Friday, October 5, 2012

Tell it goodbye!?

With 10 games left in the season, the San Francisco Giants won the National League West Division and a chance to win the World Series.

Of course, I fear the worst.

The Giants won convincingly, and even though they lost six of the final 10 games (including the season-ending series with the Los Angeles Dodgers) their lone win against the Dodgers was enough to ensure their Southland rivals would not go to the playoffs. As broadcaster and former Giants pitcher Mike Krukow would say, Grab some pine, Meat!

Their catcher, Buster Posey, is electric, having won the batting title and in line to win the league most valuable player award — all a year after getting his lower leg shattered in a collision at home plate.

Their mid-season acquisition, Marco Scutaro, is simply amazing, but most confident hitter I've ever seen. He has swung and missed a pitch only 10 times since joining the Giants. Think of that. Unreal.

The pitchers are, if not on their best, enough to inspire hope. The relief pitchers are many and strong, having carried so many, many games.

Everything is ready as the Giants face the Cincinnati Reds Saturday in the first round of playoffs.

Of course, I'm worried.

This is not the same team as the one that won the World Series two years ago. By most accounts, this team is better.

But the 2010 team was an improbable interloper in post-season play, the one many in the national media dismissed as unworthy to  show up.

The Giants secured post-season play on the last day of the regular season then, needing to beat the San Diego Padres to get in.

Momentum carried them into the playoffs, and magic ensued. The factors that determine a baseball team's success — power from the unlikeliest hitters, crazy streaks from the easy-out batters, and unbelievably stupid mistakes by the opponent — all fell the Giants' way.

The season in capsule form …
The same thing must happen for the Giants, or whoever wins it all this year.

This year's team worked through its own adversities, steadily, patiently, and won just when they wanted to. So I worry they'll go into the playoffs a bit soft, a tad entitled … kinda like President Obama in the last debate. I'm afraid the Giants might be measuring for World Series rings already, and that would be the end of it.

I hope the Giants show up hungry.

The hungriest team is across the Bay, the Oakland A's, who did the 2010 Giants one better in their playoff quest. The A's finished the season with six straight wins, sweeping their division rivals The Texas Rangers, and spraying their locker room and each other with champagne twice in three days — once when they secured at least a wild-card place in the playoffs (wild-card teams play each other for one game to decide who continues to the division series) and the second time when they took first place from the Rangers and consigned Texas to the wild card.

They did it with the lowest payroll in Major League Baseball, despite injuries that should have put the team down, and with a bunch of rookie pitchers who didn't know they weren't supposed to win the West.

I watched exactly one inning of A's baseball this year — the last inning of the regular season, when the A's battered the Rangers 12-5. I hate the A's, and have since I began following the Giants at the same time the A's and their gaudy green and yellow uniforms and handlebar mustaches won three straight World Series, 1972-74.

Were it not for my wife pointing out the A's improbable progress (with the loss of three key players to injury — one pitcher took a line drive to his head, fracturing his skull — one pitcher to substance abuse, and crushing failures), I wouldn't have watched even that one inning.

Tuning in was like peeking in on an alternate universe. A roaring, standing capacity crowd seemed to bend the decks to bursting, wearing their neon yellow and green (instead of Giants black and orange). Fans waved their posters boasting inside jokes (Giants fans point out they're Gamer Babes, or exhort Posey for president, or wear fuzzy halos for Angel Pagan or giraffe caps for Brandon Belt or panda caps for Pablo Sandoval).

The A's do the Bernie Lean, after a rap song (after the cult comedy "Weekend at Bernies," in which friend must make a dead guy appear to be alive) which is played when Coco Crisp (great name!) steps to the plate. It was teammate Brandon Inge's song, but Crisp took up the mantle when Inge was injured, and the fans went nuts.

The A's closer is an Aussie named Grant Balfour. Fans go into a wild "rage fest" dance as he comes in for the last inning. He throws hard, stares down batters and occasionally yells at them during an at-bat. He's the equivalent of the Giants' Brian Wilson, but with an extra edge, a real rage.

The Giants have a tough battle to the World Series, not having done well against the National League Central leader Reds (won three, lost four) and worse against the National League East winner Washington Nationals (won one, lost five).

The least of the Giants hitters have to get hot. Opponents have to screw up at the right time. It's always the way.

Even if the Giants win the National League, I most fear the A's, who carry that rage into the American League playoffs.

Eh. It's only entertainment. It's only entertainment … it's only entertainment …

(Which reminds me suddenly, the annoying downside of having your favorite team in the post season is not being able to watch the game with your favorite broadcasters. Now we get a steady, stultifying diet of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, and it's disorienting to listen to the radio broadcast because it's as many as 10 seconds ahead of the TV coverage. It's only entertainment …)

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