SAN FRANCISCO — 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.
“We’re just happy right now,” Posey said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
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.
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-caliber 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, a former Augusta GreenJacket, and Game 1 winner Barry Zito. The lefty Zito was left off the postseason 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 honors. 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. 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 and also thrive when playing in front.
They fell behind 2-0 to the Cincinnati Reds in the division series, then rallied by winning three consecutive road games. They did it again against the St. Louis Cardinals, erasing a 3-1 deficit.
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.”
San Francisco ended the season on a seven-game winning streak.
Reliever George Kontos summed it up the best he could in one Twitter post late Sunday: “WORLD.....SERIES.....CHAMPS!!!! That’s all that needs to be said... This team is special.... We did what no other team could.”
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.
Bochy, for one, is tired of hearing people call it luck.
“For us to play like we did against this great club, I couldn’t be prouder of these guys,” Bochy said. “To be world champions in two out of the last three years, it’s amazing. Believe me, I know how difficult it is to get here, and I couldn’t be prouder of a group of guys that were not going to be denied.”
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 postseason beards that have made these two such huge hits.
Along with their pitching, of course.
When it comes to pitching, Giants general manager Brian Sabean has never wavered. He has won more often than not by building around a balanced and versatile staff.
And all five starters are under contract heading into 2013.
A couple of big decisions facing Sabean are whether to re-sign Scutaro and center fielder Angel Pagan. It’s unclear whether the Giants will consider giving Melky Cabrera a second chance after the All-Star game MVP was suspended Aug. 15 for a positive testosterone test and then not added to the NLCS roster once he was eligible to return.
Sandoval, the Kung Fu Panda, earned Series MVP honors after sparking his club with that three-homer outing in a Game 1 win against Justin Verlander and Co. He batted .369 this postseason with five doubles, six homers and 13 RBI. 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 offseason — 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.
Cain’s season began with a hefty new contract, then only got better with the first perfect game in franchise history June 13, the start in July’s All-Star win that sealed home field for the National League, and then another championship.
“What we just did these last couple months is a pretty full year, and something that I’m going to enjoy definitely sitting down and watching at the end of the year,” Cain said.
Scutaro was only around for part of it, but with the remarkable numbers he put up since coming from the Colorado Rockies on July 27 nobody would know any better.
“It’s what you work for all season,” Scutaro said. “I don’t even know what to say right now. We just won the World Series. It’s still priceless.”