Throughout the AT&T Park era, which began in 2000, the Giants franchise ranks high atop the list of successful, relevant Major League franchises. They've finished first or second in 10 of 14 seasons. They've made five postseasons, won three pennants and claimed two championships.
I will now list all other franchises that can boast similar fortunes over that same 14-year period:
That's some list.
Ownership, the dominance of Barry Bonds, the electricity of Tim Lincecum, the reverence and beauty of AT&T Park, the millions of fans nationwide who even fill up the ballpark on Tuesday nights against fourth-place teams—all of the above deserve credit for San Francisco's long run of prosperity.
A final group deserves recognition, one that has managed to somehow dodge commendation year in and year out as the Giants take full advantage of their contributions.
The Pittsburgh Pirates.
Obviously, the first name that comes to mind is Bonds, the star left fielder of the Pirates who was allowed to walk to the Giants back in the winter of 1992. This single transaction changed both franchises forever, but only one for the better—2013 stands to be Pittsburgh's first post-Bonds winning season. Twenty-one years. To quote the old sitcom Friends, "that's a whole person who can drink."
In 2001, as San Francisco continued its ascension while Pittsburgh tried to pass Jimmy Anderson and Chad Hermansen off as big leaguers, the Bucs—unable to help themselves—again aided the Giants, handing them Jason Schmidt and John VanderWal in exchange for Ryan Vogelsong and Armando Rios. Schmidt became one of baseball's top starting pitchers over the next half-decade. Vogelsong did not become a productive major leaguer until returning to SF ten years later.
Pittsburgh's generosity didn't end there. In 2007, they were kind enough to take underachieving Matt Morris (and the $13 million left on his deal) off the Giants' hands. Of course, the Giants had to absorb the nearly $200,000 owed to promising young outfielder Rajai Davis. Tough decisions like that are why I don't envy sports executives.
Next: Freddy Sanchez. The Pirates sent former All-Star Sanchez to SF, only asking for 20-year-old AA pitcher Tim Alderson (a 22nd overall pick in '07) in return. Sanchez helped the Giants win the 2010 World Series. Alderson, four years later, has yet to appear in the majors and is pitching middle relief in AAA these days—never having sniffed the Bucs' 40-man roster.
Most recently (2010), the Giants swung a deal for Javier "Not The Catcher" Lopez, surrendering two young players for someone who at the time was but a lefty specialist. Lopez was practically unhittable down the stretch for the Giants, for whom he still slings. Meanwhile, both of the youths sent east were done in Pittsburgh by the following All-Star Break—their most significant contribution to the Bucs being their vacated roster spots.
That's a lot of giving from a franchise named after fierce, often bloodthirsty pillagers.
However, giving was clearly last on Pittsburgh's list June 11-13, as it took two of three from San Francisco at a time the G-Men badly needed W's. Worst of all, their rookie pitcher Gerrit Cole took Marco Scutaro out with an errant fastball to the pinky—SF went 2-5 in his absence.
The Pirates also cost the Giants rubber-armed reliever George Kontos, who was brave enough to plant leather in Andy McCutchen's hip in retaliation for Cole's plunkings of Scutaro and Gregor Blanco. Rather than go short in the bullpen through Kontos' three-game suspension, the Giants sent him down.
SF did blow out the Pirates in the finale, a finale featuring one of the weirdest innings I've ever seen—possibly the very weirdest.
One out into the fifth, Bucs starter Charlie Morton hit Brandon Crawford in the foot (for the second time). Crawford advanced to third on a ground-rule double and was then caught in a pickle and awarded home when infielder Pedro Alvarez body-blocked him.
After Morton plunked Brandon Belt, Joaquin Arias hit a liner off baserunner Hunter Pence for the final out. All this inning lacked was El Duque throwing his glove to first base after Lloyd Moseby tried to steal it.
At this point, the Giants were 3-3 on their roadie; I'd predicted a 5-4 final mark in my previous article—still within reach as the team traveled south to Atlanta, home of the first-place Braves.
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