Ann Killion
Thursday October 21st, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO --There's a love affair going on here, passionate, a little off-kilter, perhaps too obsessive. Full of inside jokes and daily revelations. San Francisco is cap over cleats with its baseball team.

The bars and streets are a Halloween-colored party. The energy is electric, giddy. The old Mays, Clark (both Jack and Will) and Montefusco jerseys have been pulled out of mothballs. The new names are being embroidered on hearts.

"You see how much they believe, how much confidence they have in us," said Giants ace Tim Lincecum. "To get to share that with the city is a big thing."

Lincecum will be pitching at home tonight, trying to eliminate the Phillies and send the Giants to the World Series.

"I hope it's mayhem," closer Brian Wilson said.

It will be. If the Giants win one more game, it would be the team's fourth World Series appearance since arriving in a ticker-tape parade down Market Street in 1958. The San Francisco Giants are 0-for-3 in the World Series.

As a franchise, the Giants have gone 55 years without a World Series title. That's third on the futility list, behind the Cubs and the Indians. Yet there's not the constant negative drumbeat in this town as there is in others like Chicago or as there was in Boston for so many years.

Maybe because San Francisco is only responsible for a mere 52 of those years without a World Series. Maybe because history is a little less suffocating here on the West Coast, where so many people came from somewhere else not too long ago. Maybe because Giants fans are just happy because they don't have to watch games in miserable Candlestick Park anymore, and can instead sit in their pretty waterfront ballpark, where yachts float by while fly balls arc into the sky.

Or maybe, dude, they have other things to do instead focus on total downers.

It may be that lack of obsession and self-flagellation that makes outsiders think Giants fans aren't rabid or savvy. One of the talking points of this postseason has been, "Hey, Giants fans are really into this baseball thing," as though it's somehow surprising.

The Braves -- who often don't sell out postseason games -- noticed. The Phillies -- who think they have superior fans -- have noticed. The Giants fans are loud. Unlike their counterparts in Los Angeles, or the fans at the new Yankee Stadium, they stay until the end of games. They heckle well. They understand situational hitting, the hit-and-run, the nuances of bullpen usage. All here near the Pacific Ocean! Who knew?

"Seems like all the baseball talk is East Coast," Aubrey Huff said with a shrug on Wednesday night.

The Giants fans have shown up: They've been in the top 10 of league attendance for all but one of the 11 years since they've been in their new ballpark and have drawn more than three million fans nine times.

But Giants fans cemented their dubious national reputation for the better part of this decade with their unwavering, enthusiastic support of Barry Bonds, even as steroid allegations diluted his legacy and the rest of baseball came to view him as a pariah. As the Bonds' circus rolled on -- climaxing with a tainted home run record -- the fans at AT&T were mocked from coast-to-coast as steroid-enabling sheep.

Bonds was their guy, no doubt. But when he led the Giants to the World Series in 2002, it was different around here. There was excitement. There was awe at what Bonds could do with his bat. There was us-against-the world defiance. But there weren't a lot of laughs.

The vibe this time around is much more carefree. The 2010 Giants are rag-tag, wacky, team-oriented, lovable. No superstars or prima donnas allowed. In truth, this group matches their home city better than that tense, humor-free group of 2002.

The 2010 Giants represent this city's vibe: costume-wearing (Wilson's Fear the Beard, the Pablo Sandoval Panda hats), cross-dressing (Huff's rally thong), hippie honoring (Lincecum), and fun-loving.

These days, several players live in San Francisco rather than suburbs thanks to the downtown ballpark. That hasn't happened since the team played at Seals Stadium in the late 1950s. After clinching the NL West against San Diego, the players went out on the town, hanging out at a popular bar in the Marina District. They don't mind rubbing shoulders -- or clinking glasses --with the locals.

No one represents the city-team dynamic better than Lincecum. He's quirky, longhaired, comfortable in damp weather, different. A perfect match for the cool gray city of love, one that doesn't pass judgment on guys who might drop the F-bomb on live television or get busted with a small amount of marijuana in the offseason.

"Even in my mistakes and my faults, the things I've said wrong or done wrong, they've accepted me and still rooted us on and rooted myself on," Lincecum said. "I can't say enough about this city. It's been great to me, the way people have embraced me."

He's not alone. All his teammates have been embraced. And they've embraced back.

"We represent this city," Wilson said. "It's bigger than ourselves."

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.