The San Francisco Giants won the World Series (again).
On Monday night, the Giants defeated the Detroit Tigers 4-3 in 10 innings to capture their second championship in the last three seasons and their superior pitching is largely the reason why.
Though they weren't widely considered the favorite to take home the gold heading in to the playoffs, the Giants proved themselves with one of the gutsiest performances in postseason history. After two come-from-behind, backs-against-the-wall series victories to get to the World Series, they swept the Tigers, leaving no doubt that they're the best team of 2012.
Twice this postseason, the Giants were staring at possible elimination. Facing the Reds in the NLDS, they were down 2-0 heading in to Game 3 of a five-game series. And then they muscled-up, outscoring Dusty Baker's squad 16-8 in the next three contests, handing them a painful loss at the Great American Ball Park on October 11.
Then, in the NLCS, the Cardinals jumped ahead of San Francisco 3-1. After losing 8-3 in Game 4, things looked really bad for Bruce Bochy's squad. The Cardinals were hot, and they were still riding the wave of guts and attitude they built up by upsetting the Nationals in the NLDS.
But the Giants persevered. Barry Zito, their pitching staff's old man took the mound in Game 5 and surprised everyone—including Cardinals hitters. Zito had been left off the Giants postseason roster all together during their 2010 Championship run, and in his first playoff start against the Reds a week earlier, he's allowed eight baserunners in less than three innings of work. But, he stepped-up big for his second postseason start and shut down St. Louis's offense for nearly eight frames. His hard-nosed, clutch pitching not only staved off elimination, but it also helped re-invigorae his teammates.
After that game, the Giants were a different team. Their struggling pitching staff turned around completely. In the previous nine postseason games leading up to Zito's start, Giants hurlers had yielded 40 runs (4.4 runs per game). After that, they didn't lose, and their pitchers allowed just seven runs in their seven victories.
They finished off the Cardinals by holding them to one run in three games.
In the World Series, the Giants treated the Tigers like a minor speed bump on the road to their second championship in three years. And though Pablo Sandoval re-wrote baseball history books with three home runs in Game 1 of the series, the team's pitchers deserve the heftiest portion of the credit. Their success can't be summed up by an individual performance. Their pitching staff, as a whole, was absolutely phenomenal.
The Tigers started the World Series on a high. They had just swept the Yankees—the AL's best regular-season team—in four games. Not only did the Yankees lead the American League with 95 wins this season, but they also belted a franchise record 245 home runs, the seventh-most bombs in the MLB's long history. Their heavy-hitting offense topped the AL in on-base percentage (.337), and they led the MLB in slugging percentage (.453) and OPS (.790). And the Tigers dominated them. They held the Yankees to a meager two runs in the final three games of the series.
But the World Series was a different story. Right out of the gate, the Giants were clearly the better team. They took on 2011 MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander in Game 1 and absolutely blew him away.
Verlander, aka Superman, would scare off most teams. He won the American League pitching Triple Crown in 2011, and he has averaged 20 wins, 238 innings pitched, a 2.95 ERA and 244 strikeouts annually the last fours seasons. But the Giants were not deterred.
After Verlander allowed just two runs to cross the plate in 24 innings this postseason, he got tagged for two long balls and five earned runs in four innings by the Giants.
From there, the Giants had already broken the Tigers. Their intimidating, invincible ace and team leader got owned.
But there was still hope for Detroit. Their offense had posted a .335 on-base percentage this season, good for second in the American League, and Leyland's lineup card included two of the game's most decorate sluggers, Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera. Either of those two monsters could seemingly win a World Series on their own. Especially Cabrera, the guy that took home the first hitting TripleCrown in 55 years and already has a ring to his name from Miami's 2003 victory.
But the Giants' arms never let Cabrera, Fielder or the rest of the Tigers lineup build up any steam.
After Zito outgunned Verlander in Game 1, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong pitched brilliantly and led their club to two more victories. Bumgarner, the 23-year-old lefty, was particularly special in his Game 2 start, tossing seven shutout innings and allowing only four of the 23 batters he faced to reach base. Only Giants baserunners slid in to second base safely that night, and neither teams' runners made it any further.
Who was the most important player in the Giants' World Series run?
Though he wasn't quite as dazzling as Bumgarner, Vogelsong pitched a very gutsy Game 3. He faced a Tigers lineup that was desperate to score runs, and shut them out for five and two thirds innings. He allowed nine baserunners, but muscled-up in multiple high-stress situations. His game-defining inning came in the bottom of the fifth. Facing the top of the Tigers' lineup with the bases loaded and one out, Vogie struck out Quintin Berry and then got Miguel Cabrera to pop-up to end the inning.
The Giants relief pitchers were just as impressive—particularly Tim Lincecum. The former Cy Young Award winner was uncharacteristically hittable in an up-and-down regular season, finishing with a 5.18 ERA and leading the league with 15 losses. Though his numbers in the second half (3.83 ERA) suggest he righted himself after an awful first two months, Bruce Bochy put him in the bullpen for the playoffs.
While many other stars would've pouted at the perceived demotion to the bullpen, Lincecum embraced his new role and ended up playing key part in the Giants' championship run. After allowing just one run through seven and third innings out of the 'pen in the division and championship series, he was unhittable in the World Series.
He finished Zito's gem in Game 1 with two and third shutout innings, striking out five of seven batters he faced. In a two-run ballgame in Game 3, he pitched in an even more important role. He took over for Vogelsong in the sixth inning with an inherited runner on base and proceeded to quieted Detroit's bats for two innings in a tight game.
And then Matt Cain threw the knockout punch Sunday night.
He faced a Tigers lineup on the edge of elimination. Their sluggers knew they had to produce, yet Cain managed to keep them at bay. He took the reigns and battled Miguel Cabrera and company for seven innings. Vying for his third series-clinching win this postseason, Cain ended up leaving the game after the seventh with a no decision.
The score was tied, but Cain did his job, handing his team a blank slate to work with. And, the bullpen once again responded by silencing the Tigers offense, before the team's journeyman hero Marco Scutaro drove in the go-ahead run in the 10th.
Addressing the media amidst the frenzied victory celebration, Bruce Bochy held back tears as he spoke proudly of his team's performance (source):
I'm numb, really, the fact that we've won two World Series in the last three years...It's amazing what they accomplished. I think when you look at this club, the terms 'teamwork,' 'team play,' and 'play as a team,' that's used loosely, but these guys truly did. They set aside their own agenda and asked what's best for the club. And we put guys in different roles, nobody ever said a word, complained or anything, and that's the only way it got done.
The Giants went from resilient to dominant this postseason. After winning with their backs against the wall in the division and championship series, they took charge and steamrolled the Tigers in the World Series.
They proved themselves as champions, and their pitching staff is responsible for a large portion of their success. After Zito's ballsy elimination game victory against the Cardinals in the NLCS, each of San Francisco's hurlers stepped on to the mound and pitched like aces.