A new Giants star each night, sometimes more
By JOHN BRANCH
The New York Times | October 26,2012
San Francisco’s Pablo Sandoval, shown celebrating after the Giants beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS, is the hero of the moment, having hit three home runs in Game 1 of the World Series.
SAN FRANCISCO — When four former Giants were introduced to the crowd before Wednesday’s Game 1 of the World Series, the public-address announcer noted that no franchise has more players in the Hall of Fame. Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Gaylord Perry drew hearty applause, and Perry tossed a ceremonial first pitch.
And then the rotund Pablo Sandoval, nicknamed Kung Fu Panda, drilled a first-inning home run. The clamorous chorus of the crowd, including the muffled voices of those wearing panda heads, rose as the ball fell over the center-field fence. A foghorn sounded.
Sandoval did it a second time, and a third. Giants pitcher Barry Zito, long considered overpaid and underwhelming, extended his sudden love affair with fans. The Giants used diving catches, a lucky bounce off the third-base bag and a two-time Cy Young Award winner pitching perfect middle relief to help beat the Detroit Tigers. Around town, from City Hall to the Coit Tower, buildings were lighted in orange.
The game featured the usual things, too — kayaks and yachts bobbing in McCovey Cove, Gilroy garlic fries at the concession stands and the popular Journey sing-a-long, an ode about lights going down in the city and the sun shining on the bay.
The onslaught to the senses brought the ceremonial pregame pitch into stark relief. Yes, the Giants have had great players. But have they ever had a better time?
Baseball has a long tradition in San Francisco. The minor league Seals were charter members of the Pacific Coast League in 1903. The relocated New York Giants arrived in 1958, bringing Mays with them. A decade ago, Barry Bonds carried the city on a chase for home runs.
None of that compares with what is happening in San Francisco now. In 15 days, the Giants won three games in a row in Cincinnati to win a division series. They won three games in a row to beat the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League pennant. Game 7 ended in the city’s first downpour in months, and fans and players soaked it in, preferring rainwater to Champagne as the celebratory dousing liquid of choice. Then they opened the World Series with an 8-3 romp over the Detroit Tigers.
“It’s been pretty crazy,” pitcher Tim Lincecum said of the past couple of weeks.
Crazy only begins to describe it. The allure of these Giants is not simply that they have won. It is that each game’s hero feels like a surprise guest, as if determined by a roulette wheel with 25 slots of black and orange.
The Giants won the 2010 World Series, but they are not some sort of predictable dynasty, built around a longstanding core. Of the nine starters in the lineup for Game 1 Wednesday, only one — catcher Buster Posey — started Game 1 two years ago against the Texas Rangers. Perhaps no championship team has been so quickly dismantled and rebuilt into another contender.
The Giants have been turned inside out, and the change was on full display Wednesday.
Back in 2010, Zito was scratched from the postseason and Sandoval barely played.
“We were sitting down on the bench in 2010,” Sandoval said.
But Wednesday Zito, with a seven-year, $126 million contract and a 58-69 record in the first six years of it, got the start and the win. And Sandoval, whom Zito nicknamed Kung Fu Panda a few years ago, became only the fourth player to hit three home runs in a World Series game. He followed Babe Ruth (who did it twice), Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols.
What might be more surprising is that the entire Giants roster hit only 31 home runs at home all year. And Sandoval managed only 12 home runs in 108 games. Before Game 1, Sandoval was comparable to Ruth mostly in shape.
Zito and Sandoval were the two stars of the game, brought to the dais for the postgame news conference.
“It’s definitely kind of a cool thing that we’re both sitting up here after 2010,” Zito said.
Zito, habitually derided by fans, resuscitated the Giants’ postseason hopes last week in Game 5 of the league championship series, shutting down the Cardinals in a 5-0 victory. That is when everything started to go the Giants’ way.
The Giants came back to San Francisco and outscored St. Louis, 15-1, over the final two games.
Now, the Giants have won four games in a row by a collective score of 28-4. In what used to be a football town, the 5-2 49ers could defect and no one in San Francisco might notice until baseball season ended.
Things got weird from the start against the Tigers, but weird is starting to feel normal. Left fielder Gregor Blanco, signed as a minor leaguer last off-season, made a pair of diving catches of hard line drives. He was in left field because Melky Cabrera was suspended in August for 50 games for testing positive for testosterone. Cabrera could have been reinstated by now. That is a distraction that the feel-good Giants do not want or need.
The game’s strangest play belonged to the Giants’ Angel Pagan, who chopped a grounder toward third base with two outs in the third inning. The ball hit a back corner of the base and ricocheted into left field for a double. Two batters later, Sandoval hit home run No. 2.
It was the strangest double since two days earlier. In Game 7 against the Cardinals, San Francisco’s Hunter Pence swung and hit the ball, breaking his bat. The bat splintered and folded, managing to hit the ball two more times, sending it spinning through the infield for a bases-clearing double.
Stranger still was the news that Pence’s shattered bat was inadvertently taken to the ballpark’s game-used equipment store and sold for $400.
Still, no one has personified the twists and turns of the Giants the way Lincecum, the hugely popular pitcher, has. He won a Cy Young Award in 2008 and 2009, and four games for the Giants in the 2010 postseason.
But he had a relatively horrid 2012 and was pulled out of the starting rotation for the playoffs. He came in as a reliever for Zito and retired all seven Tigers batters he faced, five by strikeout.
“To have him in the bullpen, it’s just, like, ridiculous,” Zito said.”It’s such a tool in our pocket that we can bust out at any time.”
Maybe the Giants will not win this World Series. But Wednesday night there was the promise of another game. The orange lights would go down in the city, and the sun would shine on the bay. The storied Giants would bask in the best time they have ever had.