DETROIT — Everything has conspired this month to disguise or diminish the feats of the San Francisco Giants. From the dangers and distractions of a gigantic storm to a presidential election, the Giants have been shouldered aside. Yet in a postseason that had few dramatic games, the world champion Giants have now completed 20 days of magnificent marvels.
In that span, they have come back from a two-game deficit to beat the Cincinnati Reds in a division series. Then they rose from the near dead and another two-game deficit to steal the National League pennant from the St. Louis Cardinals, outscoring them, 20-1, in the last three games. That’s six — count ’em, s-i-x — elimination games that Frisco survived. Only one other team in postseason ever did it: the 1985 Royals.
Now, the Giants have pushed against the boundaries of baseball possibility again. On Sunday night here at cold, misty Comerica Park, San Francisco completed a sweep of the almost universally favored Detroit Tigers, a team that reached this World Series riding the crest of a sweep of its own — a four-game trouncing of New York that left the Yankees almost mortified.
This is only the third time that a team has swept a World Series from a team that arrived fresh from its own league championship series sweep.
In this World Series, the Giants beat the Tigers with power — three homers in Game 1 by series MVP Pablo Sandoval. Then they shut out the powerful Tigers lineup by identical back-to-back 2-0 scores, the first time since ’66 that a team had pitched such consecutive beauties. Only one thing was left to prove. Or, actually, reprove.
Everyone knows that, with the implosion of the once-formidable Tigers closer Jose “Papa Grande” Valverde, Detroit has had to change almost every role in its bullpen. In particular, lefty Phil Coke was suddenly asked to be a closer in some situations or work multiple innings in others because . . . well . . . because Manager Jim Leyland doesn’t trust anybody else very much.
So, the stage was set: for too much to be asked of Coke. The southpaw worked a scoreless ninth inning, as much he’s usually required to provide. But this time, as the excellent Giants bullpen kept putting up zeroes, Coke came back out for the 10th. The result was not refreshing.
Ryan Theriot poked a leadoff single to right field. The use of such a veteran Punch-and-Judy hitter as designated hitter — usually a power spot — was an inspired, unconventional choice by Giants Manager Bruce Bochy.
Rookie Brandon Crawford sacrificed Theriot to second. That also was pure Giants. Even the youngest of them have fundamentals drilled deep from their first day in the organization. In one-run and two-run games, the torture chamber the Giants enjoy so much, they use those basic plays to set up victory after victory. Fittingly, their last three wins — by 2-0, 2-0 and 4-3 — were testaments to baseball played as classically as if these were the 1912 Giants of John McGraw. (Except those Giants a hundred years ago lost the World Series.)
With two outs, they got the killing hit — another trademark of their last 20 dazzling days. The blow was typical of a team with so little power that it hit only 31 home runs in its own vast park this entire 94-win season. Minor midseason acquisition Marco Scutaro, a second baseman who has been a brilliant catalyst and sometimes star since the day he arrived, punched a 3-1 fastball from Coke on a soft line into center field for the go-ahead run.
What less would Giants fans expect from him: Scutaro was the MVP of the NL Championship Series, hitting .500. In truth, only two Giants hit a lick in the postseason, Scutaro and Sandoval, who had his 24th postseason hit in this game. The only other Giant to contribute much was Buster Posey, the virtual lock for regular season MVP who hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning to put the Giants ahead 3-2. It was his third October homer in what was otherwise a 12-for-59 (.203) postseason.
When you pitch like the Giants, who allowed only six runs in four games — the lowest total for an entire World Series since 1966 — who has to hit?
In their two title runs, these are the Giants’ team batting averages in the six playoff series they won: .212, .239, .249, .194, .261 and, in this World Series, .242. Only Sandoval (.500) hit .300 against the Tigers. But the Giants, who play small ball first and long ball almost by accident, hit when it counts.
So, what have we learned about this elegant team from San Francisco that has now won two World Series in three years after not winning such a title for the previous 50-plus?
First, if you push these Giants to the brink, as the Reds and Cardinals did, they ignore it and come back to break your heart. The Giants beat the Reds’ tough Mat Latos in Game 5 with a six-run inning, including a Posey grand slam. And their final bludgeoning of the Cardinals — 5-0, 6-1, 9-0 — may leave lingering bruises on St. Louis into next season.
And if you come in red-hot like the Tigers, albeit with a five-day layoff in the case of Detroit, the Giants’ pitchers snap your bats like twigs, trounce your ace Justin Verlander in Game 1, then win a battle of bullpens to close out their world title. Their relievers on Sunday night, Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Castilla and closer Sergio Romo, all ended with 0.00 ERAs. Yet the real power arm in the pen that helped decide two games was Tim Lincecum, the proud two-time Cy Young winner, who was not too proud to go to the bullpen grinning for the team’s sake, then come out — long hair flowing, change-up dipping, fastball erupting — to twist what was left of the Tigers’ tails.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this baseball postseason is that the size of this Giants’ feat could seem almost commonplace by October standards because it contained no walk-off homers, no game-saving plays and no contests for the ages, although this final World Series game was absolutely first rate. The insane theatrics of the cardiac Cardinals last year may have blurred our ability to measure greatness. Maybe we’ve been numbed.
Entering Game 4, only one postseason game in the previous 15 days had experienced a lead change. And that was a paltry 1-0 early-inning lead. After the final inning of the Nats-Cards division series, nothing mind-searing has happened. Of fine games, there were plenty. But the kind of screaming hair-pulling madness that consumes many postseasons was absent. It wasn’t until this final game that we saw a game sway to and fro — the Giants leading 1-0, trailing 2-1, leading, 3-2, then being tied at 3 before finally winning.
In doing so, they ended one of the most remarkable, and perhaps least appreciated, October title runs in baseball history. After escaping elimination six times, they swept the sweepers. Case, and season closed.
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.
More on the World Series:
Boswell: Dealing with postseason pressure