010 team. There was Aubrey Huff in 2010 wearing his rally thong, and Pat Burrell being, well, Pat Burrell, and Cody Ross being a real-life rodeo clown. And there was Brian Wilson and “fear the beard.”
This team is less talented than the previous World Series teams. The starting pitching is more vulnerable and the Giants almost never hit home runs. But they are serious men doing a serious job. They win in eccentric ways, a testament to their mental strength and the strength of their baseball fundamentals. The Giants never get weak-kneed by pressure.
After the game, after he had posed for a photo with Belt, Cain and Posey, team president Larry Baer said, “Long season, small clubhouse. These guys have chemistry. It sounds trite and I’m not even sure ‘chemistry’ is the right word. But they win.”
They sure do. They start the World Series on Tuesday in Kansas City against the Royals, as improbable as the Giants. The Royals did not win their division, were a wild-card team. They are unknown in the way the Giants are. The Royals have not been to the World Series since 1985 when they beat the Cardinals. They do not have a tradition of winning the Series. But the Royals blasted through the American League playoffs.
Before Thursday’s game, Affeldt talked about being a Giant: “Over the last few years, we’ve won in interesting ways. We tend to keep the ballgame really close. I actually started to see some gray in my facial hair and I’m sure that had a lot to do with it, these close games. Buster is starting to get some gray.”
Right now, the Giants are having a good hair day. They’re having more than that. They are going to the World Series.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.