Past is past as Neukom celebrates present
Giants owner praises Bochy, Sabean, forgets '60s heartbreak
PHILADELPHIA -- Champagne and beer cascaded through Bill Neukom's hair, as his players celebrated their National League pennant Saturday night by dousing him with bubbly and brew.The mixture washed away much of the heartache Neukom endured as a Giants fan in the 1960s, when the team won only one pennant and finished second for four consecutive seasons despite fielding teams with future Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry and Orlando Cepeda. "It does make up for some of that," Neukom said after the Giants punctuated their National League Championship Series triumph with a 3-2 decision over the Philadelphia Phillies. The Giants, who captured the series 4-2, will proceed to the World Series against the Texas Rangers beginning Wednesday. Mostly, Neukom focused not on the star-crossed past but on the increasingly glorious present. Only two seasons into his tenure as the Giants' principal owner, the club stands four victories away from winning its first World Series since 1954, which would end the third-longest drought in the Major Leagues.
"It's a team that bought into an approach," Neukom said. "And the approach was, we're going to build and work together as a team. They love this game, they want to play it the right way and they like playing it with each other. They have an enormous amount of respect for each other and they trust each other. That's infectious; that's powerful."Neukom lavished praise upon general manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy. Sabean engineered the in-season acquisitions of relievers Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez and outfielders Pat Burrell and Cody Ross, all of whom contributed to San Francisco's surge to the NL West title. Injuries and inconsistency among players forced Bochy to use 126 different lineups. Nevertheless, San Francisco finished 92-70, its best record since 2003 (100-61), as Bochy steered the team past San Diego down the stretch -- even though the Giants trailed the Padres by 6 1/2 games as late as Aug. 25. "I can't say enough about either of them," Neukom said. "Brian and his braintrust -- that means the scouts and the analysts -- never slept a wink through the season, because they were outworking a lot of folks on other teams. And Bochy never had a set hand all season long. He had to find ways to put guys in positions to be successful. And he was brilliant at that." Sabean spoke philosophically as he basked in the Giants' triumph. "You watch them grow in front of your eyes as they come through the Minor Leagues," he said. But he also took the opportunity to respond to skeptics who demeaned the Giants. If Sabean wanted to, he could have cited the paltry .216 batting average Philadelphia mustered against the Giants, who also limited Ryan Howard and Chase Utley to a total of one RBI. "One thing that kind of perturbs me, and I don't mean this with any disrespect: We deserved this because we pitched really well," Sabean said. "Everybody's saying the Phillies didn't hit. But they didn't hit because we pitched this well. That's why we really won the series. "It's our time. You can't pick the time. For some reason, the time is now for us, and we'll see what happens in the next round."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.