In many ways, they reduce these series to March Madness. "Survive and move on," as Jim Valvano once said, and that's what the Giants do.
"It's a cliché, but we come to the park, play the game and try to figure a way to win," says manager Bruce Bochy. "We simplify the game. Day to day, inning to inning, at-bat to at-bat."
When they faced elimination in St. Louis on Friday night, down 3-1 in games with Barry Zito pitching, Ryan Theriot summed up their approach. He understood, just as he understood the Cardinals' approach last October as they survived one deficit after another and won the World Series, giving Theriot his first ring. "The way we look at it is we just figure out how to win tonight, and get home with two big guys [Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain] pitching. These teams are very much alike. They don't believe they can be beaten. They're very tough. They know what it's like to be down, which is a good thing.
"But I'm telling you," Theriot continued, "if we get back to San Fransisco, we'll be really tough."
It was reminiscent of the afternoon of Game 4 in the 2004 American League Championship Series, Red Sox down 3-0 to the Yankees. Kevin Millar went around to teammates and media folks saying, "Don't let us win tonight. Then we got Petey, Big Schill and if it gets to a seventh game in New York, anything can happen." And before you could say Dave Roberts, it did.
And so it has happened twice for the Giants. Down 0-2 in the Division Series and having to sweep a very good Reds team in Cincinnati? Before you could say "Tim Lincecum out of the bullpen," he punched out six and they survived. They survived to become the first National League team to come back from an 0-2 deficit in a five-game series, they survived hitting .194 for the series, they survived the final game when the Reds had the tying run at the plate in each of the last four innings and Bochy's bullpen was on fumes, right down to the heart of Sergio Romo.
When the game was over, they laughed about Romo surviving a Jay Bruce at-bat for the ages, about surviving a hanging breaking ball to Scott Rolen. It was like a hockey game when you're up 3-2 in the third period, getting outshot 15-1 and all you're trying to do is dump the puck out of the zone and run out the clock. "Exactly," said San Jose Sharks season-ticket holder Dave Righetti.
And so the Giants survived. No Brian Wilson for the season. Lincecum in the pen. Melky Cabrera at home. One of the game's great players, Buster Posey, was pitched so carefully, not only didn't he pull a ball in the air in seven games against the Cardinals, he had but four hits. So Pablo Sandoval knocked in runs in each of the last five games. Hunter Pence hit a double that actually struck his bat three times.
And when it began raining late Monday night, Marco Scutaro said, "never has the rain felt so good." Scutaro, of course, was the story of the NLCS. This is a man in his 19th professional season, who signed before the strike of 1994, once played second base in the instructional league aside a 17-year-old shortstop named Victor Martinez and was obtained by Brian Sabean for Charlie Culbertson at the Trade Deadline. He earned $75,000 for being NLCS MVP. That was part of the deal he signed with the Red Sox before the 2010 season, a season in which he played hurt and earned the respect of every teammate.
"Nothing Scutaro does surprises anyone who's ever played with him," says Alex Cora.
Ironically, Scutaro was traded by Boston to Colorado in January to clear payroll room to sign Cody Ross, the MVP of the 2010 NLCS, another brilliant under-the-radar move by Sabean.
Knocking out 14 hits, scoring six runs and getting four RBIs in a seven-game series would surprise anyone. Hitting .339 after the All-Star break surprised most everyone.
"He's a ballplayer," Sabean says, all two-dimensional statistics aside. "You have to have a few of those guys to play these games in October."
Scutaro is a ballplayer who knows what it means to survive, to have been waived by the Brewers and the Mets, go home to winter ball in Venezuela and get one multiyear contract in 19 years. Now he and his Giants teamates have to figure a way to survive Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer, the Tigers' power rotation that likely will make them favored to bring Detroit its first World Series championship since 1984.
The Giants will begin by throwing Zito back out there Wednesday against Verlander. Game 2 starter? TBD. Game 3? TBD.
Bochy and Righetti will figure it out and they'll go play. Period. That's how they got here.