Sports Corner

Nice guys finish first

The third World Series parade in five years still draws the crowds.

Madison Bumgarner asked a cop if he could mount a horse and ride up Market Street, where confetti canons were set to blast black, orange, white strips of paper, and all the while rain showers poured down. Alas, caution did not allow Bumgarner to ride up Market on a living animal. They let him saddle up for a photo op, but then he dismounted and joined his wife on a flatbed truck.

It was our third parade celebrating the ultimate triumph over the past five baseball seasons. There hasn’t been so much ownage over the world of baseball in a long time. The franchises that have accomplished it are the Yankees (multiple times), the A’s of the early ’70s, the St. Louis Cardinals in the early ’40s, the Red Sox from a hundred years ago, and the Philadelphia A’s from just a bit over a hundred years ago. The Giants, the Yanks, the A’s, the Cardinals, and the Red Sox. That’s a short list of greatness.

Let’s talk about the guy with the pumpkin head: manager Bruce Bochy. In 1982 when the Mets called him up from the minors, the team didn’t have a batting helmet that his huge head could squeeze into. In the world of science there isn’t much correlation between head size and intelligence. But in the world of baseball, with manager Bruce Bochy, we have evidence to the contrary.

In the month-long 2014 championship dance through Pittsburgh, Washington, St. Louis, and Kansas City, Bruce Bochy didn’t make any managerial mistakes (other than a fetish for bringing in Hunter Strickland to try to throw fastballs past some of the game’s best fastball hitters; result: Strickland set a postseason record by surrendering six home runs).

I’m not gonna point out that with 88 wins, the Giants had the worst record of any of the 10 teams to make it to the playoffs. I’m not gonna point out that from June 9 until the end of the season the Giants lost more games than they won. I’m not gonna point out that 2012 hero Marco Scutaro got one hit all season long, and one of his practice throws knocked Brandon Belt onto the concussion list. I’m not gonna point out that Juan Perez, the Giants’ left fielder for a large chunk of playoff time, batted .170 in the regular season.

Once the Giants went up to bat in the Wild Card game against Pittsburgh, all of those tidbits evaporated like a morning fog. Brandon Crawford swatted a grand slam; Godzilla Bumgarner threw a complete-game shutout. The Giants were on their wild, too-tense-to-watch-at-times thrill ride to World Series nirvana.

Is Bruce Bochy a Hall of Famer? The short answer is yes. Nine other managers have won three World Series, and they’re all enshrined with their own heavy brass plaque at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. One fact delaying the lost-wax casting of Bochy’s head is this: 1618-1604; that’s his managerial won-lost record. In just 20 years of managing, he’s only 14 games above the definition of mediocre.

Let us rejoice in our catcher, Buster Posey, 27 years old, owner of three World Championships. Buster, who played while wracked in pain through most of the season. Buster, who amped it up in the last two months to help get the Giants into the playoffs. Buster, who caught every inning of the playoffs while his bat failed to swat anything more significant than singles. The most brutal position on the field seems to be wearing down his back, hips, and legs, and let’s hope the damage heals by next spring.

Let us rejoice in Hunter Pence. In Game 4 versus Washington, in the sixth inning, with the Giants holding onto a 2–1 lead, Jayson Werth cracked a ball deep to right. Pence raced across a hundred feet of green, and leaping — ball smacking mitt the same instant as his mitt hit the wall’s padding — he smashed back-first into the chain-link fence (where fans can watch a bit of the game for free), and he held onto the ball.

It was, perhaps, the most amazing and significant outfield play for the Giants since Willie Mays’s incredible over-the-shoulder catch in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series.

With Pence, Pablo Sandoval co-led the postseason offense. Panda has historic playoff and World Series numbers, including the third-best World Series average (minimum 40 at-bats), .426. But Game 7 of the World Series might have been Panda’s last game for our Giants. He’s a free agent. In these situations, sometimes it’s not what the player truly wants (to stay with the Giants), but the influence of those around him (relatives, agents, hangers-on). When a player comes to the conclusion that “most respect” equals “most dollars,” the player is usually gone to the largest market team.

And let us rejoice in Old Hoss/Godzilla, Mr. Madison Bumgarner. Philosophy had Aristotle, classical music had Beethoven, post-Impressionist painting had Vincent Van Gogh. The Giants would not be 2014 World Champions without Madison Bumgarner. He barely let up a run in the entire playoffs, setting the record for most innings pitched. When he came in to relieve in the fifth inning of Game 7 of the series, he completely changed the tone of the game (until, with two out in the ninth inning, Blanco’s and Perez’s miscues on the same play almost ruined our world).

When the final popup landed in Pablo’s glove, Buster rested his head on Bumgarner’s chest. Buster was spent. Here’s hoping we all live to see the fourth World Series parade, with Madison Bumgarner leading it, riding a huge studly horse up Market Street.

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Steve Hermanos is the author of Orange Waves of Giants! The 2012 Championship Season. E-mail:[email protected]