10/14/10 5:00 PM ET
Unique chemistry has Giants flying high
By John Schlegel / MLB.com
There's a phrase Santana uttered during a visit to see his beloved Giants that sticks with third-base coach Tim Flannery, one that seems apropos as San Francisco's treat of a team heads to Philadelphia to begin the National League Championship Series on Saturday night.
"Carlos Santana said it best: 'You win with collective intangibles,'" said Flannery, himself a recording artist and deep thinker. "This club has that. This club is that.
"You get tired of hearing all the things you can't do, and we've heard that all season. This guy's too slow, that guy's too old, this guy might be too big, that starting pitcher might be too small. But when everything is brought together, the collective intangibles -- the gifts each person brings to the clubhouse in attitude and spirit and knowing what his role is -- together, it all works very well."
Well, it works, but they don't call it "Giants Baseball: Torture" because it's always a smooth ride. It's been anything but -- right up to and through their Division Series win over Atlanta. Yet, with a late-season bullpen call to Fear the Beard, including closer Brian Wilson's disturbingly dark one, and the red rally thong first baseman Aubrey Huff has donned every game down the stretch and into the postseason, there's a lot with this club that qualifies as intangible.
Of course, there's also a lot of talent. Two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum is the ace of a pitching staff that had the lowest ERA in the Majors this year -- and getting lower in the postseason -- into a meeting with Roy Halladay and Co., the Giants knowing they can go toe to toe on the rubber with the best of them. And while the offense hasn't scored a lot of runs, it certainly has scored them at the right time -- as evidenced by late-inning heroics by Huff and Cody Ross in Atlanta, where two comeback wins in the Division Series punched the Giants' ticket to the NLCS.
So it was that in the visiting clubhouse at Turner Field on Monday night, drenched in champagne, could be found guys who have been there for years, guys who have been there for weeks, guys who were in the thick of it, guys who were left off the roster, guys who hadn't been this far before, guys who had -- and all were basking in the accomplishment, as a team.
"This is definitely a group from Spring Training on, and with guys that have come in during the season, we've all just adapted together and grown as one group of guys," said Matt Cain, who will get the honor of starting Game 3 in the first NLCS game in San Francisco since 2002. "It's something that we're real proud of.
"We all believe in all of us, in any situation, to get something done."
That team concept is as simple as the black-and-orange lettering on the last words Giants players see as they exit their home clubhouse:
25 Guys, One Common Goal ... WIN TODAY
It might be the only rule, per se, in manager Bruce Bochy's player-friendly clubhouse, and it's one that is followed to a man. For the slugger who earned a return ticket home to the Bay Area after being released by the Rays in May, it's just that simple.
"When you can get 25 guys to all believe in one thing -- and that's winning -- if you put that first before anything else, it's real easy for guys to get guys to come together and play," said left fielder Pat Burrell, who came up with the Phillies as part of a strong core, most of which remains in red pinstripes. "We're playing a team that has a lot experience in the postseason, and a confident team. We've got our work cut out for us, but I'm not going to take anything away from what we're doing. We've got one hell of a team."
The way the 2010 season progressed, with bouts with injury and ineffectiveness and a flurry of moves by general manager Brian Sabean to address needs down the stretch, it could have been pure chaos. From Pablo Sandoval's struggles, which have seen him go from Kung Fu Panda local icon to sometimes No. 8 hitter, to the influx of new players, Bochy's ability to juggle not only the lineup but personalities was put to a test.
Even in the Division Series, veteran Barry Zito -- the team's highest-paid player -- was left off the roster, and Sandoval -- neck and neck with Lincecum in fan popularity entering the season -- was removed from the starting lineup.
Yet Zito and Sandoval were there in Atlanta, dancing with their teammates with smiles on their faces, part of the fun.
"It's nice to have a group of unselfish players who have one agenda, and that is to get to postseason and get to the next series," Bochy said. "There is no complaining. ... Guys just set aside their own agenda or ego and asked what was best for the club, and that's what it took to get here."
It's a clubhouse that welcomed new players like Ross, Mike Fontenot and relievers Javier Lopez, Chris Ray and Ramon Ramirez with open arms, and one as diverse in terms of background and personality as you'll ever see.
There is a strong Latin American presence, representing a wide range of countries, from Puerto Rico (Jonathan Sanchez, Andres Torres) and the Dominican Republic (Juan Uribe, Santiago Casilla) to Venezuela (Sandoval) and Colombia (Edgar Renteria). Throw in a coaching staff that includes representatives from Panama (first-base coach Roberto Kelly) and Curacao (hitting coach Hensley Muellens), and you've got a pretty good World Baseball Classic contingent going.
The Americans on the club are from diverse backgrounds as well, with Lincecum hailing from Washington, Cain from Tennessee, rookie starter Madison Bumgarner from North Carolina and closer Wilson from New Hampshire via Louisiana State University -- all throwing to a wonder kid from south Georgia, Buster Posey. There's Huff from Texas, Ross from New Mexico, Freddy Sanchez, Sergio Romo and Zito from Southern California, and the list goes on and on like the index to a road atlas.
Hardly anybody comes from the same place, it seems like. Yet they are all on the same page. They all have one home right now, and that's in their clubhouse and between the lines in Giants uniforms in October.
Outfielder Nate Schierholtz was the only Bay Area guy on the roster before Burrell arrived, and he is part of a core of homegrown players that has been around a few years -- Cain (debuted in 2005), Lincecum (2007), Wilson (2006) and Travis Ishikawa (2006). To Schierholtz, this is as good as it gets, on a number of levels.
"I came up in 2007, and this has been the best year by far as far as clubhouse atmosphere," he said. "Everyone seemed to gel together well, even with all the pickups. We've got a lot of great guys. I think Pat really brought the group together, and Cody's helped, and so has everyone else. I think that definitely coincides with winning."
Said Cain: "You're not worried about anybody that's at the plate, or on the field or on the mound, or anything. You just have that positive energy all the time."
What you don't have is something the 2002 team, the last Giants club to make it into the NLCS, had in abundance: a superstar aura. Gone is Barry Bonds' famous recliner, and in the corner of the clubhouse he once dominated, Lincecum and Wilson share space -- with Lincecum's French bulldog, Cy, often hanging out, at least during the regular season when there isn't so much activity in the clubhouse.
To a newcomer like Huff, who signed a one-year deal with the Giants and made himself right at home in the No. 3 spot in the order, the atmosphere couldn't have been more inviting for his first trip to the postseason after more than nine years and nearly 1,500 games in the Majors.
"In baseball, you see superstar after superstar go to the playoffs and never win it, but this team, we don't have that superstar," said Huff, who was reunited with his University of Miami teammate Burrell. "A lot of guys, we just strung together this year, and it's a real good clubhouse, a real loose clubhouse and everybody here cares about each other. I haven't won a lot in my baseball career, but I do know in college we won some games and we were a very tight-knit group, and I haven't felt that kind of group until this year."
Said Torres: "I think we're a family here, just being a team like that, that's helped us a lot. We know we need to be together on this, and I think that's helped us be a better team."
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.