Monday, October 25, 2010

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been

The sheer giddiness surrounding the Giants these days has so much to do with the absolute craziness of the whole thing. The World Series? Are you kidding?

Let's review. Just for fun, please have a look at the Opening Day lineup:
  • Aaron Rowand, CF
  • Edgar Renteria, SS
  • Pablo Sandoval, 3B
  • Aubrey Huff, 1B
  • Mark DeRosa, LF
  • Bengie Molina, C
  • John Bowker, RF
  • Juan Uribe, 2B
  • Tim Lincecum, P
The lineup that closed out the Phillies in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series included only 3 of the same 8 position players--and not one of them in the same slot in the batting order! The road from that Opening Day win (over Roy Oswalt, just to add to the strangeness of this fable) to the World Series is almost too twisted to believe.

Let's recall, briefly, the conversations of April: Could newcomer Aubrey Huff play defense? When would wunderkind Buster Posey be called up (and was he really ready to replace veteran Bengie Molina)? Could NorCal homeboy John Bowker keep hitting like he did in Arizona? Did Pablo Sandoval really lose any weight? Would Tim Lincecum win a 3rd straight Cy Young award?

Remember: Todd Wellemeyer was the fifth starter. Pat Burrell was Tampa Bay's DH. Cody Ross went 0-for-4 as Florida's Opening Day rightfielder. Mike Fontenot took an 0-for-3 as the Cubs' Opening Day second baseman. Relief pitchers Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez were sitting in the bullpens of Pittsburgh and Boston, respectively. And a guy named Jeremy Affeldt, who would put out a raging inferno in Game 6 of the NLCS, was getting rave reviews for his Comcast SportsNet spring training segment.

As it turns out, perhaps the only April "fact" about the 2010 Giants that proved to be true was this: they had some damned good pitching. Despite the horrific August roadbump, the staff ended up leading the major leagues in ERA (3.36) and strikeouts (1331, or 8.2 per 9 innings).

Huff turned out to be more than just an adequate first baseman. He also played 63 games in the outfield and acquitted himself ably. The Burrell, Ross, Fontenot, Lopez and Ramirez acquisitions so discouraged the Giants' opposition that frustrated San Diego pitcher Mat Latos took to calling them "mercenaries". Timmy didn't win his 3rd Cy but his awful August may have helped him become an even better pitcher than ever.

DeRosa went down with a season-ending injury. Freddy Sanchez returned from health limbo. Edgar Renteria came and went from the DL. Sandoval vanished for long stretches but had an at-bat for the ages in Game 4 of the NLCS. Andres Torres went from interesting spare part to key cog. And it turned out Bowker couldn't keep it up, leading to his trade to the Pirates.

And two babies arrived in time to let everyone light their victory cigars. Buster Posey is the National League Rookie of the Year, even if the prize ends up going to Atlanta's Jason Heyward. Madison Bumgarner, who turned 21 during the summer, was a stone-cold assassin on the mound.

Then there was Juan Uribe. Perhaps the least-likely shortstop physique you've ever seen. Dyed his beard a very weird orange for a while. And invokes the ghost of his late uncle, Giants shortstop Jose Uribe, whenever the fans chant "OO-reebay". Genuinely funny, a better player than most casual fans realize, and the man who broke the back of the favored Phillies with that Game 6 homer. Remember: Uribe was only back with the Giants this year on a one-year contract because he couldn't find any other offers.

It's been a tense, magical, maddening, exhilarating October. But the road from April to October shouldn't be forgotten. It's what makes this story so spectacular.

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