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2012 postseason began with 10 teams for the first time in history and wound up with one dancing on the infield like always, the Giants celebrating a second World Series title in three years on the field at Comerica Park.
Sure, it ended the same. But up to the very end, this was a postseason unlike anything seen before.
The Wild Card playoffs made this October session unique from the get-go, but it really got wild after that. From a Division Series round that went the distance at every turn all the way through the Giants' sweep of the Tigers in the World Series, this was one for the ages.
It had walk-offs. It had comebacks. It had historic performances.
And in the end, it had a team holding up a trophy ringed with pennants, just like it always does.
This year, it was a special team, a team with a capital "T," a team that personified what the 2012 postseason really brought to the table: a lesson that any team that is in the tournament always has a chance to take it all the way, no matter what the situation.
Needing three consecutive wins in the Division Series against the Reds and again against the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series, the Giants delivered, carrying that momentum through their sweep of the Tigers.
"To be world champions in two out of the last three years, it's amazing," San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said. "Believe me, I know how difficult it is to get here, and I couldn't be prouder of a group of guys that were not going to be denied.
"It's amazing what they accomplished. I think when you look at this club, the terms 'teamwork,' 'team play,' 'play as a team' -- that's used loosely, but these guys truly did. They set aside their own agenda and asked what's best for the club. And we put guys in different roles, nobody ever said a word, complained or anything, and that's the only way it got done."
Indeed, the Giants' own road through October began with the startling revelation that two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum would be pitching in relief -- and he went and delivered 13 sparkling innings out of the 'pen, allowing one run and striking out 17 batters in some of the most dominating middle relief ever seen in postseason play.
That road included three road victories in Cincinnati to close out the NL Division Series, a comeback that was the first of its kind. It was followed by another three-game comeback against the Cards, capped off with a dominating Game 7 performance.
And when Pablo Sandoval went Ruthian on Justin Verlander and Detroit in Game 1 of the World Series, it was evident San Francisco was onto something special. Sandoval's three-homer game put his name alongside Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols, and it sent the Giants on their way to a goal that took 52 years to reach for the first time in San Francisco, and just another two years to repeat. With Marco Scutaro delivering yet another clutch hit in the 10th, the Giants were World Series champions -- again.
With the Division Series round going to a Game 5 across the board for the first time, this postseason session wound up playing through 37 games, one shy of the 38 played the year before, when the Cardinals took the Series in seven. Road teams won one more than home teams, taking 19 games this October, and 20 of those 37 games were decided by two runs or fewer, nine by a single run -- including Sunday night's 10-inning finale.
Along the way, there were some of the most amazing performances in recent postseason memory, some delivered by teams that didn't advance, some ensuring that teams went forward.
There was Brandon Phillips of the Reds doing it all in Game 1 of the NLDS, even backing up first base from his post at second to save a ball, and then Buster Posey undoing everything the Reds had done in San Francisco with a Game 5 grand slam in Cincinnati.
There was the first postseason game held in Washington, D.C., since 1933 one day, an amazing walk-off by Jayson Werth the next and then a stunning four-run ninth for the Cards in Game 5 to make that the last postseason game at Nationals Park for the year.
There was the home crowd practically willing the A's to a Game 4 victory, flipping around a two-run deficit in the ninth with a wild and raucous comeback, and then seeing the Oakland bats silenced by a dominant performance from Verlander in Game 5 -- all capped with a rousing ovation for their scrappy team while the Tigers celebrated their victory.
And there was Raul Ibanez pinch-hitting for Alex Rodriguez with one homer and adding another in extra innings, the Yankees eventually squeezing out victory over their revived American League East rivals, the Orioles, behind their own dominating ace in Game 5, CC Sabathia.
Once it got to the LCS round, it was a tale of two very different series. The Tigers got ahead of the Yanks, who lost Derek Jeter to injury and couldn't find their offense, and went all the way to the sweep. The Giants, meanwhile, couldn't help themselves and fell behind to the Cardinals, but with Barry Zito pitching them through Game 5 brought the NLCS home to San Francisco and closed it out with a 9-0 flourish in Game 7.
That the Giants clinched their second World Series berth in three years in the pouring rain at AT&T Park was just another unique image in a postseason that knew no other way but to be different, unbelievable and thrilling to the bone.
And with their champagne celebration in the visiting clubhouse at Comerica Park, all of baseball was drenched in the drama that was the 2012 postseason, truly one for the ages.
"I'm a little bit flabbergasted, to be honest with you," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "In both of those series, I never would have thought that we would have swept the New York Yankees, and I never would have thought that the Giants would have swept us, but it happened.
"It's a freaky game, and it happened, and so be it."
And so it was that the World Series MVP was such a tossup, going to the player who set the tone for the Series with his amazing performance in Game 1 -- a man who two years earlier was a fallen star in the Giants' organization, barely playing in the World Series.
This time, Sandoval was there, and he definitely brought his band of brothers dressed in orange and black.
"You know, it's a team. It's a team," Sandoval said. "I say thank you to my team to give me the opportunity to be here. They fight 162 games, fight in the two last series, [winning] six elimination games is tough. But I'm happy. I'm happy."