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Giants turned out to be tougher, smarter, better than most everyone expected


DETROIT -- The San Francisco Giants took offense to many of the national pundits and prognosticators who had them as a first-round casualty. Or second-round, at best.

Can't blame the Giants one bit.

They couldn't understand why we kept saying how lucky they were, and suggesting that they didn't really deserve to be here.

"We kept hearing how the ball was just bouncing our way," the Giants' great manager Bruce Bochy said. "I didn't understand that."

Baloney, Bochy said to the lucky bounce theory.

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Agreed, 100 percent. The fortunate-roll theory was the laziest of explanations about the Giants' great year, and greater run.

Can't blame them for not getting what they were hearing. Not for a second.

"This team is loaded with talent, grit and determination," Bochy said in a succinct summation of the real main attributes of the world champion 2012 San Francisco Giants following their 4-3, 10-inning victory that completed the World Series sweep and made them champs twice in a three-season span.

The grit and determination part is clear to us all now that we've seen them win six consecutive elimination games. Seen them fall behind the Reds 2-zip in games, and then behind the defending champion Cardinals 3-1 in games. And shrug it all off.

The reality is, the chances to win six consecutive elimination games are 63-1 against, and that's assuming a 50-50 chance at each game. That's not even counting that the first four of those games came on the road.

"The guys didn't worry about the odds," said Matt Cain, the most underrated pitcher in baseball for a long while, and the one who won the clincher in the Division Series and Championship Series and pitched seven innings in this clincher, too (plus also won the All-Star Game and pitched a perfect game, too). "The guys knew the odds."

It's easy to see that obvious grit and determination now that we've seen them blow away the Tigers in a four-game World Series sweep, seen them beat the Tigers' four very good pitchers, starting with an all-time ace in Justin Verlander. And up close seen them take every game as a challenge, a must-win game.

But we should have seen the talent, all along.

Catcher Buster Posey, a great one, is off to a Derek Jeter-like start in his career. World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval took some heat from the higher-ups for not working to get himself in better shape while rehabbing, but the talent shined through when it counted, with six of his 18 home runs coming in the postseason.

The Giants surely could have given away Game 4, and still won one of the next three. But they weren't about to take that chance. They saw the weather forecast, and they didn't want to risk breaking their momentum. They saw that rain was coming in, and that became their foe.

"We were playing so well," Giants managing partner Larry Baer said, "we didn't want games rained out."

In reality, the rain, Tigers or anything else was not going to stop this team once it got going. In truth, they were a team that was underrated from opening day, underrated to epic proportions.

Sure, they were last in baseball hitting home runs in the regular season. Sure, only two National League teams had a lower fielding percentage during the regular season.

Sure, the bullpen ranked only 15th out of 30 teams by ERA during the season. And even their starters weren't quite as dominant as one might think in the regular season.

But this team, and this organization, wasn't all about the numbers. Like everyone else, they mix scouting and saber stuff. But this organization is more about scouting than stats.

Take the case of postseason hit machine Marco Scutaro, who was to become the biggest pickup of the trade deadline, bigger than all the big names, bigger than Zack Greinke, Ryan Dempster, Shane Victorino, Adrian Gonzalez, and bigger than even their own Hunter Pence, whose biggest contribution might have been his motivational speech down 0-2 at Cincinnati.

Before they acquired Scutaro, general manager Brian Sabean hopped a plane to Colorado to go see Scutaro play.

"He's a scout at heart," Baer said of Sabean. "There's a lot to be said for the profession of scouting. There's a lot to be said for the quantitative side, too. It's a hybrid."

The Giants struck the right balance to create the perfect clubhouse mix. There's little doubt the chemistry was special.

They had some goofy, fun-loving guys, even beyond the certifiably wacko Wilson. And just about everyone seems like a gritty guy.

But to say it was just grit and determination (and luck) is selling them short, too. This team was more talented than any of us gave them credit for.

They like no one else had five viable starting pitchers, which gave Bochy the issue of having to "demote" one of them to the pen. But it also gave them the advantage of possessing five guys good enough to start.

No surprise, too, Bochy picked exactly the right one to relieve when he tabbed two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum for pen duty. That should have been the first clue for experts that there's a lot of pitching talent there.

Lincecum became a dominant bullpen force in October, even if he was still so unsure of himself in St. Louis that he threw from the stretch with no one on. Lincecum made a very good relief corps outstanding.

Closer Sergio Romo was seen by outside scouts as having less-than-dominant stuff -- until he needed it, anyway. Jeremy Affeldt hurt his thumb a few days from the end of the season to the point he couldn't grip, much less throw, a curveball. But by the end, he was unhittable.

They all did what they had to do to blow away the Tigers.

"They made my job easier accepting their roles. Tim Lincecum didn't waver," Bochy said.

They have some special people in some important spots. Beyond Bochy, who should be a Hall of Famer someday, their coaches are all crazy workers. And their pitching coach Dave Righetti is as dedicated, self-effacing and stand-up a guy as you're going to find.

Just as Bochy won't take any credit, neither will Righetti, and maybe that's why folks are knocking down his door to manage. "It's them, not me," Righetti said in explanation for the success.

You know what? He would make a better managerial choice than 90 percent of the names you do hear.

Righetti is as brilliant a pitching coach as there is. But they do have three Cy Youngs in the staff, plus the horse Cain, and Bumgarner, a kid prodigy who goes unnoticed on a team of pitching geniuses.

"We knew we had the pitching," Baer said. "And the pitching clicked at the right time."

Barry Zito, another Cy Young winner, had a long road back to excellence, and he finally got there when Righetti and Co. got Zito to stand up straighter, to use his 6-foot-4 frame, and not worry about throwing only 84 or 85 mph.

Zito returned to viability, even if it went unnoticed outside the Bay Area, with most of us still harping on his gigantic contract. Madison Bumgarner, similarly, stopped worrying about 93 mph, and he did what he does best, which is work the corners and pitch.

Ryan Vogelsong returned to his early excellence after one very small adjustment. They moved him back on the pitching rubber a bit. He also happens to have what Righetti called a "maniacal diligence" about him.

Sure he does. How else to come back from being a Hanshin and Orix reject to do something in the postseason that nobody has done since a great Giant, Christy Mathewson, which was to pitch four postseason games of at least five innings and no more than one run?

Matching Mathewson isn't something ordinary pitchers do. Vogelsong, in the afterglow, animatedly recalled how one pundit picked the Tigers in five, complete with explanations (not me, I had the Tigers in seven), and took the opportunity to say how wrong that particular national writer was.

Well, we all were.

"I'm just happy the nation got to see how this team can play," Vogelsong said.

This is not a lucky team that won by the grace of the fortunate roll.

This is a team that won 94 games, six more than the vaunted Tigers, in a tough division. A team that survived the spring loss of closer Brian Wilson to a second Tommy John surgery. A team that not only survived the drug-suspension loss of Melky Cabrera, but thrived after Cabrera was gone.

And very wisely didn't welcome him back, either. They did a lot of smart things along the way, and made a lot of right moves.

But they didn't do what they did on grit and determination and luck and smarts, alone. This was an underrated team from Day One. Our bad.


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