How the Giants Have Changed Baseball
The count was three balls, two strikes to Philadelphia's slugging first baseman Ryan Howard. There were two outs in the bottom of the ninth, with the tying run 180 feet away at second base.
Citizen's Bank Park swelled with 46,062 fans, over 2,400 more than capacity, each fraught with the up-to-now blasphemous concern that the San Francisco Giants would eliminate their beloved Phillies from postseason contention.
The mighty Phillies, world champions just two seasons earlier, and back-to-back National League champions, now stood on the brink of an upset.
How could it be that the underdog in this National League Championship Series, a team that many did not even expect to be in the playoffs, was now one pitch from reaching the World Series?
A team without a single 30-home run hitter, or a single 100-RBI producer was now on the verge of defeating a club boasting of Howard, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth, and so many other dangerous hitters up and down the lineup.
As much as it seemed like a nightmare to the Philadelphia faithful, it was actually happening in real time.
The next pitch was a 90 mph slider on the outside corner at the knees.
Ryan Howard froze, and the moment itself was frozen in time: as home plate umpire Tom Hallion rose quickly from his crouch and thrust his fists to signal the third strike, the third out, and the clinching of a pennant, Brian Wilson and the San Francisco Giants began to realize that they had done the impossible.
This defining moment was also a proclamation of the sea change that the Giants were now in the midst of bringing to the game of baseball.
Following an era of unprecedented home run totals and offensive explosion, the era of the pitcher had returned, this time sporting a new look: the shoulder length hair of Tim Lincecum and the ever-growing jet-black beard of Brian Wilson.
How has the pitching-heavy style of this club changed the game? In more ways than one, and in each way the arms of the Giants have made an indelible mark and led the charge into a new era of baseball.
1. After Witnessing San Francisco's Triumph, Every Team Wants More Pitching
After being defeated by the pitching-rich Giants in the 2010 NLCS, the Phillies promptly acquired Cliff Lee to bolster their own staff
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Just six weeks after Cliff Lee threw his last pitch of the 2010 season, the Philadelphia Phillies signed him to a five-year deal.
The Phillies already had a star-studded starting staff that featured Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels, yet the organization felt the urgent need for even more elite pitching help.
They were out-pitched in the NLCS by the Giants, who defeated Philadelphia in six games to advance to the World Series despite the Phillies being heavily-favored primarily due to their perceived offensive superiority.
The Phillies aren't the only club that took notice when the Giants defied the odds and took home a world championship on the strength of their arms.
2. Increased Emphasis on Pitching Has Led to the Resurgence of Small Ball
In another time unheard of, power hitters like Chase Utley are being asked to bunt more these days
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Ty Cobb would be so proud.
As the steroid era is now a closing chapter in the baseball history books, Cobb's style of play is making a comeback.
Small-ball is reappearing in ballparks across the country, and the lost-arts of bunting, hitting sacrifice flies, stealing bases, and the hit-and-run are becoming more prevalent again.
Run totals are down, as well as home runs and batting average.
Who do we have to thank for this? In large part, the San Francisco Giants.
The Giants put into motion an insatiable demand for quality pitching across both leagues over the past three seasons, which came to a head after they claimed the World Series crown in 2010.
The bottom line is, no matter how much offensive power there may be in any given lineup, it won't amount to success with San Francisco's staff standing in the way.
Hence the need to match San Francisco's pitching, and try to beat them at their own game.
3. Defensive Alignments Are Changing
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Imagine this scenario:
It's the third inning of a 2-0 game. The home team has the slim lead, and is threatening for more with a runner at third base with one out.
You're the visiting team's manager. What do you do?
Well, just a few years ago you might just have your infield play back and trade a run for an out.
Nowadays, you might have to think again, depending on who the other team has on the mound. And thanks in large part to the elite pitching staff in San Francisco having set the tone for other teams in the league and around baseball, chances are greater than ever that the guy on the mound is a quality starter.
So you play the infield in to try and cut the run off at home, keeping the game within reach for your offense.
This is an example of how defensive alignments are changing in game situations as a result of the pitching-heavy trend that the Giants helped spark.
4. Fans Are Finding Other Reasons to Cheer at the Ballgame
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It used to be that when you went to the old ballgame you'd be in for mammoth home runs that would make the fans oooh and aaah.
But as you've probably noticed, the round-tripper is down all around baseball. And you can thank Tim Lincecum and company in San Francisco.
The Giants' elite young staff burst on to the scene and gelled extremely quickly, and as San Francisco's hurlers grew up so fast together, a precipitous decline in the home run was becoming more and more apparent.
In 2006, the year before Tim Lincecum broke into the big leagues, the major league average for team home runs for the entire season was 180.
In 2007, Lincecum's rookie year, the average fell to 165. In 2008, it was down to 163. In '09, average team home run output was up slightly, to 168 (in the National League, where San Francisco's pitching has the greatest effect, home run average was down to 155 from 163 the prior season). In 2010, it fell even further, down to 154 (150 in the National League).
So Giants fans caught on to a new event to cheer for, as did the fans around the rest of the league and the majors: the good old-fashioned K.
The Defending Champions Are Trailblazers in a New Era of Baseball
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The San Francisco Giants are carving out a path for the future of baseball: great pitching, timely hitting and tight defense (though the 2010 Giants were much better in that last department than the 2011 club thus far).
The defending champs are creating a prototype and blueprint for this new era that they have christened with their 2010 championship, and are making history one pitch at a time.