Willie Mays never won a World Series in San Francisco. Neither did Willie McCovey. Or Orlando Cepeda. Or Barry Bonds. Or Juan Marichal or Gaylord Perry. Hall of Famers? The San Francisco Giants have had many. But world championships? None.
Before tonight, anyway. Before a lineup full of role players and aging veterans — and one rookie who may one day join the immortals in Giants history — beat the odds in beating the Phillies and the Rangers and now stand as champions of the baseball world.
Perhaps the most overlooked veteran role player in the bunch was Edgar Renteria. A man who rode pine for months this season, fighting, age infirmity and ineffectiveness and who was seemingly marking time until he could retire and return to Colombia where family and business ventures wait. A man who wouldn’t have been playing much if at all in this World Series had it not been for Pablo Sandoval and Mike Fontenot screwing up at third base and forcing Bruce Bochy to play Juan Uribe there. This afterthought of a player who hasn’t wielded lumber or flashed leather with purpose for years, it seemed, became the World Series MVP. If he follows through on the many suggestions he’s dropped this year and retires, he’ll have ended his career the way most of us came to know of it back in 1997: as a World Series hero.
But before we go too far down the road of praising the misfits and castoffs — or proclaiming Brian Sabean’s mastery of the waiver wire the new “Moneyball”-style inefficiency — let us remember that there is some serious artillery on this Giants team. In that rookie catcher I mentioned above, sure, but mostly on that pitching staff. In Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner who each handcuffed a strong Rangers team. In Brian Wilson, who hardly broke a sweat in any of his three World Series appearances. And most of all in Tim Lincecum, billed as the playoffs’ third or fourth best starter depending on who you talked to a couple of weeks ago, but who showed that when he’s on he’s better than anyone in the game. With the exception of one adrenalin-fueled mistake to Nelson Cruz Lincecum absolutely cruised, striking out ten and seemingly toying with Rangers hitters from beginning to end. Lincecum’s presence alone puts lie to the notion — a notion you’ll probably hear a lot of in the coming days — that the Giants are a team of nobodies. Lincecum is a superstar, and he’s part of a core of budding superstars.
So it wasn’t purely a triumph of an elite team, because there were many mismatched parts. And it wasn’t purely a triumph of a misfit team, because there are certainly elites on that roster. It was simply a triumph of a team. An imperfect team with low expectations and clear weaknesses but with underrated strengths and impeccable timing. We get these sorts of champs more often than we typically remember. The 2006 Cardinals were one. The White Sox in ’05. The Marlins. The Diamondbacks. The Angels. Really anyone who isn’t the Yankees, Red Sox or recent-vintage Phillies, all of whom seem so . . .formidable.
And when we do get a champ like this — a team with human-scale personalities and human-scale expectations — it reminds you of everything that is good about baseball. How anything can truly happen in October. And — when a past-his-sell-date shortstop gets hold of a pitch from a seemingly superhuman lefty — anything can happen on the first of November too.