Parades, Confetti, and a Long-Awaited Release
One of my earliest memories as a kid is my first Giants game at the age of four. It was a day game at Candlestick Park, and the Giants lost to the Pirates. I remember asking my Dad all manner of Giants-related questions over the course of the game.
What happens at the end of the season? The World Series.
Have the Giants ever won one? Not in San Francisco.
Why not? Because God hates the Giants. Now shut up and stop hitting your sister with your souvenir bat.
When 2002 rolled around, it seemed as though an age of futility was coming to an end. Like every Giants fan born after 1954, the only world I knew was the one where they didn’t have a World Series trophy. Dodger fans would taunt us with photos of an empty trophy case. Postseason elimination became an expectation more than a disappointment, and year after year this was the case. But then the Giants knocked off the Cardinals in dramatic walk-off fashion, as Kenny Lofton vaulted them into their first World Series since 1989.
The Giants were set to oppose the Anaheim Angels and hopes were high. After taking Game 1, the excitement began to build. When the Giants shellacked the Angels 16-4 to take a 3-2 series lead, it was hard not to think that the years of waiting were imminently coming to an end. Then Game 6 happened. The Giants jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead, and all but seemed to have their first World Series title locked up going into the 7th inning. Shortly after, the wheels came off. Scott Spiezio hit a three-run home run in the 7th. Darren Erstad led off the the 8th with a solo home run. Robb Nen gives up a double with two men on later in the inning and suddenly the Angels had taken a 6-5 lead, and all the joy and happiness in the world had evaporated.
Once all the tears were shed and the dust settled, the feeling of hopelessness from past seasons had returned. It didn’t seem fair that a team could work so hard for so long only to be thwarted within mere outs of victory. The harsh truth of the postseason though is the very thing that makes it wonderful: the sheer improbability of winning it all. 29 teams go home disappointed every year, and only one gets the trophy.
At the same time, the difficulty in climbing to the top of the mountain is what makes getting to the top in the first place so satisfying. Then imagine that after you climb back down, an entire city throws you a parade. Now picture in your mind that for six months after your parade, people still talk about how amazing your climbing of the mountain was. They tell their grandkids about you. Grown men cry, women swoon, and an entire city rejoices. Yeah, that’s what winning the World Series feels like. 2002 was heartbreaking at best. We’d climbed to the top of the mountain only to find someone had planted their flag their already. Sure, winning the pennant was fun. But the culmination of all the toil and stress was eventual defeat.
Before the 2010 season, this was not a team that even the most diehard fan would have picked to win the whole thing. John Bowker was the Opening Day right fielder. Aaron Rowand was the leadoff hitter. Todd Wellemeyer was the fifth starter. Pat Burrell was settling into the designated-hitter role out in Tampa Bay. Things did not look particularly promising, and quite frankly it felt like business as usual.
The front office did a strange thing as the season went on though. Slowly but surely, they started adding and subtracting pieces that gradually improved this team. While the Padres blooped and ducksnorted their way into first place in May, Buster Posey and Pat Burrell were brought into the fold. Bengie Molina and Fred Lewis were sent on their way. Aaron Rowand lost his everyday role to Andres Torres, who blossomed into one of the best center-fielders in the National League. Madison Bumgarner quicky replaced the staggeringly mediocre Todd Wellemeyer, and before we knew it the Giants actually had some semblance of an above-average team.
There were still of course some obvious flaws. Pablo Sandoval had lost the ability to do anything but ground into double-plays, Edgar Renteria spent every other day nursing an injury, and Tim Lincecum wasn’t pitching like the defending Cy Young winner. After vanquishing the Padres on the final day of the season, none of this mattered. The small sample-sizes that compose the postseason worked completely in favor of the Giants.
Strange things began to happen. Things like timely defensive meltdowns from the likes of Brooks Conrad and Chase Utley became the norm. The Disney story that practically wrote itself of Bobby Cox’ last managerial season was sent packing after two improbable victories at Turner Field. A Phillies pitching staff with a cool nickname that pundits said couldn’t be beat was proven to be all too mortal. Cliff Lee, one of the historically best postseason pitchers of all time, lost not once, but twice in decisive fashion to a team that wasn’t supposed to be able to hit.
Part of what made this World Series victory so sweet was the bizarre way in which it was won. Almost every step of the way, some strange brand of voodoo always seemed to intervene in the Giants’ favor. Ian Kinsler hit a ball that was centimeters away from being a home run that bounced back into the field of play. The unbeatable Cliff Lee suddenly left pitches up in key spots to hitters who had no business doing what they did. Juan Uribe hit a walk-0ff sacrifice fly to deep left-field on a slider he had no business pulling. The list goes on.
Needless to say, the jubilation of this World Series was not lost on me. The fluky nature of this whole season in the end made it that much more special. The Barry Bonds-led juggernaut offense of 2002 couldn’t do it. Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, and Juan Marichal couldn’t do it either. But Cody Ross and friends saved the day in the end. It’s almost too poetic how the heartbreak of Hall of Famers past is now redeemed by the misfits of 2010. All that futility, all the failure, and all the tears all culminated in what was an improbable climb to victory.
Giants baseball: Torture 2010 World Series Champions.