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    Giants Past and Present

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    New edition celebrating 2012 World Champs by Dan Fost

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    World Series, baby!

    I almost did not recognize my San Francisco Giants when they started this postseason. And I’m not referring to the complete changeover in the starting eight from 2010 – with only Buster Posey remaining. (Pablo Sandoval rode the pine in that historic postseason.)

    Marco Scutaro drinking in raindrops in 2012 NLCS Game 7

    What I was wondering, less than one month ago: Where was the Torture? The Giants clinched the West so early, the world seemed upside-down.

    But through the National League Division Series against the Cincinnati Reds, and the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Giants have shown that even though they have so many new cast members, they all know the script: Torture.

    Having fallen behind two games to none against the Reds, the Giants managed to come all the way back. They proceeded to drop three of the first four games to the Cards, and once again won three straight to take the pennant.

    Memo to Bruce Bochy and the boys: Please just win this next series early!

    I had great fun the other day discussing this and other weighty matters on Michael Krasny‘s excellent program Forum on KQED. (Krasny graciously said that “Giants Past and Present” is “one of the best books about the Giants.”)  You can listen to the show here:

    The show opened with Giants’ President Larry Baer, and you could really hear how much fun he’s having. Larry is a lifelong Giants fan in his dream job, and you can’t help but smile every time you see him. Then Michael led a spirited discussion with me, KNBR’s awesome Marty Lurie, and San Jose Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy. I sure learned a lot listening to those guys – especially when Marty told us that, however bad Pete Kozma played shorstop for the Cardinals in the NLCS, he was not as bad as the Washington Senators’ Roger Peckinpaugh in the 1925 World Series, who made eight errors! (Another highlight: Marty let me try on his 2010 World Series ring – and it is a thing of beauty!)

    One thought I had that I did not get to share: As we discussed the Giants, and beautiful AT&T Park, I wanted to give props to General Manager Brian Sabean for building a team perfect for its ballpark. Instead of going out and signing home run hitters, who only get frustrated with the park’s wide open spaces, Sabean brought in gap hitters like Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro and Gregor Blanco. You could put Melky Cabrera in there too (even though we don’t really like to talk about him any more), and it looks like it’ll be a good fit for the Brandons – Belt and Crawford. Need I say Buster Posey?

    And maybe, if Hunter Pence hits more line drives like his famed “triple double” from game 7 of the NLCS – the ball that hit the bat three times – instead of swinging for the fences, the Giants will have the ingredients necessary to foil those big bopping Tigers.

    After all, Marty Lurie viewed Pence’s lucky-breaking line drive as karmic payback for Willie McCovey’s smash that ended the 1962 World Series. No one could have hit that ball any harder, but it went straight to the Yankees’ Bobby Richardson. Pence’s ball curved away from Kozma, and the Giants were in business.

    It’s good to be good. But sometimes it’s better to be lucky.

    Even if it’s a little Torturous.

    Orange October

    Kruk and Kuip know Torture when they see it. (Thanks to the Facebook group, “Giants baseball… torture.”)

    Once again, the Giants are roaring into October, and the diehards are ready for another magical run. I sure am. But I can’t help but note that things feel different this time.

    For one thing: Where is the Torture?

    And for another: What happened to our lovable band of castoffs and misfits?

    The Giants of 2010 knew how to break a curse. They took all the Torture of the past half-century-plus in San Francisco — all the second place finishes of the 1960s, McCovey’s line drive, Jose Oquendo, Candy Maldonado, Dusty Baker and Russ Ortiz — and they owned it. When Duane Kuiper coined his slogan in May of that season, “Giants Baseball: It’s Torture!,” he gave the team a rallying cry that told the world, we don’t care how many times we bring it to the brink, we can win.

    No one personified Torture more than Brian Wilson. He became the face of the franchise, muscle-bound, and weird beyond words, stalking to the mound, throwing heat – and giving up the walks that would bring opponents tantalizingly close, only to slam the door on such Torture. And it all flowed from Wilson: His pal, Pat Burrell, donning the leather straps as the Machine; Burrell’s pal, Aubrey Huff, donning the satin thong that assured the postseason; and the rest of the castoffs, midseason acquisitions like Javier Lopez, Ramon Ramirez, and Cody Ross, who was claimed off waivers and went on to author some improbably insane postseason heroics.

    The Giants kept their team remarkably intact in 2011, and it got them nowhere. But they did learn something important that season: the importance of Buster. When Posey went down in May, the Giants were essentially done.

    I’ve often felt that Posey could be the Giants’ Derek Jeter. Like Jeter, he provided the missing ingredient to bring his team a championship in his rookie year. He is calm, poised beyond his years, confident and capable. I don’t think anyone would argue with the Giants naming Buster their captain.

    And that’s where the big difference between 2010 and 2012 comes in. Instead of Buster quietly fitting in among the Freak, the Beard and the rest of the castoffs, he is the undisputed leader of this year’s squad. The Giants have a much more understated, workmanlike approach, exemplified for me by three young, strong, silent Southerners – Posey, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. I think (warning: armchair psychoanalysis ahead) this may be why Tim Lincecum is struggling; the free-spirited, pot-smoking, long-haired Freak is no longer at home in his own clubhouse.

    One of the interesting things about this switch in team personality hit me in August, when Carl Steward, a fine columnist for the Bay Area Newspaper Group (aka the San Jose Oakland Contra Costa Marin Mercury Times News Journal), took note of the Giants hitting a real low point in the season. They had been swept by the Dodgers at home. They looked like they couldn’t score runs. Steward wondered if Coors Field could prove a tonic (it did), and if Posey and Cain were too quiet to fire up the team the way Huff and Burrell did two years earlier. Steward wrote:

    Good teams need strong, occasionally outspoken leaders. Leadership can’t always be by setting a good example aka Cain/Posey. Sometimes you have to get in players’ ears. Sometimes you need to throw a fit or berate one of us media types after a loss. Sometimes you have to remind teammates that it’s baseball and it’s supposed to be fun as you set off a cherry bomb in the middle of the clubhouse, or hide a four-day-old chicken neck in somebody’s locker.

    It may be Cain’s team and Posey’s team, but they’re the strong, silent, stable types. The Giants need somebody right now to throw the cherry bomb. Make somebody laugh. Make somebody ticked off. Become the human defibrillator.

    Not only did the Giants start hitting at Coors, but they got their cherry bomb two weeks later, when Melky Cabrera was suspended.

    He was cast off. The Giants were misfits no more. And never mind Torture, they overtook the Dodgers and clinched the division with 10 games to spare.

    I can’t wait to see what they do in October.

    Torture, again

    My son and I in the stands at AT&T Park on May 6, 2012 - a "Torture" classic in which Giants closer Santiago Casilla coughed up a ninth inning lead to the Brewers, only to see the Giants win it in the 11th on a Hector Sanchez bases loaded single.

    Nearly two months into the 2012 season, I think we’re getting a pretty good sense of what we’ve got in this year’s Giants team. It both pains and pleases me to report that we are not yet ready to retire the label the Giants earned the past two seasons: Torture.

    Yes, Torture with a capital T and that rhymes with B and that stands for Bochy…. And Brandon…. And Bad Hitting and Bungled Baseballs. Yet another season of stellar pitching is at risk of fizzling in a .500 rathole because the offense and the defense don’t adequately support the aces on the hill. The Giants’ staff is the envy of baseball, and if you doubt that, think of it this way: What manager wouldn’t want his biggest pitching problem to be – Tim Lincecum?

    Plus, injuries keep threatening to sink the season before it even gets rolling, whether it’s Brian Wilson going down for his second Tommy John surgery, or Pablo Sandoval showing a new disadvantage to switch-hitting by breaking the same bone in his left hand that he broke in his right hand last year.

    So while so many of my fellow fans sink into that funk of watching our version of the Mudville Nine rally only to lose again, I see the potential for another glorious 2010-type season. In fact, think of how torturous 2010 really was. For starters, 2010 was the year Duane Kuiper hung his sputtering Torture moniker on the orange-and-black after an endless supply of nail-biters.

    That season’s opening day lineup included names like John Bowker, Mark DeRosa, Aaron Rowand and Bengie Molina. (Good guys, but do any fans miss them?) In 2010, the Giants trailed the Padres nearly all year (and the 2010 Pads were a better team than the 2012 Dodgers, in my opinion – much better pitching, fueled by a lights-out bullpen). Pablo Sandoval suffered not only a sophomore slump, but threatened to become the Kung Fu Hippo. And remember August? Just when you want your team to make a stretch run, the Giants’ pitching staff began to unravel. They led the league in walks. Lincecum went through the first prolonged struggle in his charmed career.

    And we never really came to love Edgar Renteria until his very last game in a Giants’ uniform.

    Happy endings like 2010’s enable us to forget all the struggles that comprise a baseball season. Before a game I went to last year, Giants’ coach Tim Flannery addressed a crowd of Little Leaguers, telling them that the secret to baseball success is “tricking your mind into staying positive.” In 2010, he pointed out, the world champion Giants lost 70 games.

    Maybe I’m just tricking my own mind here, but I find a lot to be positive about in 2012.

    • First, and foremost, Buster Posey is back and better than ever.
    • To our great relief as well, Buster at last has a backup, Hector Sanchez, who can really hit. It feels fine whenever Bochy wants to give Buster a rest, or a day at first base.
    • Melky Cabrera is a true major league superstar – and Pablo Sandoval is on his way there. Angel Pagan is solid, speedy, and a team leader. (I’m biased toward Angel, since I just wrote a story about him for the Giants magazine – look for it at the ballpark this summer.)
    • Melky and Angel aren’t the only great additions. Gregor Blanco is a revelation. Joaquin Arias fills the utility role nicely. Ryan Theriot is a great guy to have on the bench.
    • Bruce Bochy is getting comfortable trusting his young guys, and Brandons Belt and Crawford are starting to come around. (By-the-By, what is it with the Base-Ball Giants and the initials BB? From Bobby Bonds to Barry Bonds, from Bob Brenly and Brett Butler to Bruce Bochy and Brandon Belt, we love shooting BBs here in Baghdad by the Bay. Then again, Brian Bocock couldn’t carry the bat of old New York Giant Hall-of-Famer Beauty Bancroft.)

    I love Giants fans, but I do find it funny that they complained so long to “Free Belt,” yet they show as little patience with the miscues of youth as they used to accuse Bochy and Brian Sabean of having. You can’t have it both ways. We are spoiled by guys like Posey and Sandoval, who hit well right from the start, but instead we ought to consider the example of Melky Cabrera, who struggled and bounced around for years until he found his stroke last year in Kansas City.

    So don’t get down. If the 2010 Giants could rally from 7.5 games back on July 4 – to say nothing of forbears like the 1951 team, which was 13 back on Aug. 11 –this year’s model can certainly overcome a May deficit. It may take some more Sabean midseason magic. It may take some help in getting the Dodgers to fall to earth. It may require the folks at Dignity Health (cue Renel: formerly Catholic Healthcare West, the official health care provider of your San Francisco Giants) to restore both dignity and health to a team that needs both.

    Whatever it takes, though, remember this: With a second wild card this year, it’s easier than ever to make the playoffs. And once in the playoffs, pitching can carry you a long, long way.

    Right Timmy?

    RIP, 2011 baseball season

    The funny thing is, we thought 2010 was “Torture.”

    We could laugh about Torture when the Giants managed to win the World Series. But in 2011, we became re-acquainted with our old friend Torture when the Giants suddenly stopped winning all those walk-off, one-run ballgames. It seemed they just stopped scoring runs, period, and the challenge of stringing together three hits in a row became an insurmountable obstacle.

    And 2011 truly defined Torture, Giants-style, with a seemingly endless array of injuries. None hurt more than Buster Posey’s season-ending loss in that eminently avoidable crash at home plate back in May. But it was equally painful to see rock-solid Brian Wilson go down, and Pablo Sandoval’s fabulous comeback momentarily derailed. And of course it turned out Freddy Sanchez never did vacate his room in the Hotel Disabled, moving right back in on schedule. (Barry Zito and Jonathan Sanchez, those injuries I can forgive.)

    I admire the way the Giants never gave up. I like that Brian Sabean brought in Carlos Beltran and Jeff Keppinger. (Orlando Cabrera, I was not so crazy about. I understand why Brandon Crawford couldn’t stay – you don’t want a rookie falling into a double digit batting average and thinking he will never hit big league pitching – but if you have to hire a shortstop who can’t hit, couldn’t you at least bring back Omar Vizquel?) I liked that the team stayed in the race til the final week.

    Hey, I liked that the Atlanta Braves collapsed and the Diamondbacks never showed anything too dominant, enabling that race to linger.

    But it sure has been Torture watching a postseason without the Giants, especially one in which the starting pitchers all seem highly inferior to Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong. I have to feel our guys would be giving any team in the playoffs a good run once again, if they’d only gotten there.

    So now I’ve tossed this year’s Sporting Greens into the hot stove, and am ready to burnish my optimism for 2012. Re-sign Beltran. Get the Brandons – Belt and Crawford – into a big league boot camp all winter. Make Aubrey Huff and Brett Pill battle it out for first base in Spring Training. Sign Coco Crisp. (Let the A’s have San Jose in exchange for some Moneyball mojo.)

    The Giants are not too far from putting together another run at the title. I cannot wait until Spring!

     

    What, me worry?

    The champs, continued

    Here we are, a month into the season, and the question keeps coming up: How do we feel about the Giants? They are not exactly sweeping through the National League the way they swept through the playoffs last year. Should we worry?

    No. And yes. The Giants are doing everything just the way we remember, if not better. Nothing came easy to them last year. Remember torture? This season opened with more of that Torture (with a capital T and that rhymes with G and that stands for Giants). Losses in L.A., blown saves against St. Louis, narrow, late inning victories (and losses) and then a sweep at home by the hated Braves brought all of those memories back.

    Of course, we have many reasons to feel this year would be better. The great young pitchers have another year experience under their belt, and keep improving. The lineup, in flux all of last season, appears settled – Brian Sabean won’t have to scramble to add every warm bat he can find, as he did last year with Messrs. Burrell, Guillen and Ross. Ditto the bullpen. Buster Posey should also get better with experience, and if unloading Bengie Molina last year to make room for Posey was addition by subtraction, the Giants took the concept even farther this year, with Pablo Sandoval shedding what, 50 pounds, and going from a sure first-pitch double-play to one of the most feared hitters in the league. And Brandon Belt could be the next Posey.

    Then again, we’re Giants fans. We have many reasons to feel this year will be worse, too. The pitchers never had to work as hard as they did last year – could they be burned out? Miguel Tejada looks to be a serious liability at shortstop. Injuries are rearing their ugly head, striking Brian Wilson, Barry Zito, Cody Ross, Andres Torres.

    And yet, so far this year as last, the misfits keep fitting in. Down goes Torres, up comes Rowand. Wilson isn’t laid low for long. Ross’s absence makes room for Belt, and Mark DeRosa makes the most of his at-bats. Even Tejada surprises with some heroics reminiscent of his Oakland days.

    It’s a long season. It’s a great ride. Go ahead, torture me. I know I can take it.

    Hallelujah, Giants!

    If there’s any doubt that going to a baseball game can be a near-religious experience, the Giants removed it this weekend.

    It felt like the Church of Baseball when we had a moment of silence at the home opener for the Giants who died in the past year, from Gino Cimoli (first batter on the West Coast) to Duke Snider (“Yes, Duke Snider was a Giant, although only briefly,” said Jon Miller, reverentially). It felt like it, too, when we had another moment for Brian Stowe, our fellow fan who lies comatose in a hospital after his beating at the hand of Dodger fans.

    And there were plenty of rapturous, euphoric moments, as the team was announced one by one on Opening Day, and the championship flag went up, and again the following day, as the players received their rings. The best line, of course, went to Duane Kuiper: “The rings, the tuxes – no, Mike (Krukow) and I are not here to renew our vows.”

    I have to say, the Giants did everything right in those ceremonies. I was not immune to the occasional lump in the throat. For some reason, it especially hits me each time Tim Lincecum is announced. He always gets the loudest cheers, and I guess it’s emotional because he is so small, yet so gutsy, and carries the whole team on his back at such critical times. I was at his 14-strikeout gem against the Braves in the NLDS, which gives me what I feel is an intimate connection to his greatness, and then the way he outpitched Cliff Lee in Game 5 of the World Series in Texas last year just elevated him to another plane. Freak, indeed.

    And then, of course, no planned or contrived moments of wonder and awe could compete with the Giants on the field themselves. Of course Brian Wilson blew the save, reminding us all of the Torture we endured in 2010. We joke about it now, but it is painful! And then, of course, the gutty gritty Giants never gave up, no matter how many rallies were squelched, ultimately prevailing, because they are not going to lose their first game at AT&T Park since the World Series, the game in which Wilson dramatically ran that championship flag across the field, through the stands, and up the pole.

    Nor were they going to lose the game after the ring ceremony. I’m reading “The Hobbit” with my son right now, and the Giants’ rings – won by magic – seem as mystical as the ring that Bilbo Baggins uses to get out of so many jams in that book. And so, just when it looked like Matt Cain was going to fall victim to a lack of run support again, of course the Giants came back and won, but only when down to their last strike.

    And how sweet was it that the newest Giants did it – that Miguel Tejada got the clutch hit, and Brandon Belt scored the winning run. That was their baptism into baseball, Giants’ style – castoffs, yes, but winning Dirty Dozen style nonetheless.

    Bring on the rest of the season.

    And pray.

    That sweet sweet Torture!

    I have just attended two of the greatest, most torturous Giants games of my life. To see these amazing ceremonies beforehand, with the flag going up and the rings going out, and then to see the Giants battle and grind, and take it to the last at-bat, night after night, just reminds me of all the things I love about baseball.

    It’s a team without superstars. A team that’s never out of it. Pick it up when one guy struggles.

    And keep the drama high, the fans on the edge of their seat, and never do anything the easy way.

    I hope to write something more reflective, but I just needed to get that thought out now. I don’t know if I can take 154 more games like that!

    Why torture means the Giants will win it all

    Dan Fost at Game 3 of the NLCS with a great Giants fan. Her sign reads: "All of us are created equal. Some of us become GIANTS."

    With the World Series that opened in San Francisco tonight, the Giants started battling some old ghosts. The team had been greeted with a ticker tape parade on its arrival in The City in 1958, but it hasn’t had one since, as it’s always come up just shy of winning it all.

    But this year feels different. I know, I know, we should not get ahead of ourselves and predict a Giant victory – but I can’t help but feel that this team has what it takes for that ultimate Champagne shower. And believe me, I am one of those fans who is reminding everyone that, even as the Giants were romping in Game One, the Rangers had lost Game One to the Yankees, too.

    But the tension at the end of tonight’s game – tension that should not exist in a game where you have an ace pitcher and score 11 runs – reminded me of the essential difference between this Giant team and all the other San Francisco squads that fell short is: Torture.

    Yes, that word. Giant fans know it all too well. But we kept it in our closets. It lurked underneath our orange jerseys, the ones with Mays or McCovey or Clark or Bonds on the back – all those Giants who never won World Series in San Francisco (Mays won one in New York). We did not wear it on our sleeves, like Red Sox fans. We did not have a Curse that we could curse, like the Cubs and the Red Sox and the White Sox.

    Yet this year, Duane Kuiper – he of the one career home run – put a stamp on the Giants early, recognizing a team that would win or lose its games by one Torturous run. “Giants baseball!” he would declare after such a finish. “Torture!”

    The Giants adopted the phrase. It even started turning up in manager Bruce Bochy’s postgame interviews. Kuiper told me in September that the Giants organization wanted him to tone it down, but even if he stopped, his partner Mike Krukow – sunny Kruk, who always predicts the possibility of a pennant – picked up on the theme. And Torture was too true not to stick.

    Anyway, these Giants have barely been in town long enough to know the Tortured history. The entire starting lineup basically arrived either this year or last. Matt Cain is the longest tenured Giant, and he just turned 26 and made his debut in 2005. No one knows 2002, to say nothing of 2003 (Jose Cruz!), or 2000, or the other epic choke jobs that long defined Torture for the fans.

    But now we are buying Torture T-shirts and laughing in the face of Torture — at least, when it isn’t Torturing us, with Brian Wilson walking the go-ahead run in the ninth inning and then getting a 3-2 count on the Phillies most dangerous hitter.

    Of course, if they don’t win, I anticipate it’ll be in pretty Torturous fashion as well. The people who proclaimed the Torture to be over after the Giants won the division learned the hard way that it doesn’t end; as Ashkon sings in the YouTube video that defines this playoff run, “it goes on and on and on and on.”

    Torturous Giant losses are nothing new. They go back to the team’s earliest days. Fred Merkle failed to touch second base on a game-winning hit, costing the Giants a pennant. Fred Snodgrass muffed a fly ball, costing the team the 1912 World Series. There are botched rundowns at home plate, bad hop grounders in the ninth inning of seventh games, and years of devastating defeats to the Yankees, who taunted them from right across the Harlem River.

    And that was nothing. Once the Giants got to San Francisco, they raised Torture to an art form.

    They lost their first West Coast Series to, yes, the Yankees, in a heartbreaker that still stings: a 1-0 Game 7 loss to the Yankees defined by the final pitch, which resulted a smash off the bat of Hall of Famer Willie McCovey that somehow landed in Bobby Richardson’s glove, instead of scoring the tying and winning runs from second and third bases. A team full of Hall of Famers never made it back, instead taking five straight second place finishes, often to the hated Dodgers.

    And never mind other ignominies, like 1987 (Candy Maldonado! Jose Oquendo!) – the Giants’ World Series experience has always been an exercise in creative Torture, as if devised by some Folsom Street dominatrix: a four-game sweep in the earthquake marred 1989 Series; and a horrific meltdown in the 2002 Series when – up 3 games to 2, and with a 5-0 lead and eight outs to go in Game 6, the Giants managed to cough up the lead, the game, and the whole World Series.

    That sort of wrenching loss has long been a Giants hallmark, even when they were based in New York, but the San Francisco iteration has turned it into an art form.

    Yet along came the 2010 Giants, and we are believers all over again. And with the team back in the Fall Classic, I thought it prudent to look for historical comparisons and calculate the reasons why the Giants will – or won’t – win the Series this year.

    Here – in honor of Cody Ross, and the most superstitious of sports, are 13 reasons why the Giants will win:

    • It’s Magic Inside. Corny? Yes. Silly marketing-speak? You bet. But how else to explain how this ragtag group – these so-called knuckleheads, the so-called Dirty Dozen – could actually come from so far back to win the National League pennant? Whoever came up with the Magic campaign must have known something.       Baseball is the most superstitious of sports. Why else would Aubrey Huff of the Giants parade around in a red thong?
    • It’s Torture Inside. This team has embraced the Torture. For years, the Giants have denied their cursed position, unlike the Red Sox or Cubs. (I have a t-shirt purchased at Wrigley Field that reads: Chicago Cubs, World Champions, 1908.) But once you take ownership of something, you can start to use it. Owning the Torture means knowing that Brian Wilson can walk two guys in the ninth inning, because even though our ulcers start screaming, he’s going to get the called third strike and save the game.
    • Curse-busters. If you’re going to end a curse, it helps to have people who have done it before. Like Juan Uribe and Aaron Rowand, veterans of the 2005 White Sox, which lifted the cloud of the 1919 Black Sox scandal in winning the club’s first Series in 86 years. (Javier Lopez pitched for the 2007 world champion Red Sox, but that was a second title for Boston, which broke its curse in 2004.)
    • Curse opponents. If the Giants are cursed, the Rangers have it even worse. This squad has never even been to the World Series, either in its first incarnation as the Washington Senators (the second team with that name, established in 1961 after the original Senators became the Minnesota Twins), or in its many years trying to convince Texas football fans to brave 100 degree temperatures and watch baseball. Sorry, Rangers. It’s football season now.
    • Players with no sense of history. Look at the heroes who joined the team this year: Aubrey Huff, Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Cody Ross, Ramon Ramirez, Javier Lopez. Last year brought Juan Uribe, Edgar Renteria, and Andres Torres. No one on this team was here for Game 6 of the 2002 World Series. They don’t know that they can’t win.
    • Revenge for 2002. The Giants are one-by-one erasing the memory of 2002 by dashing the latest dreams of former Angels David Eckstein (2010 Padres), Troy Glaus (2010x Braves) and now old teammate Bengie Molina (2010 Rangers).
    • Will Clark. Will the Thrill – in many ways, the ultimate Giant – hit a home run off Nolan Ryan in his first major league at bat, and Ryan now owns the Texas Rangers.
    • The Giants have some unfinished business with the Washington Senators. Okay, maybe a stretch – I mean, the Giants never played the Rangers’ actual precursors.  But the last time the Giants played the original Senators, when John McGraw managed the “Jints” and Walter Johnson pitched for Washington, the Senators won their only Series when a routine grounder hit a pebble and skipped over Giants Hall of Fame third baseman Freddie Lindstrom, knotting the score and setting the stage for another bad-hop grounder that won the game and the Series in the 12th inning.
    • The Yankee factor. The Rangers beat the Yankees – just like the 2004 Red Sox and 2002 Angels did in overcoming their curses. But the 2005 White Sox didn’t need to beat the Yankees. And the 2007 Tampa Bay Rays beat the Yankees and still managed to lose to the Phillies.
    • The Texas factor. The 2005 White Sox won the Series by beating a team from Texas as cursed then as the Rangers are now – the Houston Astros.
    • George Bush used to own the Rangers. ‘Nuff said.
    • Ex-Cub factor: This rule of baseball, nearly immutable, decrees that the team with more ex-Cubs will lose. The Giants have Mike Fontenot, and Mark DeRosa has been out all year with an injury. The Rangers, though, have Andres Blanco and Clay Rapada – and the Cubs originally drafted Josh Hamilton, the Rangers’ best player.
    • The underdog factor. The last time the Giants won the World Series, of course, no one gave them a chance against the Indians who destroyed the American League in 1954. And the Giants won four straight.

    But of course, don’t take my word for any of this. That’s why they play the games. Which will, of course, be Torture.

    Pennant fever! It’s torture!

    I love the way Duane Kuiper has characterized this Giants’ season. He first nailed it early in the year, when heart-stopping, heat-throwing closer Brian Wilson nearly blew a lead in that inimitable way of his. But it describes everything the Giants are doing to us – the way they lost all those low-scoring games early in the year when the pitchers were brilliant and the hitters anemic, and then lost all those high-scoring games in August, when the hitters scorched everything and the pitchers fooled no one.

    And yet the Giants stayed in the hunt, and kept us on the edge of our seats. And now they are in an honest-to-goodness race for the playoffs, 3 games out of first place and 1.5 games out of the Wild Card lead, with only 28 games to go.

    Here we go again! I’ve already done it, even though I should know better – I’ve given my heart to this team, after all the times it has broken it in the past. I can’t say I’ll be satisfied with a near-miss of the playoffs; I want post-season baseball at AT&T Park. It is within reach.

    Having said that, I want to report (since I have not updated this in ages) that I have had a glorious summer, filled with baseball games, book events, and family vacations from coast to coast. I will try to offer up a recap at some point, but a few baseball highlights include a book party in Portland, a pair of Mariners-Yankees games in Seattle (one with Steve Steinberg,  co-author of “1921,” with whom I’ll be appearing in New York City in November), the SABR convention in Atlanta in August (stay indoors!), a brutal, sweltering Giant loss to the Braves at Turner Field, and a Bulls game in Durham, NC. And – I now have a bobblehead of Joe DiMaggio in a San Francisco Seals uniform, thanks to the Giants!

    What could be better than that?

    Ask me in October…