Someday, you'll be tasked with explaining these Giants to your grandkids. (This is not true—baseball is dying, and there's virtually no chance your grandkids will talk to you anyway—but stick with the premise.) They'll want to know if these Giants were as good as the history books say, and what made them so special. You'll start to explain the thing about the even-numbered years, and that won't make sense, so you'll dig a little deeper, and you'll tell them the truth: The Giants were a pretty good team, if never the best in the league in any given season; but in October they became the best, by a lot. They won a game of inches by feet. Some of the games were close, and some of the series were close, but what the Giants of 2010 to 2014 showed is that talent takes you so far but performance takes you all the way. If your grandkids are like those of us on this site, they'll probably find that unconvincing and say something like "so it's just random fluctuation," but your grandkids won't be like those of us on this site. They'll be like the vast majority of people in this world, and they'll accept that. Because that's pretty freakin' cool, when you think about it. Or, I guess, when you don't think about it.
I was happy enough for Brian Sabean when he won his second, but really it didn't do much to change the story. It seemed like he had a pretty good team that won a World Series, and then two years later that same pretty good team won it again. That's twice as many World Series, but it's the same number of good teams, if that makes sense. This one feels different. For one thing, the turnover on the roster is a lot more obvious, both in the guys you see contributing and the guys you see hanging around and not contributing–Lincecum, Cain. Sabean has had to make a lot of moves since 2010, and it's worth noting that a lot of them didn't go over any better than the pre-WS Sabean moves used to: Mike Morse seemed like a terrible concept for an NL team; re-signing Vogelsong felt like desperate co-dependency; Jake Peavy was utterly lost in Boston before Sabean gave up a couple lives arms for him; scouts weren't sure 2011 first rounder Joe Panik would have the bat speed to make it in the majors. But besides the guys he has added, he has had to do a lot more work to keep the guys he has kept. This is modern baseball: You can't just keep your core together. You have to go to a lot of effort to keep a core together. Casilla, Affeldt and Lopez have all been signing extensions since 2010 (and all are signed for at least 2015); Bumgarner and Posey were locked up to long extensions before hitting arbitration. Pagan was re-signed, Pence extended. There are, obviously, duds: Lincecum, Scutaro, and, perhaps, Cain. But it's just to the point that Sabean's 2010 squad wasn't just a group of second-year players all developing at the same time and under his control for another five years. This particular championship group has been a project, and one that deserves recognition both as part of the 2010-2014 dynasty but simultaneously apart from the earlier years.
While three in five years certainly counts as a dynasty, it'll be interesting to see whether we remember it as one unit or three. It's always interesting what we remember. It's interesting how often great pitchers are remembered as much for a relief appearance–Pedro in 1999, Randy Johnson in 1995 and in 2001, Mussina in 2003–as for any individual start. I'd bet Bumgarner will be remembered for this game more than any start he has made or will ever make. Unless, that is, his performance in this game gets overshadowed by the could-he-or-couldn't-he decision to not send Alex Gordon home as the tying run/last out in the bottom of the ninth–it being interesting how often we remember these classic games for the players who came up just short (Bill Buckner, Moises Alou, Grady Little, every closer ever) instead of the players who didn't. For the record: I don't think Gordon had much of a chance,
and even accepting that, with the game as it was, he didn't necessarily need to be likely to make it to be justified in trying, I can't make myself believe there was a real route home. On the other hand, I also can't make myself believe that there was any possibility whatsoever that Bumgarner was going to allow another hit, which suggests I have a tremendous lack of imagination. I'm glad the play happened, and would have been whether Gordon was held, sent, safe, or out. I like it when people have nice feelings about baseball; I can't help it. I used to look at all the box scores in the morning paper to see whether the home team had won, because it seemed like the universe would be a better place if all those fans had been rewarded for their $18 with a win for the home team. I like it when people like baseball, and this series–this postseason, for all its wonderfully close games–needed a moment that will stay with us forever. Forever, forever, ever, forever, ever.
Before the game yesterday, Ray Ratto was talking on the radio about whether this World Series had been a good one. Yeah, he said, but not for a cinematographer. There weren't iconic images, iconic moments. That seems fair. But it was a pretty good postseason. For one thing, 23 of the 32 games had an average leverage index higher than 1.0. Now, 1.0 is average. All the games in baseball must average out to 1.0. But for this past month, three-quarters of the games we've watched have been better than average games. Not bad! I think there are memories here, and I think there's cinematography, too. So here are, for your reference and enjoyment, all 32 games, ranked by enjoyability, and with a GIF to take with you. All game scores link to the BP recap of the game.
32. World Series Game 6: Royals 10, Giants 0
Memorable because: The Royals forced a Game Seven, which is the only thing that most of the country cared about; Eric Hosmer hit a chopper up the middle for a double.
Average Leverage Index (aLI): .32 (31st out of 31 games)
(GIF via @carmenkiew)
30. NL Wild Card Game: Giants 8, Pirates 0
Memorable because: Madison Bumgarner: 9/4/0/0/1/10. Brandon Crawford with one of the most crowd-silencing swings ever, a fourth-inning, tie-breaking grand slam.
ALI: .50 (30th)
(GIF via @cjzero)
28. ALDS Game 1: Orioles 12, Tigers 3
Memorable because: It was super close until the Orioles’ eight-run eighth inning.
ALI: .81 (27th)
27. World Series Game 5: Giants 5, Royals 0
Memorable because: Madison Bumgarner threw another shutout; there was a spaceship in McCovey Cove.
ALI: .81 (26th)
26. NLCS Game 1: Giants 3, Cardinals 0
Memorable because: We got to watch that Fox Sports 1 alternate broadcast. Remember that?
ALI: .88 (25th)
(GIF via @carmenkiew)
24. NLDS Game 3: Nationals 4, Giants 1
Memorable because: Bumgarner’s own throwing error on a bunt cost the Giants the sweep.
ALI: .97 (23rd)
22. World Series Game 3: Royals 3, Giants 2
Memorable because: I was at this game and I'll be honest, I don’t remember anything about it. But there was sure a lot of cheering.
ALI: 1.15 (17th)
20. ALDS Game 2: Orioles 7, Tigers 6
Memorable because: Bullpen Meltdown no. 2.
ALI 1.08 (19th)
Memorable because: Yasiel Puig was in such a terrible slump (eight Ks in nine at-bats) that he was on the eve of getting benched.
ALI: 1.15 (16th)
14. ALDS Game 3: Orioles 2, Tigers 1
Memorable because: Nelson Cruz homered off David Price in the sixth; the Tigers were so afraid of their bullpen they nearly let Price go the distance.
ALI: 1.19 (13th)
(GIF via @cjzero)
13. ALCS Game 4: Royals 2, Orioles 1
Memorable because: Yost officially put all his chips on Herrera/Davis/Holland, bringing Herrera into the sixth inning and riding the trio to the sweep.
ALI: 1.25 (11th)
10. NLDS Game 1: Giants 3, Nationals 2
Memorable because: Hunter Strickland striking out Ian Desmond with the bases loaded, in Strickland’s 10th career appearance. The pitches: 100; 99; 100; 101.
ALI: 1.38 (8th)
9. ALCS Game 2: Royals 6, Orioles 4
Memorable because: The game turned on a non-play: J.J. Hardy staying at third instead of challenging Alex Gordon’s arm on what looked to be a game-tying single.
ALI: 1.38 (7th)
(GIF via @cjzero)
8. NLDS Game 4: Cardinals 3, Dodgers 2
Memorable because: Puig on the bench; Kershaw left in just long enough to blow the lead again.
ALI: 1.20 (12th)
7. ALCS Game 1: Royals 8, Orioles 6
Memorable because: Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas each homering in the 10th.
ALI: 1.46 (6th)
4. ALDS Game 1: Royals 3, Angels 2
Memorable because: Mike Moustakas won it in extra innings with a home run.
ALI: 1.61 (3rd)
(GIF via @cjzero)
3. NLDS Game 2: Giants 2, Nationals 1
Memorable because: Jordan Zimmermann got pulled after 8 2/3; the Giants somehow came back after that; Yusmeiro Petit threw six nearly perfect innings after regulation; Buster Posey chased a paper bag around the field; Asdrubal Cabrera was ejected; and Brandon Belt won it with a home run in the 18th, the longest game in postseason history.
ALI: 1.64 (2nd)
2. World Series Game 7: Giants 3, Royals 2
Memorable because: Alex Gordon being held up.
1. AL Wild Card: Royals 9, A’s 8
Memorable because: It set off the Royals’ entire postseason run, and it’s still hard to figure out how it happened.
ALI: 1.67 (1st)
Good season. We'll do it again sometime.
Thanks to Carmen Kiew (@carmenkiew) for donating some GIFs. She's one of the best.