Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The scariest Hallowe'en of all

The wrathful calls stacked up immediately, their toxins crackling nonstop (save for commercial breaks) over the air.

Frenetic frothy voices on KNBR's overnight call-in show, one after another, creating an infinite loop (if only they could!) of variations on the theme, "I told you so!"

The San Francisco Giants had just lost the first game of the postseason, 5-2 to the Cincinnati Reds Oct 6. It was game over, season over, dreams over for these distraught callers, as each one pointed out the Giants had not heeded their repeated warnings, delivered via call-in shows, had the gall to ignore their simple but vital corrections for the Giants' flaws and feeble leadership.

The Giants had gotten by on luck and loopy hot streaks and a hot-knife-through-butter journey around a weak division, the callers cried — some almost literally — and now better teams would lay open their weaknesses for the world to see and ridicule. So many callers! So angry at the overnight talk-show host, Marty Lurie, for not delivering their lifesaving advice to Giants' management.

The Giants did, in fact, get worse, pummeled by the Reds 9-0 the next night. If they had any chance of going farther, the Giants had to win every remaining game in the five-game series against the Reds.

Which, somehow, they did.

Stumbling again through the start of the next series, for the National League championship, the Giants had to force a seventh game, and win all of the last three, to advance. Somehow again the Giants did, beating the St. Louis Cardinals by huge margins.

Though I expected the same do-or-die struggle in the World Series against the Detroit Tigers, the American League champions never came to play. The Giants beat the best pitcher in baseball, Detroit's Justin Verlander, and the Giants' pitchers never let the Tigers' heavy hitters flash their muscle.

Somehow the Giants beat the Tigers in four straight, hitting 'em where they weren't while Detroit's hits seemed always to find a Giant glove, topping one impossible acrobatic play with the next, covering all the bases literally and figuratively, and taking advantage of balls that hit bases and squibbed off for doubles, and a bunt that refused to roll foul despite several desperate offers.


Though that first postseason loss seems so long ago, my favorite call remains vivid. Seething with rage at the Giants' ineptitude, apoplectic that the Giants didn't make changes and immediately, the caller screamed, "THIS ISN'T ROCKET SURGERY!!"

Now it's over. All that zeal to see if the Giants could really sweep the Tigers was misplaced, because the game goes back in mothballs for five more months.

We should have been willing it to keep going, even to a seventh game — Halloween! — the Giants coming to the party in orange and black, their standard attire, all of us in orange and black at home, and black and blue from self-flagellation because a Game 7 would have meant a giant Giants collapse, and every pitch and every swing of the bat would have portended death or shocking rebirth.

By "we," I don't mean that many. The World Series got the lowest ever TV ratings. A big deal to Giants and Tigers fans wasn't so big for others, who were probably watching the really big deal, Superstorm Sandy, wind up to clout the East Coast.

In our household, almost every day since April has been adjusted and folded and pushed just so to make time to follow the Giants on radio or TV. The warming air was woven with layered narrative by wonderful storytellers (Jon Miller, Dave Flemming, Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper), of new players and the rehabilitated wounded and the newly wounded and the jolly clowns and soon-to-be has-beens. Promising newcomers broke promises, a hanger-on and a new has-been arose from ashes, a horse brought us a perfect game, a superstar brought big hits until bitter betrayal, and a minor trade brought to the No. 2 slot in the lineup card the most amazing hitter I've ever seen, there to knock in the winning run in the final game of the World Series. The least surprising feat in all of baseball this season.

Their stories are no different than for other championship teams, comprising stories of heartache and redemption and surprise, but the Giants are unique: Likable players who really seem to mean it when they said they wanted to win for each other.

They brought me everything and nothing: Entertainment.

Wednesday will bring a ticker-tape parade in San Francisco and, given the day, new horrors. Angry, anxious talk has rekindled anew: The Giants' longtime bench coach, Ron Wotus, may become the Colorado Rockies manager. Agonizing-ace-turned-amazing-reliever Tim Lincecum may go to the Boston Red Sox. Centerfielder Angel Pagan, who I couldn't tell from angel food cake before the season, may command too much money for the Giants to match.

I wanna call in to scream, "CAN'T WE ALL GET ALONG?!" Can't umpteen million satisfy you? Why megamillions? Don't change! I like you just the way you are!

Oh well, I didn't like change before the Giants this season got Pagan, greatest-hitter-of-all-time Marco Scutaro, and the human strobelight Hunter Pence, who used to be a giant Giant killer, and they helped bring the second World Series title in three seasons.

The Giants won too well, ended it all too soon. The winter already hangs heavy and cold.

Someone I know has already trotted out the old joke: Pitchers and catchers report in February.

Not funny.

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