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Senior Baseball Columnist

Giants' improbable NL title their greatest feat yet in bizarre, adverse season


SAN FRANCISCO -- Stretching across half a century, two line drives sliced through the San Francisco air. One brought heartbreak. The other resulted in something wholly different.

"We're going to the World Series!" Giants closer Sergio Romo screamed over and over in the winning clubhouse, like a man reminding himself he's about to marry the girl of his dreams. "We're going to the World Series!"

In 1962, Willie McCovey's screaming liner thudded into Bobby Richardson's glove, and the Yankees won the World Series.

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Exactly 50 years later, Hunter Pence's third-inning liner knuckled on shortstop Pete Kozma as if somebody with a remote control and a joystick were lounging in a kayak in McCovey Cove. Kozma moved to his right. The ball veered sharply left.

Symmetry? Poetry? Who can possibly explain this stuff?

Three Giants scampered home as the ball slipped into left field. It was the hit that cracked Game 7 of this NL Championship Series clear open, just like the bottles of champagne a couple of hours later.

Giants 9, Cardinals 0.

Just like Romo said. San Francisco steps into its second World Series in three seasons. Hello, Detroit.

Stretching the truth now for going on seven months, what will these improbable Giants come up with next? This is San Francisco's greatest feat yet. A Golden Age of Baseball is settling in at the foot of the Golden Gate bridge.

There have been only two Game 7s ever in San Francisco, in the '62 World Series and in the 2012 NLCS.

Guaranteed that people now will be discussing Pence's liner for as many decades as they've been rehashing McCovey's. The bat broke and wound up hitting the ball three times. The spin of that ball will leave poor Kozma dizzy until February.

"This season has been so incredibly odd in so many ways," Giants president Larry Baer said. "Nothing will surprise me going forward. We still have the World Series. ...

"That ball had body English. I don't know, it was like a Phil Mickelson spin shot to hole the green. It was a bizarre thing.

"This has been a year that has been 1,000 percent bizarre."

In advancing to take their whack at the Tigers, the Giants become only the second team ever to win six consecutive elimination games in one postseason, joining the 1985 Royals. Maybe it's Steve Balboni who is their lucky rabbit's foot. Balboni was the first baseman on that Kansas City team that knocked off, yes, St. Louis in the World Series.

In the end, it was pouring, AT&T Park was roaring and Matt Holliday sent a simple popup soaring.

Unbelievably, to Marco Scutaro at second base, for the final out.

Poetic justice? Random act of bizarreness?

"I'm just happy somebody hit the last out to me so I can keep the ball," said Scutaro, the NLCS MVP after batting .500 (14 for 28) with three doubles, four RBI and six runs scored in the series.

The MVP award was nothing compared to the shock that Scutaro remained in one piece after the takeout tackle/slide that will not be recorded as one of the finer moments of Holliday's career.

"How do you like me now?" Scutaro crowed.

Like him? San Franciscans more than like him. They've fallen in love with him. He's the new Cody Ross.

And this team long ago left its imprint in San Franciscans' hearts.

All of this successful tightrope walking, the success in elimination games ... it started a long, long time ago. They lost closer Brian Wilson for the year in early April, when the season still carried that new-car smell. They opened the season with plans for Aubrey Huff at first base, Freddie Sanchez at second, Melky Cabrera in left field and Nate Schierholtz in right.

And? Huff got old. Sanchez remained as broken as an ex-girlfriend's promise and never did play. Schierholtz fizzled and was dealt to the Phillies in the Hunter Pence deal. And Melky, well, you might recall that he was suspended for 50 games shortly after the All-Star break for failing a performance-enhancing drug test. Hello, Angel Pagan.

The Giants should have fallen back when they lost their closer.

They should have been cooked when Cabrera, who was leading the NL in hitting at the time, was suspended.

Their doom was predicted when the Dodgers traded for Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett in July. That's about the time general manager Brian Sabean made a deal most folks soaked in as an afterthought. Scutaro.

At every turn this summer, the season should have moved on without the Giants.

"It's crazy," said starter Barry Zito, in the midst of a sudden re-emergence himself, soaked in champagne. "We had a million reasons to not do this. And nobody would have bashed us.

"When we lost Melky, we said, 'All right, boys, we've gotta buckle up. We've lost the guy who was leading us.' And Buster Posey stepped up and put us on his back."

When the Giants left home for Cincinnati in the Division Series, it felt like they were closing AT&T Park for the winter. But down two games, they won three in a row.

When they fell behind three games to one in St. Louis in the NLCS, it was Zito who came up with what Giants people were still calling on Monday the game of his life.

"These guys are better people than they are baseball players," Sabean raved.

"I'll say this," manager Bruce Bochy gushed. "They play with more heart and more determination than anybody I've ever seen."

Some view the Giants as being on a mission this October, but that's flat wrong. What this is is a labor of love.

"The guy next to me matters; it ain't about me," Romo said. "There's not one guy with a hidden agenda in here. Everybody believed legitimately in the guy next to him. I'd rather make the guy next to me smile than me being the one smiling.

"I don't want to go home. I don't want this season to end.

"I love my teammates."

And they, and a city, loves him back.

It was pouring rain in bucketfuls at the end, but nobody cared. It simply energized 43,056 delirious fans even more.

"I felt like a kid again," Pence said.

Or, as bench coach Ron Wotus said, "We were all going to get wet after the game, anyway."

Pence's liner guaranteed that, just like Stretch McCovey's led to the opposite reaction 50 years ago.

"Try to watch that with the naked eye and tell me you saw it," Pence said when someone mentioned the bat appeared to hit the ball three times. "You can't really see it.

"It felt like I stayed inside the ball, broke my bat and it went up the middle."

Pence did not see the ball dramatically change direction mid-flight. But when he looked as he ran to first, he saw it reach grass in the outfield.

"It literally took a left turn," Baer said. "Or a right turn."

Better get that one right. Because they'll be talking about it for the next several decades.

Apparently, that's San Francisco's baseball destiny: to analyze, discuss and remember line drives through the years.

"What I would like to think is that it was just rewards for a hungry city," Baer said. "Twenty years ago, [there was] a group of folks who helped save the team who now are seeing a baseball team doing what you see happening in the community. There's a love affair here. And the love affair wasn't going to be denied. It's Game 7.

"We've never had a Game 7 in San Francisco, other than in '62. There's a connectivity between this team and this community. We were told in 1993 when the team almost moved to Tampa Bay that this wasn't a baseball town, it's not Candlestick, people just don't care. It was a football town.

"I just think the body English on that ball was an exclamation point for what, at least with our group, has been a 20-year odyssey. And if you go over the 50 years, it's a 50-year odyssey of redemption."


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