Commentary

Trophy finds home in San Francisco

Unlikely cast of characters brings first title to Giants since they moved from New York

Updated: November 2, 2010, 10:26 AM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Barry Bonds … Willie McCovey … Orlando Cepeda.

They never got to do what this unlikely cast of Giants -- Cody Ross and Andres Torres and Edgar Renteria -- finally were able to do on a star-spangled baseball field in Texas on the first day of November.

Will Clark … Matt Williams … Robby Thompson.

They never got to feel this feeling. Never got to meet this moment. Never got to see this dream come true.

Juan Marichal … Gaylord Perry … John (The Count) Montefusco.

They never got to say the word that Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner got to utter Monday, on a night they will never forget:

Champions.

Every once in a while in sports, something happens on one of these fields of dreams that transcends the normal course of athletic events. Every once in a while, you find yourself watching something that no one has watched before, saying words that no one has ever said before.

[+] EnlargeGiants
Scott Rovak/US PresswireThe Giants finished off the Rangers in five games to win their first World Series title in 56 years.

And Monday night in Arlington, Texas, was one of those special times -- the first time any living human could ever say this:

The San Francisco Giants won the World Series.

They moved out of New York and found a home by the Golden Gate 52 long years ago. Dwight Eisenhower was president. A postage stamp cost three cents. If there was a TV screen in your parents' or grandparents' living room, it was black and white and grainy, and it sure wasn't flat.

And the San Francisco Giants would spend the next half-century employing many, many of the greatest baseball players of their time -- or any time. But for 52 seasons, all those men had one thing in common:

Their baseball seasons always ended with someone else doing the celebrating, someone else spraying the champagne, someone else riding the parade floats.

Until now.

Until 9:30 p.m., Texas Daylight Time, on Monday night ... when Brian Wilson stared in over his jet-black beard at Nelson Cruz, settled into the stretch and unleashed the final cut fastball of this magical mystery tour of a season.

And when that baseball sailed past one last mighty flash of Cruz's bat, the San Francisco Giants had done it. They'd wiped away the ghosts -- of Willie McCovey's 1962 line drive, of Scott Spiezio's heartbreaking 2002 homer, of the 1989 rumblings of the San Andreas Fault.

The giant scoreboard read: Giants 3, Rangers 1. And the sign, held by a grateful Giants fan standing above the visiting dugout, said it all:

"Torture has ended."

It ended thanks to Tim Lincecum, who outdueled the great Cliff Lee in the biggest game of his 26-year-old lifetime.

It ended thanks to Edgar Renteria, who sent a heart-stopping, game-changing, MVP-award-sealing three-run homer flying through the night in the seventh inning of this game -- just a few hours after telling his buddy, Andres Torres: "Today, I have the feeling I'm going to hit a homer."

And it ended when Brian Wilson threw the pitch that no Giants closer before him had ever been lucky enough to throw.

Not Rod Beck … Not Robb Nen … Not Gary Lavelle or Greg Minton.

The pitch that ended the World Series.

"I dreamed it to happen, and then it happened," Wilson said, his heart still pounding as he stood on this strange baseball field a thousand miles from AT&T Park, with hundreds of Giants fans still frozen in their seats around him, basking in this moment. "So I can't really explain it."

He'd spent his life watching other men throw That Pitch: Mariano Rivera ... Brad Lidge ... Keith Foulke. And then the heavens all aligned, and the earth spun him -- Brian Wilson -- into this out-of-body experience, throwing The Pitch That Ends the World Series. And even after he'd thrown it, seen it, lived it, he admitted it was difficult to comprehend this had really just happened.

Asked if this was what he always thought this moment would feel like, he shook his head.

"I didn't know what I expected it would feel like," Brian Wilson said, "because I always woke up before the final out."

But not this time. Not in this dream. This time, he and one of history's most unlikely champions were wide awake -- and trying to digest the magnitude of what they'd all done.

"The years I've been here," said center fielder Aaron Rowand, "it's all been about bringing a world championship to San Francisco. And now we did."

But when a team like this wins, it isn't just for the men inside those uniforms. You understand that, right?

When a team like this wins, this is for all those generations of Giants fans who bundled up to survive the piercing breezes of Candlestick Park, who wore the scars of all the summertimes that broke their hearts, who lived though all those Wait Till Next Year seasons that didn't end this way.

And when a team like this wins, it's for another special group, too. It's for all those players, great and not-so-great, who put on this uniform, praying a season like this one would drop in their laps some day.

Rich AuriliaJ.T. Snow … Jeffrey (Penitentiary Face) Leonard.

"This puts to bed the ghosts of 2002," said Snow, from the champagne-drenched clubhouse of the first championship team in San Francisco history. "We were so close. Seven outs away. As a player, that never goes out of your system. But this is the next best thing for us."

[+] EnlargeEdgar Renteria
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireEdgar Renteria's three-run homer in the seventh inning gave the Giants all the runs they needed to win Game 5.

And J.T. Snow wasn't the only ghost of Giants past to witness this coronation, either. Shawon Dunston was there. Will Clark was there. They'd been invited weeks ago by the Giants' brass to travel with this team, bond with this team, share wisdom and memories and October insights with this team. And in the end, they came away with the feeling that the 2010 Giants had done as much for them as they'd done for the 2010 Giants.

And the great Juan Marichal was there, too. Officially, he was in this ballpark as a broadcaster. But inside his chest beat the heart of a Giant. So there was no bitterness in his voice, or in his soul, that he and his great Giants teams of the '60s never got to do this.

"I don't mind," said Marichal, who won 238 games for his Giants over 14 remarkable seasons. "I don't care. We couldn't do it in those days. But I knew these kids could do it. That's baseball, you know? That's baseball."

Jeff Kent … Felipe Alou … Jack Clark.

That's baseball, all right. Is any other explanation possible? For half a century, the Giants put together teams talented enough to employ players who won nine MVP awards, three Cy Young awards, four Rookie of the Year awards -- and won no World Series.

And then this team -- a team that lovingly describes itself as "the castoffs" and "the misfits" -- turns out to be The One? The one that ends the third-longest current title drought in baseball, and the eighth-longest in the history of baseball? How does that happen?

Hey, that's baseball. That's how that happens.

And those castoffs and misfits couldn't have been prouder to be marinating in champagne after making it happen. Asked which of those labels fit him best, their cleanup hitter du jour, Cody Ross could only laugh.

"Which of them am I? Both of them, I think," he said. "Actually, I don't know which I am. Either one, man. I'm just glad I'm one of them right now."

A little more than two months ago, he joined this team practically by accident. By the last game of the World Series, he'd become their leading postseason home run hitter. And he found himself doing something in this game he never did once all season -- bat cleanup. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no National Leaguer had done that -- hit cleanup in a World Series game after never hitting fourth all year -- since Pepper Martin in 1931.

But naturally, the names on Bruce Bochy's lineup card would line up in exactly the right order. Again. Haven't they throughout this entire postseason?

So as the top of the seventh inning dawned, it was Cody Ross due to lead off against Cliff Lee in what was still a taut 0-0 game. Lee had allowed three hits. Lincecum had given up two. No one had reached second base all night. And as two tremendous pitchers sliced through dominating inning after dominating inning, visions of Jack Morris-John Smoltz were beginning to occupy the minds of everyone in this ballpark.

"I was thinking that, too," Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti said. "You found yourself saying, 'Here we go.' Especially in an American League park, because you're not going to hit for either guy. So yeah, I started to think about it. You start to wonder how far they both can go."

And so, for that matter, were the hitters who had to face them.

Asked what his mindset was as he dug in to battle Lee in the seventh, Ross replied: "At that point, I was just thinking, 'Do anything. Please hit me.' Anything to get on base."

Lee declined that invitation to drill him, but Ross managed to slap a single up the middle. And the Giants had something going.

Next it was Juan Uribe's turn. Not so long ago in this postseason, he and Ross had been the Giants' Nos. 7-8 hitters. Now, in the game in which they won the World Series, they found themselves as the Nos. 4-5 hitters. Does that sum up this team, or what?

[+] EnlargeTim Lincecum
Matt Slocum/US PresswireTim Lincecum was 4-1 in five starts in the postseason.

Five years ago, Uribe was the shortstop on a Chicago White Sox team that ended 88 years of title-less misery. By the end of this night, he would become the first man ever who could say he was a regular on two teams that blew away more than a half-century worth of curses. But first, he had to fight off an 0-2 pitch, serve it into center and give the Giants two baserunners in the same inning for the first time all night.

So it was first and second, nobody out. And in a 0-0 game, that would ordinarily mean bunt. Except in this case, the hitter was Aubrey Huff, a fellow with this claim to fame: He'd accumulated 5,505 at-bats in his big-league career without ever laying down a sacrifice bunt. Only one active hitter has been to the plate more without a SAC -- Vlad Guerrero.

But before Huff even looked down to third base for the sign, he already knew what he had to do -- end this sac-free streak right here. It was either that or take his hacks against Cliff Lee. And he didn't like his odds if he did that.

"I'll be honest," Huff said. "When I went up there, I didn't feel like I had a chance. So even though I got the bunt sign, I was going to do it anyway."

So he laid one down, got both runners over and sprinted back to the bench ecstatically. But the ecstasy didn't last long, because the next hitter, Pat Burrell struck out -- for the 10th time in 12 at-bats in this World Series. There were two outs.

Never fear, though. Mr. Nov-Edgar was here.

As Renteria smoothed the dirt and settled into the box, he inspired an incredible sense of confidence in his teammates. It was 13 years since his epic, game-winning, extra-inning Game 7 hit in the 1997 World Series. But this was still Edgar Renteria's time of year.

He worked the count to 2-0, then stepped out for a quick gulp of breath as Lee waited on the rubber for him to pivot back to work. Renteria tapped the outside of the plate with his bat, then the inside of the plate and rocked into his trademark closed stance, as the noise swelled around him.

Lee wound, fired and threw his worst pitch of an otherwise-spectacular night -- a cutter that hung up there around Renteria's waist. And the man at the plate was all over it.

As the baseball disappeared -- barely -- over the fence in left-center, Cody Ross leaped into the night, Rowand pumped his fist in the on-deck circle, and a dugout full of Giants looked for someone to hug. And in the dugout, Andres Torres found it hard to believe he'd just seen what he'd seen.

"When we were in the clubhouse today, he told me he was going to hit a homer," Torres said. "Then we went to the cage, and he said it again. He told me, 'Today, I've got the feeling I'm going to hit a homer.' And he never says that. But he told me twice, 'Kid, I'm going to hit a homer.' "

Remember now, Edgar Renteria was a man who'd hit precisely two regular-season homers after April 27. But a voice in his head told him he was going to hit his second home run of this World Series. So he believed.

"Edgar, he's been a mentor for me," Torres said. "I saw him do it in '97, and now here. That ball just kept going and going, and I got so excited. That was unbelievable, because he told me. So I said to him, 'How'd you do it? You told me, and you did it.' And he looked at me and he said, 'Kid, I told you.' "

So how many three-RBI games did Renteria have all season? Not a one. Of course. But he'd just driven in three with one swing, in Game 5 of the World Series. Who writes these scripts?

Torres When we were in the clubhouse today, he told me he was going to hit a homer. Then we went to the cage, and he said it again.

-- Andres Torres on Edgar Renteria

Lincecum would give back one run of his lead by allowing a solo homer to Cruz in the bottom of the seventh. But on the night when he became just the fifth pitcher to pile up double-figure strikeouts in the clinching game of a World Series, that would be that.

This game, this duel with Lee, this special moment in championship time, was all the inspiration Tim Lincecum needed. Was there any question that all of that brought out the best of him on this historic evening?

"I think it did," Righetti said. "Obviously it did. He definitely had a look about him. But he had it last week. After he came out of that first game in San Francisco, he told me in the dugout, 'I will be better next time.' And he sure was."

Lincecum got them through the eighth. And then those bullpen gates opened in the bottom of the ninth, and here came Brian Wilson.

He and his beard had saved 53 games this year, between the regular season and the postseason. But he knew exactly what this one meant.

"I know the crowd loves the ninth-inning guys -- Rod Beck, Robb Nen," Wilson said. "That's the history of the ninth inning for this franchise. So for me to take the mound and do something they were never able to do -- it means a lot."

Down went Josh Hamilton. One out. Down went Vlad Guerrero. Two outs. Then Wilson ran the count on Cruz to 1-2, then 2-2, then 3-2. He understood how much was riding on this next pitch. He just wasn't sure how he could make himself throw it.

"It's kind of hard to comprehend," he said. "You're in another world out there. I don't care who you are. You're not in your normal spot when you're out there in the final game of the World Series, 3-2 pitch. So you tell yourself: 'Just throw a strike. Get your leg up. Find your release point. Throw it in there. And let God do the rest.' "

Up there in the heavens, they must have wanted this to happen. It had been 52 years since the great move west. Nineteen different franchises had won a World Series since the last time the Giants won one. But this was the right man throwing the right pitch for the right team at the right time.

So Nelson Cruz swung. Nelson Cruz missed. And the San Francisco Giants had won the World Series. Finally.

In the past 10 years, they'd seen the Red Sox win. They'd seen the White Sox win. They'd seen the Phillies win. But now, at last, it was the Giants' turn.

For 52 years, it's been The Story hanging over their otherwise-great franchise. And now it will never be The Story again. Hopefully.

"Yeah, hopefully," said Brian Wilson, "we'll win another one before another 50 years is up."

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com