SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 22: The San Francisco Giants celebrate after they beat the San Diego Padres to clinch the National League West Division Title at AT&T Park on September 22, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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There wasn't much torture this season for the San Francisco Giants. Sure they lost key pieces like Brian Wilson and Melky Cabrera along the way, watched the Dodgers bring in 400 million-plus in contracts from the Boston Red Sox and couldn't win at home for seemingly an entire month. But it was nothing like the stresses put forth from their 2010 regular season and eventual World Series title. No, this was a beast of a different color.
It wasn't a great start, getting swept by Arizona in the first series of the year. But Barry Zito pitched what Duane Kupier jokingly called on Saturday ‘the game of the year' against Colorado on April 9, a four-hit shutout for the first victory of the year for the Giants.
They muddled their way through the first part of the season, finding themselves 7.5 games back of Los Angeles in late May. Freddy Sanchez wouldn't be coming back, Guillermo Mota was suspended, Tim Lincecum looked like a different person on the mound, Pablo Sandoval broke his hamate bone again.
But then there was Matt Cain and his perfect game on June 13, another reminder of the magic this team possesses by making history at AT&T Park with one of the best pitched games in baseball history.
Melky Cabrera was magical as well, putting on a show every night, including the All-Star Game. He went from ASG MVP to suspended cast off in the blink of an eye, escalating his problems with his fake-website snafu. But losing arguably your best player didn't splinter this clubhouse, it cauterized it. It brought the team together to rally around one another, lighting the fire in the process.
Series after series was won, especially on the road. Marco Scutaro made us forget about our second base woes. Hunter Pence made a seamless transition to the Black and Orange. Buster Posey proved his ankle was more than fine, making his case for MVP.
They kept their foot on the gas. Kept it on when they couldn't win at home at the end of July and start of August. Kept pressing when the Dodgers made uber-trades but reeled anyway. And by the end of the August the clubhouse was loose, the play on the field was tight, and the focus was razor sharp. Then they ran away with it.
Ray Ratto described this group well after they clinched on Saturday.
"And maybe because of the way they won the division, they celebrated with a slight edge. There was much more beer than champagne, much more satisfaction than hijinks, and the temperature of the room was significantly lower than for any other clinching in the last 15 years. It was a celebration with purpose, a quick release of steam before the boilers are stoked again. They know what awaits, and they know how much harder it gets."
There's a chip on these guys' shoulders. Even the youngsters like Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford who've never been here. This isn't a team chalked full of veterans like 2010. These ‘misfits' have become a well-oiled machine with a business-like demeanor, always fighting, always figuring out a way to win. The magic is still there, but it's been grit and determination fueling the club this season instead of rally thongs and giant beards.
You can point to the pitching of the Nationals or the offense of the Reds, how many wins they won or how many home runs they hit. But the chemistry and camaraderie of these Giants is second to none. Couple that with their hunger to win and God given talent, their opponents might prefer to play a cornered mongoose during the playoffs instead.
But as the second season gets underway in a few weeks, let's take this time to remind ourselves just how much these Giants have been through to get to where they are, which makes their succeses that much more special.
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