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Giants scaled many obstacles to win title

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants have built an impressive history since the team's birth in 1883. But it's safe to say that even if the franchise exists for another couple of centuries, it won't generate another season quite like 2012.

San Francisco won its second World Series in three years after surging to the National League West title. The Giants won 30 of their final 44 games to drub the archrival Los Angeles Dodgers, the most frequent occupants of first place through mid-August.

Matt Cain pitched a perfect game and won the All-Star Game. Cain and three other starters won at least 14 games apiece. Buster Posey overcame multiple left leg injuries and ascended to Most Valuable Player status. The bullpen survived the April departure of injured closer Brian Wilson and the team weathered the mid-August suspension of multitalented left fielder Melky Cabrera.

Those were mere warmup acts.

The Giants made postseason history by winning six consecutive elimination games, including an unprecedented four on the road. After losing the first two games of the Division Series at home to the Reds, the Giants captured the next three games at Cincinnati to advance to the League Championship Series against St. Louis.

The defending World Series champion Cardinals established a 3-1 series edge and appeared in command before Barry Zito pitched 7 2/3 innings in a 5-0 victory in Game 5. That brought the series back to San Francisco, where the Giants won the next two games by a combined score of 15-1 to advance to the Fall Classic.

There, the Giants met the Detroit Tigers, who were expected to overpower San Francisco with Justin Verlander on the mound and Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder at the plate. Instead, it was the Giants who maintained dominance by sweeping the Series.

The fact that the Giants were a work in progress for much of the season made their ultimate triumph even more impressive.

Center fielder Angel Pagan relinquished his season-opening role as leadoff hitter, but reclaimed it in the season's second half and finished with a Major League-high 15 triples, which also set a San Francisco-era franchise mark. Second baseman Marco Scutaro and right fielder Hunter Pence, who combined to drive in 89 runs in 120 games, didn't arrive until general manager Brian Sabean engineered trades for them in late July. First baseman Brandon Belt and shortstop Brandon Crawford, neither of whom had spent a full year in the Majors, earned manager Bruce Bochy's trust by the end of the season. Crawford started all 16 postseason games, while Belt started 14.

The closer-by-committee plan Bochy employed in Wilson's absence worked. Santiago Casilla initially served as Wilson's primary replacement, followed by Sergio Romo. They helped the Giants amass 53 saves, second in the NL.

Corny as it sounds, the Giants won it all by sustaining a thorough, focused team effort.

"It's fun when you get to play with a group of guys who have that one common thought," Posey said.

Here's a review of some of the more prominent factors that made the Giants champions:

5. Pitching excellence: This element almost has been taken for granted since 2009, when the Giants recorded their first of four consecutive winning seasons. Some observers thought the Giants actually slipped this year, as they ranked fifth in the NL with a 3.68 ERA. Actually, the Giants' pitching remained enviable. The starting rotation's regular members missed just two assignments. Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong were legitimate candidates to join Cain on the All-Star staff. San Francisco won Zito's last 14 starts, including three in the postseason. Tim Lincecum slumped to a 10-15 record but sparkled as a postseason reliever. Blasphemous as it may seem, the Giants barely missed Wilson, finishing 82-2 when leading after eight innings.

4. Purposeful hitting: The Giants were the seventh team since 1900 to reach the postseason despite hitting the fewest home runs in the big leagues. They compensated by batting a Major League-high .296 with runners in scoring position after the All-Star break. That contrasted with the corresponding .225 figure they posted in the first half, when they ranked next-to-last in the NL in that category. Scutaro's arrival from Colorado in a July 27 trade strongly influenced teammates. He frequently bunted to advance runners, hit to all fields and rarely swung and missed. "He came to work every day having a plan," Posey said. "I think a lot of people gravitated to that." Another example: San Francisco's 61 sacrifice flies topped the NL by a huge margin; St. Louis ranked second with 49.

3. Missing Melky: If the Giants were going to collapse, it would have happened on or shortly after Aug. 15, when Cabrera received his 50-game suspension for testing positive for testosterone. The MVP of the All-Star Game not only took his .346 batting average to the sidelines, but he also rocked a team that came to rely on him, defensively as well as offensively. Somehow, the Giants soared instead of sagged without Cabrera. Posey continued his otherworldly second half. Pagan and Scutaro formed an ideal tandem at the top of the order. The Giants lost on the day of Cabrera's suspension before a 5-1 trip to San Diego and Los Angeles vaulted them into first place to stay. "When we lost Melky, that's when we knew that the team was really good," Cain said.

2. Buster's breakout: Giants officials and even Posey himself weren't sure how much he could play on his left ankle, which was injured during a May 25, 2011, home-plate collision that sidelined him for the year. Everybody learned fairly quickly that the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year was intent on establishing himself as a force. Posey accomplished that in the second half, batting .385 witih 23 doubles, 14 homers and 60 RBIs in 71 games. He became the first catcher to win the NL batting title and MVP award in 70 and 40 years, respectively. Starting 29 games at first base enabled Posey to keep his bat in the lineup while receiving a break from the rigors of catching.

1. Postseason heroics: A series of remarkable events distinguished the Giants' streak of elimination-game wins. Recall Game 3 in Cincinnati, where the Giants mustered one hit but entered the 10th inning tied, 1-1, before scoring the winning run on an error by eight-time Gold Glove Award winner Scott Rolen. Or Posey's grand slam off Mat Latos in Game 5 of that series. Or Zito's escape from a second-and-third, none-out jam in his big win at St. Louis. Or the crazy game-ending rainstorm in the NLCS clincher. "There were so many great moments," Romo said. "You can't just really pick one."

San Francisco Giants, Brandon Belt, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Santiago Casilla, Brandon Crawford, Tim Lincecum, Angel Pagan, Hunter Pence, Buster Posey, Sergio Romo, Marco Scutaro, Ryan Vogelsong, Barry Zito