- Howard Bryant, ESPN Senior Writer
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Quite a start to the century it has been. The San Francisco Giants will parade down Market Street on Wednesday as they did after leaving Harlem in 1958, curling into City Hall Plaza, just as Willie Mays did when the adventure of big-league baseball on the West Coast was born.
The Giants are champions, continuing a 21st century that apparently has no use for the term "long-suffering" and the self-indulgent navel gazing that goes along with it.
In 2002, the Giants and Angels were locked in a memorable World Series that somebody had to win. The Giants had it won until the Anaheim Angels celebrated their first title in their 41-year history.
In 2004, the Boston Red Sox erased 86 years of bad memory, infamy and complaint ("Why not us?") with a spirited championship run that was equal parts stunning, triumphant, delirious and totally incomprehensible.
The next year, the Chicago White Sox ended an even longer wait -- 88 years -- of misery less poetic, less publicized but nevertheless just as debilitating to its hungry fan base with a dominant postseason run that was so complete that it made one statistic -- the White Sox hadn't even been to the World Series but once between 1920 and 2004 -- seem impossible.
And now the Giants are off the list, following the Red Sox and White Sox with a historic -- and stunningly easy -- championship charge that starting today has begun a new, uncharted chapter of baseball in San Francisco.
Only the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians and the Washington, D.C., baseball club (its successors in Minnesota and now Texas have been to the World Series, the Twins having won it all twice) remain. The Chicago Cubs haven't won since 1906, the Indians since 1948, and teams from Washington, D.C. -- without a team between 1972 and 2005 -- haven't won a title since 1924 and been to the Series since 1925.
Like the Red Sox and White Sox, when the pin finally struck the balloon, it did not pop as much as it burst. The Giants lost four games in the entire postseason. They won the opener of each playoff series and never trailed in any series in the playoffs. Like the Red Sox and White Sox, they stunned the defending pennant winner, the Philadelphia Phillies. Like the White Sox, they pitched as few teams in the post-strike era ever have and turned the event of a World Series played in Texas into a stirring mandate.
In the end, the Series wasn't close at all. Tim Lincecum, who didn't appear quite yet ready for prime time after failing to execute a rundown at third base in the opener, finished his first postseason having defeated World Series hero Derek Lowe, and the two supposed unbeatables, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Matt Cain pitched 21 1/3 innings in his first postseason and gave up all of one run -- unearned.
And when the championship points were played by an offense that wasn't expected to compete with the Texas-sized cannons on the other side of the field, Andres Torres, Aubrey Huff, Freddy Sanchez and, yes, again, Edgar Renteria (in an MVP performance) won them all. The Rangers hit .281 against the Yankees to win the pennant, .190 in the World Series.
So many demons disappeared Monday night, and it will be interesting to see if the old evils are replaced by new ones or sunshine. The Oakland A's, the Giants' adopted little brother across the Bay Bridge, has been treated in the region and by its parents at Major League Baseball, as Bay Area stepchildren. The club has never been allowed to move to San Jose, the argument being a move south would infringe on the Giants' territorial rights -- an argument that long infuriated former A's general manager Sandy Alderson, who consistently pointed out that (1) the Giants built a new ballpark that stood farther away from San Jose and (2) remained in San Francisco but moved technically closer to the Oakland Coliseum, with no one at MLB protecting the A's interest.
In response, the A's delighted in fighting with its only weapon against a team that had the support of the league and the hearts of the region -- by pointing at the scoreboard. For the past season or so, the A's erected a billboard at the foot of the Bay Bridge toward San Francisco that read "A Nice Ballpark, but no hardware."
The A's have four World Series titles in Oakland to the Giants' one in San Francisco, but the billboard must now come down -- or at least undergo a copy edit.
A common theme throughout the postseason was the Giants' hunger for respect, first after 50-plus years to be considered a "baseball town" every bit as passionate for its team as the folks in Chavez Ravine, the Bronx or the Fens. As the fans piled onto the field at Rangers Ballpark after the Giants had won their title, it was all too obvious that Giants passion did not escape the hip and cool sensibilities of San Francisco. They belonged.
"This championship," Giants president Larry Baer said, "is for everyone who came to Candlestick and froze to death, for everyone who voted for us to have a new stadium, for everyone who stuck by us all those years."
But now that the title is here, to be kissed and held and idolized, will the Giants fans enjoy life as a champion? Or will life never be as fun as a little bit of torture climbing a mountain that never seemed to have a summit? Two titles later, many Boston Red Sox fans admit to a curious lack of immediacy. Winning may never get old, as Baer said when the Giants clinched the division, but Giants fans will soon be asked to decide if being hungry for a second and a third title can provide the same passion as having never been allowed to sit at the table for 56 years.
Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is the author of "The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron," "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston" and "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball." He can be reached at Howard.Bryant@espn.com. He can be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/hbryant42
Now that they've ended 56 years of torment, the Giants must learn to embrace a new, unfamiliar course as champions.