Giants' Series lead is no surprise
S.F. proving it's better than Rangers and finally ready to claim elusive championship
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Two terrible things happened on Oct. 16, 1962. The Cuban Missile Crisis began, bringing the world to the brink of nuclear holocaust. Worse, the Giants lost 1-0 to the Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series.
As every Giants fan knows -- it's embedded in the DNA -- the 1962 series ended with the potential tying and winning runs stranded at third and second base in the ninth inning when Willie McCovey lined out to Bobby Richardson. The loss still pains me even though I was only 9 months old at the time. No one, however, feels worse about that ending than Felipe Alou, who failed to bunt a runner from first to second that inning.
"I could not advance the runner and that runner was Matty Alou, my brother,'' Felipe said in the Giants' clubhouse Sunday night. "So Matty was still at first base when Willie Mays hit that double that didn't score Matty. It's one of the sore spots of my career. Of my life, really. But if this team wins, maybe I will forgive me a little bit.''
The world nearly ended after that first World Series loss. The world literally shook and cracked in a second Giants World Series loss in 1989. The sky figuratively fell in during the third World Series loss in 2002 when the Giants somehow blew a 5-0 lead in Game 6 when they were eight outs away from the championship. But now, after all that and more, after 52 years, after two near moves to Toronto and St. Petersburg, Fla., the Giants are one victory away from their first world championship since moving to San Francisco in 1958.
"We're one win away and we can all feel it and taste it and smell it -- everything,'' outfielder Cody Ross said after 21-year-old Madison Bumgarner and the Giants shut out Texas 4-0 in Game 4. "But we have to stay focused and keep grinding like our backs against the wall. If we do that, we'll be all right.''
There have been better Giants teams that fell short -- that 1960s team had five Hall of Famers on the roster -- but we shouldn't be at all surprised that San Francisco leads this series 3-1. For one thing, the Rangers got so much praise after beating the Yankees 4-2 in the American League Championship Series, everyone conveniently forgot that Texas was essentially a .500 team after June (43-42). Meanwhile, the Giants went 52-32 in the same span and then went on to beat Atlanta in four games in the NL Division Series and then beat the team most everyone predicted would win the World Series, the Phillies, in six games in the NLCS.
The Giants are a very good team. And a better team than the Rangers.
The Giants' pitching was highly regarded -- and rightly so, when Bumgarner is your No. 4 starter and Barry Zito doesn't even make the postseason roster -- but all that talk about torture led to a slight exaggeration about their inability to score runs. For instance, you could win a lot of bets in a bar -- in fact, you could win bets in the Giants' clubhouse -- with this one: Who hit more home runs in the regular season, the Giants or the Rangers?
"Our ballpark is a tough place to hit, especially compared to this park here -- they're complete opposites,'' Giants outfielder Nate Schierholtz said. "So our home run totals wouldn't be as high as the Rangers' in the regular season.''
But they were. The two teams' home run totals were exactly the same: 162. "Were they?'' Schierholtz said. "I didn't know that.''
He's not alone. Everyone seems to look at this team as the Hitless Wonders. "Last year we had a lot of trouble scoring runs so I think that kind of carried over to this year as far as the media goes and everyone expecting us to be the same team,'' Schierholtz said. "Aubrey Huff got hot early and that got us going. We got Buster Posey and Ross and picked up some pieces.''
This is a different and much better team than the one that left Scottsdale, Ariz., at the end of spring training. In addition to Ross and Posey, the Giants added Pat Burrell. With a healthy Edgar Renteria now at short and Juan Uribe at third in place of Pablo Sandoval, the infield defense is also improved. San Francisco's lineup still may not inspire fear, but it doesn't have to with the Giants' pitching. And as good as that pitching was at the beginning of the season, it's even better now with Bumgarner.
"I played against these guys [with the Marlins] and I'm telling you, I hated facing these guys,'' Ross said. "It doesn't surprise me they shut out one of the best offensive teams in the game because I faced them and I know. We had a pretty good team in Florida with some guys who could really swing it and they shut us down left and right.''
As Ross said, the Giants are so close they can figuratively smell it and taste it, but they aren't there yet. They have to face Cliff Lee in Game 5 first, and other Giants clubs have come close without closing it out (damn you, Scott Spieizio!). But those teams didn't have a 3-1 lead and they also didn't have Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain lined up back-to-back.
Giants fans have been waiting more than a half-century for this, but with one more victory (cross fingers there are no earthquakes), they and Felipe may finally be able to literally taste a world championship. And I wouldn't be surprised if it tastes like a fine Napa or Sonoma Valley sparkling wine after it has been poured over their heads.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.