Three weeks ago, it seemed hopeless. A week-and-a-half ago, it seemed unachievable.
They should have been swept by the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Division Series. They were down to their last breath three games in a row in the NL Championship Series after trailing the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, 3 -1. But somehow, some way, the San Francisco Giants kept on surviving. And somehow, some way, they kept on playing. These resilient Giants won a total of six elimination games en route to the World Series. After flirting dangerously close to elimination in their two previous series, and finally being pressed by the stunned Detroit Tigers in a prolonged, extra-inning Game 4, the Giants completed the sweep and clinched their second World Series title in three seasons Sunday night, at Comerica Park in Detroit.
After three consecutive wins -– all of which looked relatively easy — San Francisco capped off its improbable run with reliever Sergio Romo getting the Tigers’ reigning Triple Crown winner, Miguel Cabrera, to look at strike three for the final out. Romo, who mowed down Detroit centerfielder Austin Jackson and then pinch-hitter Don Kelly before Cabrera, threw five consecutive sliders to get the count to two balls and two strikes on the Tigers’ heavy-hitter, who already launched a home run in the game. Anticipating another slider, Cabrera stood fast as he watched the sixth pitch — an 89-mph fastball – speed down the middle of the plate for the final out.
The unanimous choice for World Series MVP, Pablo Sandoval, arrived at Comerica Park for Game 4 with baseball’s coolest nickname — Kung Fu Panda -– and left with the keys to a drop-top Chevrolet Corvette. When the Giants won the World Series in 2010, Sandoval struggled so much that he played only one game that series and went hitless in three at-bats. This time, he finished with a .500 average in the Series (8-for-16) and had a record-tying three homers in his first three at-bats against Tigers’ ace Justin Verlander in Game 1. Sandoval was the clear favorite after the Giants completed their sweep of the Tigers, but the MVP Panda didn’t win the title on his own.
The Giants may have discovered a formula worth copying, on the way to the franchise’s seventh championship. It was a total team effort, symbolic of the Giants’ strengths in this series compared to the Tigers’ flaws: a deeper roster, timely hitting, the ability of bench players to step into bigger roles and deliver big hits and big outs. There were four or five Giants that could have claimed the MVP trophy, and Tim Lincecum got things started.
The starter-turned-reliever did not allow a hit in four and two-thirds innings in Game 1 and 3, striking out 8 of the 16 batters he faced. Then there was Sergio Romo, who struck out the side in the 10th of Game 4 for his third save of the series. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Romo is one of six players with three saves in a World Series, one short of John Wetteland’s record of four for the New York Yankees in 1996. Catcher Buster Posey — who was the only player in the starting lineup when San Francisco beat the Texas Rangers in the 2010 clincher -– handled the Giants’ pitching staff masterfully. He had hits in three of the four games (a .286 batting average) and had a crucial sweep tag on Prince Fielder at the plate in Game 2. And last night, Posey contributed a two-run homer to give San Francisco a brief lead in Game 4. Second baseman Marco Scutaro -– the MVP of the NLCS –- had three runs batted in during the title series, including the 10th-inning single that brought home the player he replaced this season, Ryan Theriot, for the series-winning run on Sunday.
Still, despite Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy’s ability to combine the most important elements of championship baseball and manage his rotation expertly, no one’s role was more important than Sandoval, whose three homers in Game 1, matched the record-setting performances of Babe Ruth (twice), Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols. “I still can’t believe that game,” Sandoval told The New York Times. “It’s the game of your dreams.” “I never would have thought we’d sweep the New York Yankees and I never would have thought we’d get swept,” losing Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland lamented afterwards. “It’s a freaky game, but it happens.”