Strangest But Truest Champions of the Year
The team that won the World Series didn't have the kind of journey it plotted out on Mapquest. But that just made those San Francisco Giants the perfect Strange But True treasures that they were. Why? Here's why:
• They hit fewer home runs all season (103) than that team across the bay, Oakland, hit after the All-Star break (111).
• Their entire outfield hit as many home runs (35) as Josh Hamilton.
• Their ace, Tim Lincecum, had the worst ERA (5.18) of any qualifying starter in the entire National League -- and gave up more earned runs before the All-Star break (69) than Matt Cain allowed all year (68).
• Their aspiring batting titlist, Melky Cabrera, met up with the wrong PED test patrol at the wrong time -- and the big bat they essentially replaced him with, Hunter Pence, went 25 days and 66 at-bats in September and October without driving in a single teammate with a hit that wasn't a homer.
• And have I mentioned that the hit that finally ended Pence's funk was a Flubberball special that hit the same bat three times, faked left, then veered 15 feet right and turned into the Strangest But Truest Bases-Clearing Double in Postseason History?
While we're on the subject of the postseason, the Giants' Strangest But Truest Postseason Feat of the Year was this: They could just as easily have won NO games in October as won the World Series (let alone swept it). How did that happen, you ask?
• They lost Games 1 and 2 of the division series. At home. By a combined score of 14-2. Then they headed for Cincinnati, one loss from elimination, and picked THAT game to be no-hit into the sixth inning, to have one hit in the first nine innings and to strike out 16 times all together -- and they WON. In extra innings. On an unearned run. Hey, of course they did.
• So they had to win three consecutive elimination games to survive the division series. Then they had to do EXACTLY the same thing in the LCS. And how many teams had ever done that twice in the same postseason? One: Steve Balboni's 1985 Royals.
• Strange But True Steve Balboni Factoid of the Year: Have I mentioned that the same Steve Balboni is now one of the Giants' most trusted scouts?
• But wait. This gets even stranger-but-truer. After falling behind the Cardinals three games to one, which of their vaunted starting pitchers did the Giants have to turn to? How about a pitcher (Barry Zito) whose 4.47 ERA since becoming a Giant was the second-worst in baseball in that span, and whose .457 winning percentage (58-69) was the third-worst.
• So what happened when Zito took the mound that night, against a team with the second-best record against left-handed starters (31-17) in baseball. Why, 7 2/3 shutout innings happened. What else?
• And the Twitter hashtag #RallyZito rose to No. 2 among all topics on the planet trending worldwide.
• And after that, the Strangest But Truest Thing of all: The Giants didn't lose again, going 56 consecutive innings without trailing at any point, winning seven straight postseason games.
• So how many times during the entire regular season did the Giants win seven games in a row? Not once. Naturally.
• I know I saw Pablo Sandoval hit three home runs in one World Series game at AT&T Park. But really? Did that really happen? There had been a grand total of ONE previous three-homer game in the 2,158 baseball games played in that park since it opened. And that was by Kevin Elster -- in the FIRST game ever played there, April 11, 2000. Right. Kevin Elster.
• As my friend Joel Sherman of the New York Post pointed out, in 71 games, 259 at-bats and four and a half months from May 2 to Sept. 18, Pablo Sandoval hit a total of three home runs. Then he hit three home runs in three at-bats in Game 1 of the World Series, which was started by Justin Verlander. Of course he did.
• No hitter had gotten an extra-base hit off the same pitcher in a World Series game and an All-Star Game in the same year since Frank Robinson did it against Dock Ellis in 1971. But not anymore: Sandoval tripled off Verlander in the All-Star Game, then hit two home runs off him in Game 1.
• The Tigers went 33 days in September and October without losing a home game and were shut out twice all season. So what happened in the World Series? They were shut out two games in a row and lost both games they played at home.
• In the first three games of this World Series, Giants starters allowed a TOTAL of one run. The last time any team's rotation did that over any three consecutive World Series games was 107 years ago -- when the 1905 Giants did it in Games 3, 4 and 5. Christy Mathewson pitched two of those games. Christy Mathewson.
• After the Giants fell behind the Cardinals in the NLCS three games to one, they won every game they played. They outscored the Cardinals and Tigers, 36-7. They sent 234 consecutive hitters to the plate without any of them having to hit with their team trailing. Their pitching staff compiled an ERA of 0.98. And their starters gave up a TOTAL of five runs in seven starts -- or as many as Verlander allowed in the first four innings of Game 1 of the World Series.