The Giants spent all those years trying to surround Barry Bonds with enough veteran talent to win a World Series.
Turns out the answer was almost the opposite kind of club.
One with few stars. One built around homegrown players. One that includes so many veteran castoffs, their manager calls them “the dirty dozen.”
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2010 National League champions, the San Francisco Giants.
A team so quirky and plucky and just plain fun, it is almost a perfect reflection of its offbeat, vibrant city.
The 2002 Giants nearly became the first to bring a World Series title to San Francisco, losing Game 7 to the Angels.
But if the 2010 team completes the job, the outpouring of affection might be even greater than it would have been then.
“Fans have really taken to this club because of its personality and the way they play,” said Giants bench coach Ron Wotus, who has been with the team since 1998.
“It really is a different club than the 2002 club, no question about it. I don’t know if you can get much more different.”
Saturday night’s clincher — a 3-2 thriller over the Phillies in Game 6 of the NLCS — was classic Giants, even though it lacked a Giants staple, dominant starting pitching.
Left-hander Jonathan Sanchez lasted only two-plus innings, and manager Bruce Bochy responded as if the Giants were trailing the series instead of leading it.
Three straight lefty relievers followed Sanchez. One was a starter, Madison Bumgarner. The first righty out of the bullpen? None other than another starter, the Giants’ ace Tim Lincecum.
When Lincecum faltered, Bochy turned to closer Brian Wilson for a five-out save, ignoring his entire right-handed setup corps.
“We get a diversity of contributions from everybody,” Bochy said afterward. “Cody Ross, sure, he got the MVP. But it’s not a team with one star or one guy carrying it.
“We use most of our club every night through double switches things like that. You hate the cliché, but it really did take 25 guys to do this.”
As opposed to the Giants in the Bonds years, when players such as Jeff Kent and Jason Schmidt made significant contributions, but the team largely revolved around you-know-who.
This is not to pass judgment on Bonds or even what the Giants tried to accomplish when he was their centerpiece. Bonds was the best player in the game. General manager Brian Sabean had little choice but to try to max out around him.
This team, truth be told, is not a textbook example of how to build a championship club, either. Barry Zito, a $126 million pitcher, can’t even crack the playoff roster. Aaron Rowand, a $60 million outfielder, is merely a reserve.
Still, the Giants’ top four starting pitchers – Lincecum, Matt Cain, Sanchez and Bumgarner – are homegrown. So is the catcher, Buster Posey. And Wilson, the delightfully wacky closer
The Giants nailed four of their recent first-round picks — Cain in 2002, Lincecum in ’06, Bumgarner in ’07 and Posey in ’08. People constantly talk about payroll, and the Giants’ $98.6 million Opening Day figured ninth in the majors. The draft, though, can make or break a franchise.
The Pirates, for example, had a chance to draft each of those Giants first-rounders, yet made other choices instead. And unless third baseman Pedro Alvarez proves a better player than Posey — don’t hold your breath — each of the Pirates’ choices will turn out to be inferior.
“You watch ‘em grow in front of your eyes as they come through the minor leagues,” Sabean said. “That’s the art within the game itself, to try to have some players through player development and scouting, get them coming up at the right time. To think, they contributed so much to our success is amazing.”
The Giants, though, are so much more than their homegrown core. Their loose, rollicking vibe emanates from their veteran discards. Aubrey Huff, a $3 million free agent. Juan Uribe, a $3.25 million free agent. Ross, claimed on waivers partly so he wouldn’t go to the Padres. Pat Burrell, a released player who had to go to the minors to prove he could still play outfield.
A lot of us screamed last offseason for Sabean to add a big free-agent hitter such as Matt Holliday or Jason Bay. Instead, Sabean worked around the edges, signing Mark DeRosa, who got injured, re-signing Uribe and catcher Bengie Molina, taking a shot on Huff.
Sabean also passed on hitters at the July 31 non-waiver deadline, acquiring relievers Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez instead. But the promotion of Posey on May 29 already had transformed the offense, or at least what the Giants call offense. Sabean kept adding bit pieces — Burrell, Ross, Mike Fontenot, even Jose Guillen. Bochy kept mixing and matching. And the team kept evolving.
Broadcaster Duane Kuiper coined the phrase, “Giants Baseball: Torture,” a reference to the team’s penchant for low-scoring, nail-biting games. On FOX’s postgame show, I asked Huff, “Is this heaven? Or is it torture?” He responded, “Right now it’s heaven, but it was torture ‘til that final strike. We always make it hard on ourselves.”
True enough, but as one Phillies official said, “They know how to play tight games and they did it well.” Seven of the Giants’ 10 postseason games have been decided by one run. The Giants are 6-1 in those games.