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Giants able to find another gear in October

Club following script of dominating in playoffs after lackluster stretches during regular season

ST. LOUIS -- The Giants won another postseason game Saturday night, this one 3-0 over the Cardinals in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.

No surprise there. When the lights are bright and the stage is large, the Giants are at their best.

"Guys just seem to be relaxed," catcher Buster Posey said.

Wait, haven't we seen this movie before? The Giants had a regular season that was, well, nothing special. Been there, done that, right?

Their offense was inconsistent, their injuries frustrating. At one point, they were 43-21 and leading the NL West by 10 games. And then they lost 18 of 23 at the beginning of a six-week stretch in which they lost their grip on first place.

If you caught them on the right day -- and there were plenty like this -- you'd think they didn't deserve to be playing October baseball. Seventeen teams had lower staff ERAs. Eleven teams scored more runs. The Giants had a pair of six-game losing streaks.

Yet they still won 88 games to grab the NL's second Wild Card berth -- and their third trip to the postseason in five years. In the other two seasons, 2010 and '12, they won the World Series. Once the postseason began, something clicked.

Something always does. Beginning with the 2010 postseason, the Giants are 27-10. They've also won 12 of 13.

And under manager Bruce Bochy, they've never lost a postseason series. That streak is at seven in a row and counting.

Here we go again.

"This is what you play for," Bochy said.

His 33 postseason victories are the most among active big league managers. Bochy appears to have already punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame by winning 1,618 regular-season games and two World Series.

His players like and respect him because of his no-nonsense style, because he's direct, honest and accessible, but also because he runs a game and a bullpen at least as well as anyone.

"He has a real good feel for what's going on in the game," Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt said. "He has a real feel for matchups and for watching a pitcher's delivery and seeing how the ball is coming out of his hand."

Added Posey: "You always feel like he's in control, that he's thinking ahead and has a game plan. That's one, to name many. He's just a really good leader."

Ask Bochy about this kind of thing, and he will point to the fact that the Giants are a great overall organization, which they are.

They're respected throughout the industry on just about every level, from the energized atmosphere at AT&T Park to the personnel genius of general manager Brian Sabean and his stuff.

Still, anyone associated with the Giants will tell you that Bochy is a huge part of the success.

"I'm fortunate, I'm blessed," Bochy said. "It starts with ownership and Brian Sabean and all our baseball operations to bring the type of players in that we have to give us a chance to get to the postseason.

"And you try to have fun with it. Now, there's some stress. It's very intense out there. But you need to step back and appreciate what has happened and celebrate those moments, like winning the Wild Card or, you know, each step that you make. Don't forget how you got here, and that's because of some other people who helped make this possible."

Still, none of that explains why the Giants have played their best baseball in October the last few years. This postseason, they've scored more than three runs just once, but they have ridden a rotation with a 0.85 ERA and a bullpen with a 1.74 mark.

Some of the faces have changed, but pitching has remained the mainstay of the franchise. In their last 37 postseason games, the Giants have tossed 10 shutouts.

And Madison Bumgarner, who pitched 7 2/3 shutout innings on Saturday, has strung together 26 2/3 shutout postseason innings on the road, a Major League record.

Video: MadBum's Game 1 win

There hasn't been much offense, but what the Giants have gotten has been enough. Posey has a seven-game postseason hitting streak. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval has 10 multihit postseason games.

It's not just those guys, either. It's the bullpen and it's contributions from assorted corners of the clubhouse.

"Man, [it's] exciting to be in October, you know," Sandoval said. "Last year [when the Giants missed the postseason], I was home watching the game on TV. So now it's exciting to try to get effort, and you win or you go home. That's what we try to do every single day this time. Don't get too excited in situations."

Maybe that's the key to the entire thing. San Francisco has talent, but it also has confidence. When a club has played as many postseason games as the Giants have, there's an inner belief that they belong here.

And they're proving once more that they do.

"There are a bunch of guys who are going to scratch, claw, fight and take pride in the little things that make a difference in these big games," Giants starter Jake Peavy said.

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.
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