The “T” in Team means “together”: Giants champs again

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As overjoyed as fans are after the San Francisco Giants won their second World Series title in three years, what was really unique about this season and the remarkable postseason run were how the contributions were so widely dispersed. Buster Posey is the leader of the team, overcame a catastrophic injury last year, and put together a probable MVP season at catcher, then handled the pitching staff flawlessly in the postseason. Pablo Sandoval, benched in the 2010 Series, was Series MVP this time around and his three home runs in Game 1 were historic. Matt Cain is just gritty and indomitable. As hittable as he looked in Game 4, he still came out in the 7th and shut down the Tigers 1-2-3, to set up the bullpen for the final, championship, push. But so many others were so key, and fit in so well as part of a team.

Consider:

Sergio Romo — didn’t really become the closer until close to the end of the season. Doesn’t throw that hard, only was trusted to get out left-handed batters midway through this season, but saved three games in the Series and is as tough minded and clutch as …

Marco Scutaro — has there ever been a clutch hitter who has come up with the winning hit in so many situations? And to think Scutaro, 37. had been with three teams in a little over a season, was on a last place team in July and was traded for … Charlie Culbertson. No way the Giants even get to the playoffs, much less overcome the Reds and Cardinals in the NLDS and NLCS, winning six do-or-die survival games, without the implacable second baseman.

Bruce Bochy — two titles in three years, and yet, up to now, never recognized among the game’s elite managers. But he’s an egoless leader, who has assembled a loyal and effective staff he trusts and delegates too. You never heard Bochy get down during the year, or get too up for that matter — and never, ever tear down a player, no matter the mistakes or how bad someone might have been going.

Dave Righetti and Mark Gardner — the Giants’ pitching coach and bullpen coach not only assembled a tremendous plan on how to pitch to the Detroit Tigers’ sluggers in the Series, but brought back troubled ace lefthander Madison Bumgarner from a guy who couldn’t be trusted to start any more postseason games to the pitcher who allowed the Tigers two hits and no runs in 7 tense innings in Game 2 Thursday night in San Francisco. But that’s not to mention what they did, with Bochy, with …

Tim Lincecum, who, after a miserable regular season, became the team’s “secret weapon” against the Cardinals and then the Tigers, using a rejuvenated fastball and changeup to baffle hitters inning after inning in vital mid-game relief roles. But even Lincecum’s story takes a back seat to that of…

Barry Zito — the much reviled left hander, he of the $126 million contract and the same guy who was so bad in 2010 he was left off the postseason roster, was the key to this Series triumph. How? His gutty, masterful and winning performance in the epochal Game 5 of the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals, with the Giants down 3 games to 1 with one more defeat ending their season, would have endeared him to Giants fans even if he hadn’t slayed Goliath in Game 1 of the Series, when he decisively outpitched erstwhile Tigers’ ace, Justin Verlander, in the shocker featuring Sandoval’s three homers and two great catches by …

Gregor Blanco — a non roster journeyman player who wowed the team in spring training, and later lost a starting job in early summer when he stopped hitting, Blanco stepped in when Melky Cabrera was suspended for PEDs. Postseason, Blanco, though still plagued by strikeouts, contributed some great clutch hits, and laid down the famous bunt in Game 2 that led to the Giants first run. But his defense — Blanco himself says by the end, he believed he could get to every ball. But he wasn’t the only defensive key. Perhaps overlooked was …

Brandon Belt — how many times did Belt, in his second big league season, reach for difficult throws, snagging some impossibly tough balls, using his long reach time again. And he finally got a key hit, too — a second inning triple in Game 4 that drove in a run and nearly left the park. But as good as Blanco and Belt were defensively, the entire country got a look at …

Brandon Crawford — from an erratic shortstop who couldn’t hit, Crawford became a national star this postseason, making all the difficult plays, and the routine ones, using his athleticism, great arm and amazing instincts to play the position like a perennial all star. And he contributed clutch hits and the kind of confident panache that kept this team coming back, back, back.

Of course those are only a few names in a pantheon of great stories. Ryan Vogelsong won critical game after critical game — and his remarkable baseball rags-to-riches story, and fierce intensity, typified a team that was nowhere near as loosy goosy as the 2010 bunch, but that burned much hotter; the effervescent Hunter Pence, always awkward, weird beard, strangely ineffective for long stretches at bat, but hugely popular on the team and a convert after he arrived from Philly in July to the Giants scratchy, clawdaddy way of play — and, of course, his pre-game rabble rousing sent the Giants out in the postseason ready to take on the world. Jeremy Affeldt was absolutely lights out in the postseason, seeminglhy getting stronger as October extended, using his curve and fastball to get key out after key out. Angel Pagan didn’t hit much in the Series, but he played a great center field and his intensity never wavered with how he might be doing individually.

And didn’t you love how reserve infielder Ryan Theriot, with no power at all, was put in as Designated Hitter in Game 4, got the leadoff hit in the 10th and scored the winning run, driven in by the man who replaced him at second base, Scutaro. Theriot’s slide and reaction will be replayed for a long time.

Giants GM Brian Sabean made the Scutaro and Pence deals that put the team over the top, and has kept the Giants nonpareil pitching staff together; the team’s scouts had the other team’s amazingly deciphered in terms of pitches that needed to be made and defensive placement; and lastly, the Giants’ fans — probably baseball’s most fervent over the past three seasons, even if baseball is kept somewhat in perspective in the greater Bay Area. Somewhat. But the scenes at AT&T Park in the postseason, except for a couple of dispiriting losses, became a huge factor in pumping up a tired team into late October. Expect Wednesday’s parade to rival 2010’s million-fan celebration — for a real team.

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For another, and even inspirational, perspective on the unique character of the 2012 Giants, read Michael Rosenberg at SI.com’s “Inside Baseball.

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