By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 2, 2010; 12:59 AM
ARLINGTON, TEX. - They all converged near the mound at Rangers Ballpark, this triumphant collection of misfits and castoffs: The proud shortstop reduced to a part-timer this year. The left fielder who had been released 10 weeks ago. The first baseman no one but the San Francisco Giants wanted last winter. The pitcher passed over by nine teams in the 2006 draft because he was too small and had too violent a delivery.
Baseball has produced all sorts of champions in the past 10 years, representing nine different franchises, from the powerful Yankees of 2009 to the 83-win Cardinals of 2006, but it is fair to say there hasn't been one quite like this one, quite like these colorful, quirky, logic-defying Giants.
With one last display of pitching mastery, this time from ace Tim Lincecum, and one last out-of-nowhere home run by a castoff, this time from shortstop Edgar Renteria, the pitching-rich Giants beat the Texas Rangers, 3-1, in Game 5 of the World Series, completing their improbable journey and bringing San Francisco its first championship since the Giants moved there in 1958.
"They had a will about them," General Manager Brian Sabean said of his troops in the victorious clubhouse. "I think it's simply put: We have a lot of characters with a lot of character. It's like the United Nations in here - a very diverse group. But when they get on the field they have a way about them that's fearless."
They were all there spraying champagne and beer: The $126 million pitcher who wasn't good enough to make the Giants' postseason roster. The lefty reliever who was trash-heaped by the worst team in baseball in August. The strikeout-machine of a designated "hitter," whose whiff for the second out of the seventh inning preceded Renteria's go-ahead homer. The third baseman forced to sign a minor league contract two years ago.
"Experts be damned," said Aubrey Huff, the first baseman no one else wanted nine months ago. "We didn't care that no one was giving us a chance."
Four games in, the 106th World Series was still searching for its defining moment. There was a classic out there, waiting to be authored. Somewhere was a Mr. November, waiting to be unleashed upon a series characterized to that point by blowouts and anticlimax.
This was that classic. And there were two Mr. Novembers. There was Lincecum, the diminutive, pretzel-motioned right-hander, who threw eight brilliant innings, striking out 10, allowing only five base runners, and outpitching Rangers counterpart Cliff Lee for the second time in this series.
And there was Renteria, a hero of a long ago era - one of only a handful of players in history to have a walkoff hit to end a World Series - enjoying a late-career renaissance, who sent a fly ball deep into the 68-degree night, effectively ending what had been a pitching duel for the ages and giving Lincecum all the runs he would need. It was Renteria's second homer of the series, as he also broke a scoreless tie with a blast in Game 2. For his efforts, Renteria was named the most valuable player of the Series.
"When he threw me the two balls," Renteria said of the 2-0 cutter he hit out of the park, "I said, 'I'm looking for one pitch. If he throws it, I'm going to swing.' "
In the Texas Rangers' 178th game of the season, the San Francisco Giants' 177th, the Year of the Pitcher produced its ultimate confrontation, as Lincecum and Lee battled deep into the night, trading zeroes until the seventh, when Lee appeared to tire - and finally slipped. His 2-0 cut fastball to Renteria, with two on and two out, was slammed over the wall in left-center, giving the Giants a 3-0 lead.
To that point, the twin gems being produced by Lee and Lincecum had evoked some of the great World Series pitching duels of modern history: Bob Gibson-Mickey Lolich in 1968. Jack Morris-John Smoltz in 1991. Smoltz-Andy Pettitte in 1996. Roger Clemens-Curt Schilling in 2001. As the zeroes kept going up on the scoreboard, there was a distinct feeling that the first team to score would win.
"That was his inning," Rangers Manager Ron Washington said of the choice to stick with Lee after the first two batters of the inning singled. "He got a [pitch] up to Renteria, but no, Cliff was in good shape."
Extraordinary situations call for extraordinary actions, and the Giants called for Huff to put down a sacrifice bunt - something he had never done successfully in his career.
"I saw the bunt sign," Huff said. "But even if I didn't, I was going to do it anyway."
The bunt was perfect. The runners moved to second and third. This was the most tension-packed moment of the game, and when Lee struck out Pat Burrell for the second out of the inning - the latter's 11th whiff of the series - the exhale from the crowd of 52,045 was audible.
But to the plate strode Renteria. He was once a young star - a smooth-fielding shortstop who hit the single that drove in the winning run for the Florida Marlins in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the 1997 World Series - but now he was an aging veteran contemplating retirement, a part-timer.
When Renteria crushed Lee's cutter for a home run, Burrell, in the Giants' dugout, was beaming. "I wanted to jump on his back around first base," Burrell said. "He picked me up. He picked our whole team up."
Finally handed a lead, Lincecum stumbled only once, serving up a solo homer by Nelson Cruz in the bottom of the seventh, the Rangers' first run since the fifth inning of Game 3. For the Series, Giants starters compiled a 2.38 ERA, thoroughly dominating a Rangers lineup that put up 38 runs in six games against the Yankees in the ALCS.
Lincecum would depart after the eighth, making way for Brian Wilson, the Giants' tattooed, bearded, mohawked maniac of a closer.
Only the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians had waited longer for a championship than the Giants, whose last one came 56 years ago and a continent away from San Francisco, when the franchise still resided in New York.
Wilson collected the outs - a strikeout, a grounder to short, then, finally, another strikeout of Cruz. It was time to party, and while you could never be quite sure exactly how the Giants did what they just did, you knew for certain they knew how to party.