There is nothing quite like the power of a rolling freight train—it just keeps coming, never slowing down and relentless in its pursuit.
That may just describe the San Francisco Giants right about now.
In sports, it's not always the best team that wins, it's the hottest. The St. Louis Cardinals certainly proved that last season, qualifying for the playoffs on the last day of the regular season after winning 18 of 26 games in September. Their momentum carried them all the way to a World Series title.
This year, the Cardinals were the victims of a rolling freight train.
The Cardinals got stuck under the wheels of that train, as the Giants powered past them with a dazzling performance from their starting rotation. The Cardinals mustered one run in the final three games of the NLCS as Barry Zito, Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain kept feeding coal into the rolling locomotive.
Elimination simply was not an option for these Giants.
As a freight train continues along its path, it develops a natural momentum that's almost impossible to stop. When it reaches full speed, it's able to effortlessly glide atop the tracks while being fueled by its coal.
For the Giants, their coal is their fans.
The train was slowed somewhat early in the NLCS, with the Giants dropping three of the first four. Game 5 starter Barry Zito made sure that he sufficiently re-fueled the train with a phenomenal effort. Zito, much maligned because of his $126 million contract that he admittedly hasn't lived up to, gave the Giants 7.2 scoreless innings to send the Giants' freight training rumbling back to San Francisco.
For the rest of the pitching staff, Zito's uplifting performance gave them more than enough energy to keep the train rolling.
"It started with Zito," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "The game he threw in St. Louis ... then they kind of fed off each other."
The importance of Zito's start can't be understated. It allowed the Giants to get back home in front of their fanbase, knowing that their faithful following would continue feeding them energy.
"Coming back home, in front of these fans ... the energy," noted Matt Cain. "That was a huge key for us."
While the Giants rotation and local fans fanned the flames, the offense certainly did its part in adding fuel to the train as well.
Second baseman Marco Scutaro hasn't stopped providing energy since the day he was traded from the Colorado Rockies. Hitting .362 over the final 61 games of the regular season, Scutaro hit .500 during the NLCS, collecting a record-tying 14 hits and providing the spark for the rolling freight train.
Ditto for Pablo Sandoval, who has hit .320 with three homers and nine RBI during the postseason.
So, can the Detroit Tigers somehow slow down the fast-speeding Giants?
It's going to take a Herculean effort.
Momentum can be a funny thing—the Tigers certainly had it in sweeping the New York Yankees in the ALCS. However, they'll have been inactive for six full days before the start of the World Series. That in itself takes away from their momentum.
On the other hand, the Giants will have a chance to relax on Tuesday at home before getting right back to business on Wednesday. Fueled by the home crowd they longed to return to in the NLCS, it's clearly a distinct advantage.
The Tigers will start a fully-rested Justin Verlander in Game 1, while the Giants may opt to hand the ball to Zito.
For Zito, the importance of his Game 5 start is not lost on him at all.
“This game is all about momentum," Zito said. "Baseball, it kind of inches its way pitch by pitch. It’s different than any other game. Going out there for Game 5 in St. Louis, I knew there’s a chance if we got to San Francisco, the momentum would change. We’ve got the best, the loudest fans. That’s what happened.”
Now, Zito will have a chance to feed off that energy on Wednesday night.
For the rest of the Giants, they'll try to continue feeding off the energy provided by their rotation as well as their fans.
No doubt the Tigers present as a formidable opponent. A terrific starting rotation with Verlander, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer, along with the bats of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder—no doubt the Giants have a tall task ahead of themselves.
However, the Giants neutralized two of the most productive postseason bats in recent memory—Carlos Beltran and David Freese—so they've got some recent experience in shutting down opposing middle-of-the-order threats.
Freight trains can be derailed—putting a powerful force in their way can at times take care of that. Whether or not the Tigers have the ability to stop the rolling freight train that is the San Francisco Giants is another matter entirely.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.