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.
There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.
It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.
Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.
Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.
It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.
On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.
At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.
If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.
Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.
Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.