In the midst of a gigantic celebration following the San Francisco Giants emergence as baseball's best team in sweeping the Detroit Tigers in the 2012 World Series, three individual players standout as unexpected heroes.
When the Giants began their epic journey in Scottsdale for spring training last February, nobody could fathom the idea of Barry Zito winning Game 1 of the Fall Classic. Giants fans hadn't even recognized non-roster invitee Gregor Blanco as a legitimate candidate for a roster spot, and most couldn't imagine that Sergio Romo would emerge as a dominant closer.
It's often said that championship teams need to "catch a few breaks" to become worthy of glory. But, those breaks typically don't come at the expense of injuries, suspensions and defeat.
The Giants were first written off when Brian Wilson was summoned for his second Tommy John surgery. Giants Manager Bruce Bochy immediately vowed to use a bullpen-by-committee approach to close-out games. Bochy is well known for his majesty in appropriately utilizing his 'pen, but Santiago Casilla caught fire and became the interim closer for a better part of the season while saving 25 games.
Midseason struggles and several blown saves ultimately unraveled Casilla's role as closer, though, and Bochy reverted back to a committee approach. That changed near the end of the dog days of summer when seeming long-shot Sergio Romo was chosen as the closer.
Romo saved nine games for the orange and black in the season's final six weeks and never missed a beat in the playoffs. The 5'10" right-hander unleashed his best stuff when his team needed him most. His no-dot slider was virtually unhittable as the Giants stormed through their final seven postseason games, winning all of them while Wilson gleefully bounced around the dugout.
It's not like anyone ever should have been surprised by the 28th-round draft pick's success, though. Romo has a 0.83 career WHIP and proved that he could shut the door for his team in this season's most heated moments.
Romo sealed the deal for the San Francisco Giants in the bottom of the tenth inning in Game 4. He dominated the top of the Tigers lineup, striking out the side, while erupting in pure elation after striking out AL Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera looking to clinch the World Series title.
He pitched the Giants to four saves in 10.2 innings pitched during the postseason, surrendering just four hits and one earned run. The steady emergence of Sergio Romo as a dominant force at the end of a blistering bullpen tremendously aided the Giants to their second championship in three seasons, but this roster is stacked with unsung heroes.
That's unofficially how it has to be for any team to win a championship.
The Giants were written off again after Melky Cabrera earned a 50-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's performance enhancing drug policy. He led the big leagues with a .346 batting average upon his suspension and had entered mild conversation as a legitimate MVP candidate.
It didn't seem possible for the Giants to triumph. They couldn't fill the void of a superhuman, who was on pace to surpass 220 hits in a single season.
Gregor Blanco was suddenly playing nearly everyday in left field. Last winter's Venezuelan League MVP had struggled midseason, eventually becoming well-suited as a bench player after the Giants acquired Hunter Pence from the Phillies.
Cabrera's suspension sent ripples through the clubhouse and everyone knew what had to be done. They all had to perform at a higher level if they were going to win the NL West and stave off the trade-happy Dodgers.
Blanco exceeded expectations and rallied to hit .314 in the regular season's final four weeks. He didn't slow down in the postseason either. They man dubbed the "White Shark" played stellar defense throughout the playoffs. Diving forward to steal base hits away from the opposition and patrolling the warning track like it was nobody's business just became part of his routine.
His contribution went beyond jaw-dropping defense too. Blanco's triple to deep right centerfield in the second inning of Game 3 in the World Series drove in the Giants' first run of the game. He would then score on a base hit up the middle by shortstop Brandon Crawford and the Giants would win 2-0.
The culmination of Blanco's postseason numbers were not ultimately impressive. But the speedy outfielder seemingly always managed to contribute, finding himself wedged into countless game-changing rallies, scoring ten runs in the playoffs. Blanco entered the season simply vying for a roster spot.
The Giants paid $126 million for a turbulent left-hander that knows what it's like to fail to earn a roster spot.
The most impressive unexpected hero in the Giants' 2012 title run was junk-baller Barry Zito. The crafty lefty was formerly famous for his enormous contract, failing to make the postseason roster when the Giants won the 2010 World Series.
Zito pitched poorly in his first postseason start in 2012, failing to finish three innings of work while facing elimination. He was relieved by Lincecum, who ironically pitched himself out of the starting rotation after losing a career-high 15 games and registering a league-worst 5.18 ERA.
Nobody thought the Giants could eclipse the inefficiency of former ace Tim Lincecum.
Zito essentially replaced the expected production level of "The Freak" during the regular season, though. He won 15 games, the most he's ever won as a Giant. His team rallied and also won the final 13 games that he started, including the postseason.
Even though Lincecum replaced Zito in Game 4 of the NLDS to aid the Giants in fending off elimination, it was Zito who kept the Giants season alive in Game 5 of the NLCS while pitching 7.2 shutout innings in a 5-0 win.
Zito followed up his masterful performance against the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS with 5.2 respectable innings against a potent Tigers lineup in Game 1 of the World Series. Zito gave up one run on six hits and managed to beat the seemingly unbeatable Justin Verlander.
Not without a historic performance by Pablo Sandoval, of course. The Panda ate himself out of the lineup in 2010, but crushed three home runs to support Zito in Game 1 and tied one of the most exclusive records in baseball.
That was essentially the tale of these Giants. They were constantly told they couldn't win but consistently silenced all critics.
The 2012 World Series champion San Francisco Giants didn't do it simply because of star power. They did it because of gritty performances from unexpected contributors.
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