They weren’t supposed to win the NL West crown, on the last day of the regular season.
They weren’t supposed to beat the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS, on Manager Bobby Cox’s farewell tour.
They weren’t supposed to beat the Philadelphia Phillies, with a seemingly superior pitching staff and high-powered offense.
They weren’t supposed to beat all-world postseason pitcher Cliff Lee. Twice.
Yet, despite everything, they did. With one booming shot by eventual World Series MVP Edgar Renteria, and brilliant pitching performances by Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson, the San Francisco Giants clinched their first World Series since 1954, when they were based in New York. It was the sixth World Series title in franchise history, but the first ever for the city of San Francisco.
Until the last few weeks of the season, it was believed that the Giants would most likely miss the playoffs altogether, as the San Diego Padres held a six-and-a-half-game lead in the NL West at the end of August. It took a closed-door meeting between manager Bruce Bochy, general manager Brian Sabean and the pitching staff to light a fire under the team, and snap them out of a funk that saw the Giants’ staff go 5-13 with a 5.56 ERA. A combination of timely wins by the Giants and a late-season collapse by the Padres gave San Francisco a three-game lead with three games to go in the regular season. Despite losing the first two games in a three-game series against their division rival, they pulled off a victory on the last day of the regular season to win the division – their first NL West title since 2003.
Going into the 2010 postseason, it seemed that the pitching staff, led by 2-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, had finally pulled it together. Matt Cain, while finishing with a 13-10 record, had found his stroke toward the end of the season. Young gun Madison Bumgarner had a 7-6 record with an impressive 2.90 ERA in the 2010 regular season, proving he had a postseason run on the strength of his left arm. A year removed from an unlikely no-hitter, promising starter Jonathan Sanchez was probably the “shakiest” of their four starters, yet still had potential to wipe out opposing hitters.
Many experts considered San Francisco’s staff, composed of Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner and Sanchez, to be rivaled by only the Philadelphia Phillies’ staff of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton. While the Phillies were considered World Series favorites, the Giants were seen as iffy to get past the Atlanta Braves in the National League Division Series. The reason? Their offense didn’t scream “dangerous” to anyone. While this may have been the case during the majority of the regular season, the Giants were prepared to make themselves known by their bats, as well as their arms.
The postseason started off with a bang for the Giants, as Lincecum threw 14 strikeouts on the heels of a 1-0, complete-game victory. After a disappointing loss in the 10th inning of Game 2, Giants fans proceeded to see errors by Atlanta’s defense cost the Braves at Turner Field. The result was a series win by the Giants in four games. It was there where many believed San Francisco’s story would end, at the hands of the defending National League champions, the Philadelphia Phillies. Despite going up 3-1 in the series, after an improbably Game 1 victory against Roy Halladay, they failed to clinch a spot in the World Series at AT&T Park, losing 4-2. Going back to Philadelphia, with an imploding Jonathan Sanchez on the mound, Bochy used perhaps the best bullpen in the major leagues to bail out his Giants, and pull out a gut-wrenching 3-2 victory. A home run by Juan Uribe and a heart-stopping 9th-inning save by closer Brian Wilson clinched it for the Giants.
Yet, once again, many experts still could not believe the Giants would pull out enough offense against a Texas Rangers team who had a league-leading .276 average, and a pitcher in Cliff Lee who had never lost a postseason game, going 7-0 with a career postseason ERA of 1.40. In the eyes of many, the Rangers were favored to win the World Series in five or six games (depending on how many games Lee would pitch).
In that sense, no one would have expected what Game 1 of the World Series would bring. With Tim Lincecum going up against Cliff Lee, many thought it would end up a 1-0 classic. After Lincecum gave up 2 runs in the first two innings, Lee was already assumed to win. That is, until Lee gave up 2 runs of his own in the third. Then, inexplicably, the Giants bats got to the seemingly invincible postseason pitcher for 6 runs in the fifth inning. Offense ruled Game 1, as the Giants ended up winning, 11-7.
Game 2 saw Matt Cain dominate the Texas Rangers offense, pitching 8 strong shutout innings. After Rangers starter C.J. Wilson left the game in the 8th inning, the Giants offense teed off against the Rangers’ ill-matched bullpen. With San Francisco leading 2-0 after 7 innings, Texas’ bullpen gave up 7 runs with 2 outs in the eighth, eventually winning by a score of 9-0. After two games, the Giants were in complete control, as if they stole the Rangers’ offense for themselves, in the process.
With Jonathan Sanchez pitching against Colby Lewis in Game 3, the Giants were hoping for a commanding 3-0 lead. Unfortunately, Sanchez gave up a three-run HR in the second inning and, despite home runs by Cody Ross and Andres Torres, could not recover. They lost Game 3 by a score of 4-2, giving the Rangers renewed life.
That new life was short-lived, however, on the arm of Madison Bumgarner. On Halloween night, Bumgarner was scary good: the 21-year-old, pitching in the biggest game of his young career, calmly pitched an eight-inning, three-hit shutout, striking out 6 batters. In the process, he became the fourth-youngest pitcher (21 years, 91 days) to win a World Series game. Home runs by Aubrey Huff and Buster Posey gave the Giants the game, 4-0.
Game 5 saw a Game 1 rematch of Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum. Neither disappointed, pitching shutouts through 6 innings, and giving the fans the game they expected days ago. While both threw stuff that didn’t look like could be touched, Cliff Lee put himself in a jam in the seventh inning, pitching to Edgar Renteria with Cody Ross and Juan Uribe on base. In lieu of walking him, he gave Renteria a perfect pitch to hit – and Renteria responded with a series-ending 3-run HR. While Nelson Cruz would later hit a solo HR in the bottom of the seventh inning off Lincecum, “Big Time Timmy Jim” would proceed to pitch a solid 8 innings, handing the ball to Wilson to close out the series.
He proceeded to strike out eventual AL MVP Josh Hamilton, who would ultimately go a disappointing 2-for-20 in the series, and made dangerous DH Vladamir Guerrero ground out. Wilson blew away Nelson Cruz with a strikeout, swinging, to clinch the World Series title. With a celebratory scream between Wilson and catcher Buster Posey, it was over – 56 years of torture were wiped away, and San Francisco could finally celebrate a World Series championship.
In the end, the Giants won on brilliant pitching, timely hitting, and great calls by Bochy. Already considered one of the most unlikely World Series champions in recent memory, the Giants re-energized a city who have been deprived of a sports championship for 15 years, and a baseball town who had never seen their team win it all. The expectations were low for this team in August, and they proceeded to show the world what they were made of.
As World Champions, no one can ever tell them what they aren’t supposed to do.