The Cutoff Man: Champions are built on pitching

After the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers clinched their respective pennants and punched their tickets to the World Series, the scales appeared tipped in the Rangers’ favor. While the Giants had managed to eke their way by Atlanta in the Division Series and then Philadelphia in the Championship Series, the Rangers had essentially pounded their way past the pitching of the Rays and Yankees, jumping on every opportunity they were given to come through in the clutch. The Rangers’ army of pitchers included veteran postseason stud Cliff Lee, brought onboard at the trading deadline for just this purpose, and Colby Lewis, who quickly earned his own “stud” title after dominating the Yankees twice in the Championship Series. The Giants’ pitching corps was led by Tim Lincecum, who after a seesaw regular season had been dominant in the postseason so far, and Matt Cain, who had allowed no earned runs through his first three postseason starts; the Giants also had rookie Madison Bumgarner, who had performed well enough up to that point when called upon, and Jonathan “Ollie Perez” Sanchez, who despite having great stuff at times could not stay consistent to save his life (read: postseason).
The Rangers clearly had the superior hitters going into it. They seemed to have the superior battle-tested pitchers as well, with their staff having convincingly shut down the Yankees, but one couldn’t just chalk the series up as Rangers hitters and Rangers pitchers v. Giants, so Rangers hitters v. Giants pitchers it was.

But a World Series is just as much won on great pitching as it is lost on bad pitching. The Giants, who had won only one postseason game by more than one run and hadn't scored more than six in a game so far, jumped on Cliff Lee in Game 1 to win 11–7. They then toppled the Texas bullpen in Game 2 to win 9–0, sending a message that they were going to take every opportunity afforded to them — every bad pitch, every error, every walk — and make the Rangers pay. The series headed to Texas with the Rangers hitters hoping that some home cooking could bring back the spark that had driven them through their first seven postseason wins but had left them high and dry in the World Series thus far.

The first World Series game played in Arlington was all the Rangers had hoped it’d be, with owner and Rangers great Nolan Ryan being one of the people throwing out the first pitch, and after much pregame fanfare, a 4–2 Rangers victory. Colby Lewis had once again come through for Texas, and although the runs came from an unlikely source in first baseman Mitch Moreland, the Rangers took what they could get to head into Game Four looking to tie up the Series at two games apiece and, hopefully, take all three games in their home park to head back to San Francisco with a lead in the series.

The Giants’ Bumgarner, though, lived up to the surprising amount of hype that surrounded him all postseason with what can safely be called the performance of his life. The 21-year-old rookie threw eight beautifully scoreless innings, burying the lifeless Texas bats on merely three hits before closer Brian Wilson slammed the coffin on a 4–0 Texas loss. The Giants then wrapped up their first World Championship in 56 years with a 3–1 victory in Game 5, taking advantage of Cliff Lee’s one mistake — a fat pitch that World Series MVP Edgar Renteria sent into the stands for a three-run homer.

Going into the World Series, it was hard not to pick Texas after that team’s offensive performances in its earlier postseason series. But fans forgot that to get to the World Series, the Giants had already shut down a powerhouse Phillies lineup, including holding first baseman Ryan Howard to no home runs and no RBIs the entire series. It was that grit and that ability to take advantage of opportunities that ultimately drove the Giants to this World Championship and, if their core is kept intact, many more in the future.