Monday, October 25, 2010

"The Giants Win The Pennant!", the Rangers Dust the Damn Yankees ... And I Feel Fine

I don't have any personal attachment to either the Texas Rangers or San Francisco Giants, but am glad both have made it to the World Series.

Before the League Championship Series, it seemed the common consensus was that the Yankees and Phillies would defeat the Rangers and Giants, respectively, to create a rematch of the 2009 World Series, won by the Yankees for their 27th championship.

The Phillies won it all in 2008 and both they and the Yankees had better season records than either the Rangers or Giants.

And according to Terry Boers--who along with Dan Bernstein hosts a Chicago sports talk show I enjoy on The Score 670--the Yankees vs. Rangers was the World Series that most baseball fans wanted to see. While Terry did indicate he wouldn't be surprised if the Rangers and Giants advanced, he certainly wasn't speaking for me in terms of the desired Series duo.

Although the Yankees and Phillies certainly appeared to be the strongest teams and are loaded with pitchers and hitters that would have made for great match-ups and drama, I'm happy to see two underdogs and relative newcomers reach baseball's final stage.

While the Giants were in the World Series in 2002 and almost won, that was amid the stench of the Barry Bonds era, and they haven't won it all since 1954, when they were still in New York. The Rangers have never been to the World Series, and going back to their days in Washington, DC, were the longest-running franchise to hold that distinction.

Though the Rangers vs. Giants isn't apt to be a national ratings bonanza, I won't be shedding any tears for Fox as I enjoy a World Series with welcome freshness and intriguing storylines. The Game 1 pitching dual between the Giants' Tim Lincecum and the Rangers' Cliff Lee--which theoretically can repeat itself in games 4 and 7--has the potential of being one for the ages (the two pitchers are pictured at top).

Lincecum, who at 26 looks like an undernourished skate park teen, has won the last two National League Cy Young Awards and is the ace of a fine young Giants pitching staff. He is 2-1 in the playoffs this year with a 1.93 ERA.

Lee seemed to get relatively little national attention when he went 22-3 in 2008 and won the AL Cy Young for the Cleveland Indians. But after being traded to the Phillies in 2009 and then, after starting 2010 with the Mariners, was acquired by the Rangers, he is in the midst of one of the most impressive postseason pitching runs in history (and due for a huge payday from someone at season's end). Over the past two postseasons, Lee has gone 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA and his teams have won all eight games he has started.

Offensively, the Rangers are led by MVP candidate Josh Hamilton, a former #1 overall pick whose career has been resuscitated after being derailed by substance abuse demons. For the Giants, it was nice to see ex-White Sox shortstop Juan Uribe hit the NLCS-winning homer on Saturday in Game 6 after driving in the winning run in Game 4 with a sacrifice fly. And catcher Buster Posey seems to have become the team leader and a primary offensive force in his first full season.

I was out at a show on Saturday night and didn't see or even hear Uribe's home run. But I was in the car for the ninth inning and was captivated by the action and the announcing of ESPN's Dan Shulman and Dave Campbell. The Giants, playing at Philadelphia, had a 3-2 series league and Uribe's home run in the top of the 8th gave them a 3-2 lead in the game. In the top of the 9th, they loaded the bases, but their closer Brian Wilson, who had entered the game in the bottom of the 8th, was due up.

Giants manager, Bruce Bochy--who to my own surprise was my pre-season pick for NL Manager of the Year, though I also predicted that the Rangers' Ron Washington would be the first manager fired this season and got much else wrong--resisted any possible temptation to pinch-hit for Wilson in an attempt to pad the lead. Wilson made an out and then proceeded to get into trouble in the bottom of the ninth. But with Shulman and Campbell keeping me properly riveted, Wilson faced the Phillies best hitter, Ryan Howard, with two outs and two men on base. Howard worked Wilson to a full count, and with a well-placed hit could have forced a Game 7, but Wilson struck him out--looking--on a breaking ball at the knees.

I still haven't seen it, but don't need to. That's the beauty of a great radio broadcast, and I couldn't help but think of the famed "The Giants Win the Pennant!" call by Russ Hodges in 1951. (This ending wasn't quite as dramatic, nor was the Giants' run to even make the playoffs, although they were 6 games out on August 28th).

That said, I intend to be watching when Lincecum and Lee take the mound in Game 1 on Wednesday.

Batter up.

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