By Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 24, 2010; 1:41 AM
The San Francisco Giants joined the Texas Rangers in unexpected but deliciously deserved World Series jubilation on Saturday night here with a 3-2 victory over Philadelphia in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series.
Just so this game could be completely in line with a season, and a postseason, that has defied expectations and made fools of those who spent the most money on the most famous players, the game-winning, eighth-inning, opposite-field solo home run that broke a 2-2 tie came off the bat of Juan Uribe.
You know, Juan Uribe, pretty decent shortstop with a little home run pop for a few years with the White Sox, then came to the Giants as an over-30 economy-priced free agent on a one-year deal. Played shortstop on Thursday. Played third base Saturday.
In other words, a utility man sent the Giants to the Series.
"The big blow was by what's his name? The shortstop," said Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel who never did remember Uribe's name or that, in this game, he was actually playing third. Perfect.
Uribe's ball barely made it over the right field wall 10 yards fair, into the second row in a lovely ballpark that has one infamous quirk - cheap bandbox home runs. "As soon as I saw [right fielder] Jayson Werth turn his back, I said, 'Oh, no,' " Manuel said.
And who was the Giants' star pitcher? There wasn't one. There was everybody. Their starter, lefty Jonathan Sanchez, got into a shouting match with Chase Utley after hitting him with a fastball, precipitating a bench-clearing discussion of First Amendment rights, and was yanked immediately after just two volatile innings.
So, the zany Giants, proud of their identity as "misfits and castoffs," stayed true to their mantra that watching them win baseball games is actually a new form of legal "torture." To that end, they emptied their bullpen of all available semi-obscure southpaws: Jeremy Affeldt, rookie Madison Bumgarner (normally a starter) and Javier Lopez (the winning pitcher), who combined for five scoreless innings.
The only Giants pitcher who wasn't effective was - drum roll - two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, the loser of Game 5, who tried to relieve in the eighth inning on one day's rest and almost blew the Giants' 3-2 lead, leaving after two line drive hits and only one out.
Then the gods intervened. The Phils, who failed to hit in the clutch in every imaginable situation in this series, got a scorched line drive by catcher Carlos Ruiz off black-beard Giants closer Brian Wilson - but the rocket went directly to first baseman Aubrey Huff, who easily doubled wandering Shane Victorino off second base to end the inning.
For the symbolic denouement, the Phils got two men on with two outs in the ninth. A cheering, standing, begging and presumably praying crowd of 40,062 at Citizens Bank Park thought they had the proper Phillie at the plate: Ryan Howard. No, not the right man during this particular postseason, when he had gone without a single RBI, but the player who has been the offensive backbone of this superb team throughout its run to the top of the sport.
On a full-count Wilson slider on the black, low-and-away, Howard took strike three. The night before in Texas, the former $252-million Ranger, Alex Rodriguez, also a clutch goat in his series, ended the Yanks' final defeat the same way - taking a third-strike slider.
After the Giants mobbed and hugged each other on the mound, the remaining Phillies fans, true to cliche, booed them as they left the field. For once, a visiting team in a Philadelphia park had the squelch that couldn't be answered, the wordless retort that quickly reduced the boos to silence. The Giants waved to the hostile fans, grinned up into the crowd and then whirled their arms, imploring them to boo more loudly as if the jeers were the sweetest cheers.
The way the Giants and Rangers are stopping pulses and winning hearts, they'll probably play a seven-game World Series that ends in the 21st inning with all pitchers exhausted and two reserve catchers being called into duty as relievers. Give me the Giants' Eli Whiteside over the Rangers' Matt Treanor.
Just as shocking as who's winning these playoffs is who's losing them. The two-time defending N.L. champion Phils, thought to be the class of the sport with their Big Three pitching rotation of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, suddenly joined the deposed $210-million Yankees in the trash bin of last season's old news.
When big hitters go cold, the meek of the baseball world can rise. The teams we now find in the World Series had hitting heroes such as the Rangers' Bengie Molina and the Giants' three-homer Cody Ross, whose five RBI were as many as Howard, Raul Ibanez, Utley, Victorino and Ruiz had in a combined 105 at-bats.
Thus, a baseball postseason that began with expectations of a predictable repeat World Series has suddenly turned into an autumn of utter unpredictability. A Giants team that has never won a World Series since it sneaked away from the Polo Grounds after the 1957 season now meets a Rangers franchise that had never even gotten to a Series since it bolted Washington in '71. Is that enough old curses and jinxes lifted for one 48-hour period?
Now, only two current franchises have never won a pennant, the ones in Washington - the state and the city. Eventually, every dog has its day, so to speak.
When 2010 began, if you'd been told that the "heart of the order" for the next NL champion would be Huff, Buster Posey, Pat Burrell and Ross, even fans in San Francisco might not have been able to name what the team you meant.
Huff hadn't yet signed as a barely wanted free agent; Posey had only played seven big league games; Burrell hadn't been hired off his couch; and Ross was still an obscure Marlin.
But, apparently, that's how you build a pennant winner - at least in '10 - not with the fattest checks and famous names but with creativity, luck, team chemistry and, well, some money, too.
The Rangers' pitching hero in the ALCS was Colby Lewis, who was a Hiroshima Carp until Texas called him last winter. The Rangers' cleanup man was Vlad Guerrero, thought to be old and fading, worth only a $6.5-million free agent deal. And the ALCS MVP, Josh Hamilton, was a redemption story, a player any team could have had, just a few years ago; but Texas took a chance on a baseball prodigal son with multiple substance dependencies who started his comeback with Cincinnati. Texas began the season with baseball's fourth-lowest payroll and, even after adding pennant-race pieces, still finished with a $65-million payroll, almost identical to the Nationals.
In baseball, huge payrolls usually win games, for a while at least, but eventually, the biggest of them tend to forge their own anchors. The Yankees, described on New York back pages on Saturday as the "$210M Bust!" and "Yanks For Nothing" are the most conspicuous example of a team that suddenly looks old, overpaid and locked into long-term contracts to past-their-peak stars.
But the Yanks are just emblematic of this season's biggest trend - the big spenders are the big busts. Now, the Phils have followed them. The Giants, in a gorgeous, sold-out park, were only the 10th-biggest spenders and didn't reach $100-milion.
Of the nine biggest payrolls, only the Yanks and No. 4 Phils ($141 million) made the playoffs at all while the Cubs, Mets, Tigers, Angels and Mariners finished at or below .500.
In fact, the nine highest-spending teams in baseball finished the year at exactly .500. They spent just shy of $1.25 billion to go precisely nowhere.
For the mighty, the famous and the wealthy of baseball, this has been a barren postseason. For the rest of us, it's been just dandy, with the best, and perhaps craziest, yet to come.