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In Play Is the Thing

Oct. 29, 2012
Oct. 29, 2012

Table of Contents
Oct. 29, 2012

LEADING OFF
THE MAIL
EDITOR'S LETTER
Inside: THE WEEK IN SPORTS
WORLD SERIES
MEDIA
  • HE CUTS MANY FIGURES—VOICE OF THE SUMMER, VOICE OF THE FALL, ENGAGING, POLARIZING—AND THAT'S BEFORE WE EVEN GET TO THE SHADOW OF HIS OLD MAN. BUT IN A CLIMACTIC MONTH WHEN JOE BUCK'S WORLDS ARE COLLIDING, WE ARE REMINDED HE'S SOMETHING ELSE: AS GOOD AS IT GETS

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In Play Is the Thing

If you want home runs, San Francisco isn't your team. But a lineup full of contact-crazy hitters can still run up the score

Home runs are nice," says Bruce Bochy, the manager of the Giants. "But that's not our strength, and we know it. So it's important that we do the small things to help win a ball game."

This is an article from the Oct. 29, 2012 issue

Bochy's club has now officially done such things better, and later into the season, than any team in a quarter century. In the process San Francisco has revived an offensive metier that seemed to have been permanently relegated to baseball history's dustbin, along with games of pepper, handlebar mustaches and bullpen carts. With their victory over St. Louis in Game 7 of the NLCS, the Giants became the first team since the 1987 Cardinals to reach the World Series despite ranking last in the majors in home runs. They mustered just 103 during the regular season, and power hitting proved as essential to their advancement to the Series as it did to their run to the NL West title—that is, it was largely inconsequential. After a season in which the Giants won 45 games when they did not hit a home run (the most such victories for any club since 1992), they hit just three, all of them solo shots, in their four NLCS wins.

The Giants' throwback style is in part dictated by their capacious stadium: AT&T Park, not Petco or Safeco, was the most homer-unfriendly park in the majors this year. The smallball barrage is also a function of their personnel. Their lineup is stocked with speedy contact hitters who can, as Bochy likes to say, "keep the line moving" by putting the ball in play, taking extra bases or stealing them, and sacrificing outs. (San Francisco ranked first in the majors in sacrifice flies, with 61.)

The offense really took off after G.M. Brian Sabean's July trade for the player who might be the Giants' premier practitioner of some of those lost arts. Second baseman Marco Scutaro will turn 37 on Oct. 30 and is a veteran of 11 seasons, but he experienced his first taste of anything approaching a national profile last week after the Cardinals' Matt Holliday bowled him over at second while breaking up a double play with a late slide. "I got a little fame from getting hit by Holliday," Scutaro says. "It was kind of weird."

Scutaro doesn't do the types of things that make a player a regular on highlight shows—he hit seven homers this year and has never hit more than 12. But he virtually never strikes out (he did so just 14 times in 61 games as a Giant, while batting .362) and always seems to do with the ball just what his club needs him to do. Through July 27—before Scutaro's arrival from Colorado and installation into the number 2 spot in the lineup—the Giants' offense had scored 401 runs, 24th in baseball. From July 28 on, it scored 317, third most during that period. Despite playing the majority of the NLCS with lingering pain in his left hip from his run-in with Holliday, Scutaro had 14 hits, tying the record for the most in a postseason series. His performance earned him the NLCS MVP award

In the franchise's second World Series appearance in three years, it's unlikely that Scutaro and the rest of the Giants will suddenly morph into a band of sluggers. For one thing, they particularly struggled at taking righthanded pitchers deep—they did so 55 times during the regular season, the fewest by any club since 1992—and Detroit's rotation is entirely righthanded. But as they've proved, these Giants don't have to go long to go far in October.

PHOTOBRAD MANGINCONTACT HIGH Scutaro's low-strikeout approach was a perfect fit in the Giants' lineup, which became far more productive after his arrival in a July trade.