Giants fundamentally sound from top to bottom
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There are things the San Francisco Giants did that everyone can appreciate. These are basic baseball fundamentals that can be measured and replayed, fundamentals that show up in the box score to be debated and admired.
"Little things, we did well," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Tuesday morning. "It's the way we played the game of baseball."
Four months later, they're still clear in his mind, now and probably forever. For instance, Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro instinctively cut off a relay throw from left fielder Gregor Blanco in a scoreless Game 2 of the 2012 World Series. He'd judged the play perfectly and took the throw, turned and threw out Prince Fielder at home plate in a game the Giants eventually won, 2-0.
There was another moment like that, this one in the top of the 10th inning of a tied Game 4. Shortstop Brandon Crawford, a left-handed hitter, managed to lay down a nice bunt against Tigers left-hander Phil Coke. His bunt moved Ryan Theriot into scoring position, and Scutaro followed with a single to score what turned out to be the winning run.
These are the kinds of plays baseball people absolutely love. They're the ones they practice over and over, the ones that sometimes get lost amid the moonshot home runs and spectacular leaping catches.
"The way we executed fundamentals played a major part in our success," Bochy said. "These little things, they should be proud of, and I know the coaching staff should be, because they worked hard at it all year, and it paid off for us."
But there was something more at work with these Giants. They were smartly constructed by general manager Brian Sabean, with an Angel Pagan here, a Hunter Pence there.
There was Buster Posey returning from a gruesome injury and Gregor Blanco proving he belonged in the big leagues. There were young guys like Brandon Belt and Crawford establishing themselves once and for all. Sabean changed the mix during the season by acquiring Pence and Scutaro, and both fit perfectly. Somewhere along the way, something special grew.
"A very unselfish group," Bochy said. "So much unity. Cared about each other. They set aside their own agendas and asked what's best for the club, what can they do to contribute. I put guys in different roles, whether it was bullpen by committee or Timmy [Lincecum] going to the bullpen. Not once did somebody come in and complain. They had one common goal in mind."
Bochy believes those things were important when the Giants found themselves having lost the first two games at home in the National League Division Series against the Reds and then dug themselves a 3-1 deficit against the Cardinals in the NL Championship Series.
They rallied twice, and then won the World Series for the second time in three seasons. Now the Giants stand atop their game, the closest thing baseball has to a dynasty. They're a model franchise from top to bottom. Sabean finally is getting the recognition he has long deserved for being able to identify talent and construct a roster. And Bochy -- a baseball lifer, a man enormously respected by his peers, a man who treats players with respect, but is also demanding of what he will and won't accept, a man who runs a game better than almost anyone -- sits atop his profession.
In the wake of winning two championships in three years, the Giants did something championship teams don't always do.
That is, Sabean left it alone. He looked at how his mix of players changed in the previous 12 months, and he liked what he had put together. He thought that instead of changing the group, the best strategy would be to give them another ride together.
So they're back, 21 of the 25 World Series players. One of the new Giants is anything but. He's Andres Torres, who spent three seasons in San Francisco before being traded to the Mets for Pagan last winter.
He attended one of the Giants' postseason games against the Cardinals, and when the season ended, began lobbying to return.
"It's not like the group has been together for four or five years," Sabean said. "Pagan's been here a year. Pence and Scutaro a half-year or less. We've got four young players in Belt, Crawford, [Hector] Sanchez and [George] Kontos. In a lot of ways, it's comforting for everybody to have the same group you ended the season with. It's not like it was a group that was at the end of a cycle or end of a run. It started a run, and hopefully we can continue it."
Sabean's worries are the usual ones -- health and organizational depth. This camp will be about sorting out depth behind the 25-man roster. That's why 24-year-old right-hander Chris Heston, who was dominant at Double-A last season, will get some important innings.
Complacency is not an issue. The Giants simply have gone about their business the way the best professionals usually do. As reliever Jeremy Affeldt said, "We enjoyed winning the World Series again, but then we had to get back to business. We're the champions of last season."
"I'm energized," Pence said. "When you win a World Series, there are high expectations, but at the end of the day, we just know what we're capable of. We're going to do everything we can to give it that same run."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.