Before Monday night, the Giants’ most recent World Series-winning lineup had Willie Mays batting cleanup.
This time? Cody Ross.
Mays was perhaps the greatest player of all time. Ross was perhaps the greatest waiver claim of 2010. A subtle difference.
Ross’ legendary postseason is a major reason why “Out of Office AutoReply” will be the most emailed words in San Francisco for the next several days.
But his modest production during the regular season will be ammunition for critics who wish to dismiss these Giants as a one-year fluke. Somewhere, those prognosticators are saying the Yankees or Phillies will win next year.
Not me. At least not yet.
Now that the Giants’ 56-year drought is over, they’re well-positioned to win again — if not in 2011, certainly before the decade is through.
Full disclosure here: I’m saying this from my business-class seat on the Giants’ bandwagon. I’ve been here since March, when I picked them to win the pennant. At the start of the playoffs, I had San Francisco taking the Series (over Texas) in seven. So I missed by two games. Whatever.
Point is, there’s plenty to like about this team, not just (a) the Castoff All-Stars, (b) the starting rotation and (c) Bruce Bochy’s noggin.
In fact, the Giants have two components Yankees fans might recognize from the late 1990s: a near-automatic closer who’s nails in the postseason, and a young hitter who grinds and inspires.
Brian Wilson’s their version of Mariano Rivera.
Buster Posey’s their version of Derek Jeter.
To be clear: In terms of career accomplishments, Wilson and Posey are no comparison for Rivera and Jeter. I’m not sending the two Giants to Cooperstown after one magical October. The postseason, while all-important, can deceive. To those who forecasted greatness for Bobby Jenks after 2005: Call Kenny Williams. You want him? You got him.
But with Wilson and Posey, one gets the sense we’re watching two of the new decade’s preeminent winning players. Particularly with the demise of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Wilson and Posey could be celebrating division titles for many years after Rivera and Jeter retire.
Wilson, 28, isn’t a kid, but he’s the same age Rivera was when he first closed for a World Series winner in 1998. (Rivera was the setup man for Joe Torre two years earlier.)
Wilson had never pitched in the postseason before this year. The inexperience didn’t show. He pitched 11 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run. When given the lead to start the ninth, he converted every time. And it’s not as if this was a revelation. During the regular season, he led the majors with 48 saves and made his second All-Star team.
He has a devastating repertoire, with the go-to pitch being a hard fastball with sharp, late movement. (Sound familiar?) To win the pennant, Wilson struck out Ryan Howard looking. To win the World Series, he struck out Nelson Cruz swinging. He earned this.
Rivera, from Panama, has a clean look and graceful manner. Wilson, from New Hampshire, has The Beard and is “known to be a little eccentric,” according to the Giants’ media notes. Riiiight. But right now, on the mound, their performance is indistinguishable.
Posey, meanwhile, is the young, inspirational force Jeter was at a similar age. Even his postgame remarks tend to be clipped and Captain-esque. His actions are remarkably smooth behind the plate, especially considering he didn’t catch full-time until late in his college career.
Only 23 years old, his baseball IQ could make a hardened scout swoon, and he caught every inning of every postseason game.
Posey batted an even .300 in the World Series, including the memorable Game 4 in which he homered and was behind the plate for a shutout. But his finest moment may have come in the fourth inning of the final game.
He engaged in an 11-pitch test of wills against Cliff Lee, at a point in the game when the Texas lefty was carving up everyone else in grey. The at-bat ended in a groundout, but the statement had been made: The rookie has it.
The best part about this for the Giants: Wilson and Posey are homegrown. Posey, in particular, seems like the type of player who might never wear another uniform. Much like Joe Mauer and Dustin Pedroia, he had the good fortune to be drafted by an organization that should be able to (a) win consistently and (b) afford him.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding several players — Aubrey Huff, Pablo Sandoval, Juan Uribe, Pat Burrell, World Series hero Edgar Renteria — the Giants are far ahead of many rivals in their offseason planning. That is, thanks to Wilson, Posey and young starting pitchers Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner.
Think about it: How many teams can say, right now, they have zero interest in upgrading at the need-to-have positions of catcher or closer?
The Phillies, now that Brad Lidge is right. The Twins, as long as Joe Nathan returns healthy. But that’s it. For every other team in the majors, there’s a compelling case to change personnel at one position or the other.
General managers everywhere will ponder whether John Buck can hit two years in a row, or if Brian Fuentes is through as a closer. Giants GM Brian Sabean, wiser than everyone thought, will direct his efforts elsewhere.
The Giants have a Catcher. The Giants have a Closer. The Giants have a Chance to do this again.