SAN FRANCISCO — When Justin Verlander takes the mound Wednesday night in Game 1 of the World Series, it would be easy to conclude that he and his Detroit Tigers teammates want to right the wrongs from six years ago, when they last appeared on this stage and lost to the St. Louis Cardinals. It would, too, be a convenient assumption that the opposing San Francisco Giants merely want to add to the legacy they created two Octobers ago, when they unexpectedly won the World Series to send this city into a tizzy.
But Verlander’s task isn’t weighed down by what happened in 2006, because this situation is nothing like 2006. Verlander’s catcher in that series was Ivan Rodriguez. The offensive catalyst was slugger Magglio Ordonez. Both of those players are hailed as heroes in Detroit, because they came to the Tigers when the franchise appeared to be among the worst in baseball — and they transformed it. Now, though, they are heroes from the past; both retired this year.
Six years might not seem a long time, particularly for a sports fan. (Ask a Cubs fan.) But in baseball, it is becoming an eternity. By sports standards, the Tigers and Giants have recent appearances in the World Series. In reality, precious few central characters — managers Jim Leyland of Detroit and Bruce Bochy of San Francisco, Giants catcher Buster Posey and Verlander — are in the same roles this time around.
“It’s a lot of different faces,” said infielder Ramon Santiago, who joins Verlander and infielder Omar Infante as the only holdovers from 2006. “And it’s a different personality. That team, 2006, was good guys. But this team, I think it’s more fun.”
The winning culture and a winning foundation were established back then. But not this winning team. Baseball has long since passed the dynasty stage. Since 1998 through 2000, when the New York Yankees became the last team to win consecutive World Series, there have been nine champions. Only Boston (2004 and ’07) and St. Louis (2006 and ’11) have won twice in that time. In both cases, the second championships were won with fundamentally different rosters.
Yes, a David Ortiz or an Albert Pujols remained the same. But a Pedro Martinez was replaced by a Jon Lester, a Scott Rolen by a David Freese.
So the Tigers enter the World Series not just without the heroes of yesteryear — Ordonez and Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco and on and on — but with a completely different cast. They will take the field Wednesday with a lineup that includes not one position player who started the first game of the 2006 World Series. Their lynchpins, Triple Crown-winning third baseman Miguel Cabrera and first baseman Prince Fielder, came in a December 2007 trade and a pre-2012 free agent deal, respectively.
Verlander, too, remains the only member of the 2006 rotation — one that included veteran Kenny Rogers and young guns Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson — who will appear in this series. Rogers is retired and neither Bonderman nor Robertson has pitched in the majors since 2010. Yet the Tigers, led by General Manager Dave Dombrowski and owner Mike Ilitch, have restocked.
“We’re a little bit different here, to be honest with you,” Leyland said during the ALCS. “We’ve always had pretty good foundations and we have an owner that’s not afraid to go out and add some players to give you the opportunity to do something like this if we are fortunate enough to do it.”
Turnover, sometimes, doesn’t even take even that long. Look up and down the San Francisco roster. Many of the names on the pitching staff are the same, though some have new roles. The lineup is almost wholly overhauled.
In the first game of the 2010 World Series, the Giants shortstop was Edgar Renteria, a seasoned postseason veteran. He is out of baseball. Their current shortstop, Brandon Crawford, spent much of that season with the Class AA Richmond Flying Squirrels.
Their third baseman in that first game against Texas was Juan Uribe, a utility man who hit a three-run homer that night. Uribe, though, was essentially in the lineup because Pablo Sandoval, who had an outstanding rookie season in 2009, slumped badly the following year. In the final three games against the Cardinals this October, Sandoval — who re-established himself in 2011 and now hits third — sparked the offense by going 5 for 15 with two doubles and a homer; he helped make up for the slumping Posey (4 for 28 in the NLCS).
Their first baseman that night against the Rangers was Aubrey Huff, who smacked three hits in Game 1 but now comes off the bench, a 35-year-old role player. Their first baseman now is Brandon Belt, who was a 22-year-old working his way from Class A to Class AAA in the summer of 2010 and watched the World Series from the Arizona Fall League.
“I’m totally amazed that I’m here now,” he said Tuesday.
The second baseman then, Freddy Sanchez, had back surgery earlier this summer and may not play again. Their second baseman now, Marco Scutaro, was acquired in a July trade with Colorado and tied a league championship series record with 14 hits against the Cardinals.
“I love playing with him,” right fielder Hunter Pence said. “It’s amazing how much he’s meant to this team in the time he’s been here.”
Same for Pence. In 2010, the Giants right fielder was Cody Ross, a seemingly minor midseason acquisition — picked up off waivers from the Florida Marlins — who lifted them the entire postseason. This season, San Francisco acquired Pence in a July trade with Philadelphia, which had acquired him the previous summer from Houston. He has, somehow, become the emotional leader, the guy who gives football-style pep talks before some games.
The center fielder two years ago was Andres Torres, a drifter who had recently spent three years in the minors. He eventually was part of an offseason trade with the Mets to bring in Angel Pagan, who will lead off and play center field Wednesday.
And the left fielder back then was Pat Burrell, a veteran who was replaced in the series by Nate Schierholtz. Burrell has since retired. The Giants’ left fielder Wednesday will be Gregor Blanco. That spot is available for Blanco because Melky Cabrera, the MVP of the All-Star Game, was suspended for 50 games in August for violating baseball’s drug policy. Cabrera has not been with the club in the postseason.
So there was turnover within the Giants’ turnover.
Consider, too, that the 2010 closer, Brian Wilson, has missed almost the whole year after elbow surgery, and that left-hander Barry Zito was left off the postseason roster in 2010 but will start Game 1 of the World Series. Thus, the Giants have swapped most of their team. The only thing that’s the same: The results.
“I’d say it’s similar in some respects,” Bochy said. “Two years ago we made some changes. We tweaked the lineup. We brought Buster up [from the minors]. We had Pat Burrell help us out, Cody Ross. Similar with this year. We made some changes, tweaked the lineup. . . . We’ve gone with a set lineup, and that’s made it easier than in 2010.”
It is a set lineup for this October. But who’s to say, after the next 10 days, who will be on the Giants or the Tigers in the future?
“I realize that being here twice in the last three years is a great accomplishment,” Posey said Tuesday. “. . . We need to enjoy these opportunities that we have, because baseball’s a crazy game. You don’t know how many opportunities you’ll have like this.”
Because the next time — be it in two years or six — chances are someone else will be in that role.