Baseball: San Francisco's 'misfits' walk among the giants with World Series win

Ticker-tape parade awaits unlikely champions as the City by the Bay emerges from the baseball shadows
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The Independent Online

They were the "Misfits" – a bunch of prospects, veterans and late-season additions who weren't supposed to have a prayer. Instead, for the first time, they brought baseball's world championship to the City by the Bay.

This morning half of San Francisco will take to the streets for the downtown victory parade of the Giants, when mayor Gavin Newsom will present them with the keys of the city. The route will be the very same one taken more than half a century ago, when the Giants arrived from New York in 1958. The franchise had won its last World Series title four years before. It was an earlier age of baseball, when the Giants played at the Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan, and not a single major league team was to be found west of the Mississippi river. Since 1958, San Francisco has waited and wept.

There was the crushing seven-game World Series defeat in 1962 at the hands of the New York Yankees. There was the 1989 sweep by Oakland, when Mother Nature intervened in Game Three with a 6.9 magnitude earthquake. Most bitter tasting of all, in playing terms, was the seven-game defeat in 2002 by the Anaheim Angels, in a Series the Giants simply threw away.

But that disaster is now forgiven, if not forgotten. With a 3-1 win in Game Five in Arlington, Texas on Monday evening, San Francisco defied the experts and shed the weight of history, routing the American League champions Texas Rangers by a resounding four games to one.

In some respects it was a fairytale upset. Beforehand, the Rangers appeared to hold most of the aces, literally and metaphorically. They had Josh Hamilton, baseball's most prolific regular-season hitter, and the intimidating veteran Vladimir Guerrero.

Above all they had Cliff Lee, the Rangers' top starter and scourge of the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, and apparently unbeatable in the post-season. With Lee on the mound, Texas could reckon on two victories in the bank before a pitch was thrown. Instead, the journeymen hitters of the Giants beat him twice.

And whose bat provided San Francisco with the three-run homer that won Game Five and the Series? It belonged to none other than the much travelled (and often-derided) shortstop Edgar Renteria, whose dismal performances in Boston a few years back earned him the nickname of "Rent-a-Wreck" from Red Sox fans.

After an injury-plagued regular season, Renteria wasn't even in the Giants' line-up when the team began its October adventure against Atlanta in the National League Divisional Series. At 35 and creaking all over, he is now said to be mulling retirement. If so, he will take his leave of baseball as the reigning Most Valuable Player of the World Series – the first Colombian-born player to achieve that distinction.

But method has also underlain the misfits' madness. One element – a terrific club-house spirit – pertains to team sports of every variety. The other is the Giants' adherence to the oldest rule of baseball: that, all other things being equal, good pitching beats good hitting.

The off-field chemistry owes much to Bruce Bochy, the wise Giants' manager, but even more to the players. "They had a will about them," Brian Sabean, the team's general manager, said afterwards as the champagne sprayed. "We have a lot of characters, with a lot of character." How different from 2002, when the Giants walked in the shadow of their surly superstar outfielder Barry Bonds.

Then there was the pitching: Tim Lincecum of course, with his long lank hair and whippet frame, who bested Lee twice. "Let Timmy smoke," proclaim World Series T-Shirts, in reference to Lincecum's well-documented misdemeanour on the marijuana front. But in this Series, almost every one of the Giants' homegrown pitching staff was smoking. Matt Cain destroyed the Rangers in Game Two, as did Madison Bumgarner in the Giants' 4-0 win in Arlington on Sunday that psychologically crushed the Rangers. And in Brian Wilson, the oddbod who dyes his moustache a forbidding black, they had a closer who locked the door and threw away the key.

Every Giants starter in the Series is 26 or younger. Wilson is only 28. If San Francisco keep the gang together, they may be a force for years.