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Further Review | Sports

Small ball is all the rage for 2 October underdogs

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The last time the San Francisco Giants went to the World Series, in 2002, they had a superstar who would draw intentional walks without first base open and who often won games with one swing of the bat.

Those things happened as the Giants edged the Phillies 3-2 last night to win the National League championship series and punch their ticket to the Fall Classic. But that’s about all this team has in common with the Barry Bonds Giants of eight years ago.

This time, it was Buster Posey who got the free pass and Juan Uribe who hit the decisive homer.

Posey’s a rookie, and there’s a good chance you don’t know much about Uribe unless you’re a Giants fan or a fantasy baseball owner.

But everyone’s heard of Bonds, for better or worse.

The 2010 Giants are often described as a likable team that plays for each other. We didn’t hear that in 2002. In that year’s Series, Bonds hit four homers, but the Giants lost to the Angels in seven. The Giants of the Bonds era were the closest thing in baseball you can get to a one-man team. And one-man teams don’t win the World Series.

Both managers in the 2010 Series that starts Wednesday — San Francisco’s Bruce Bochy and Texas’ Ron Washington — know that. Both got the most out of rosters bereft of position-player superstars (the notable exception being Rangers center fielder Josh Hamilton). Their stellar pitching and no-name position players beat the Phillies and Yankees, dynastic teams filled with all-stars used to postseason pressure.

The hard thing now is deciding which underdog to pull for if you don’t already have a rooting interest. The Giants have never brought a World Series championship to the Bay Area, their last being in 1954 while still in New York. The Rangers had never gotten this far; they were a joke as the Washington Senators and rarely came close to the American League pennant after moving to Arlington, Texas, following the 1971 season.

LACK OF name recognition may make these teams less than attractive to casual fans, and TV ratings will likely be low. But those who enjoy baseball the way it’s supposed to be played — the way it was played before performance enhancers — could be in for a special treat.

These teams win by advancing runners. Stealing a base. Taking an extra one. Bunting, pitching inside. Quality outs, holding the runner, hitting the cut, blocking the plate.

And, of course, with great pitching and, once in a while, timely power hitting.

Real baseball.

Some guys with calculators will still tell you trading outs for bases is no way to win baseball games, that you’re better off waiting around for a three-run homer. OK, maybe that’s still true in the regular season, even though homers are down in the post-steroids era.

But in the postseason, with the best pitchers from the best pitching staffs on the mound? You often need to scratch out those runs, 90 feet at a time.

Even the power hitters realize this. You don’t expect "Vladimir Guerrero" and "situational hitting" in the same sentence, but there he was, grounding out to second to plate a big run in the Rangers’ clincher over the Yankees on Friday.

Texas hitting coach Clint Hurdle has "Eight ways to have a positive team at-bat" posted in the Rangers’ clubhouse.

PERFORMANCE ENHANCERS dumbed down baseball. Not that you have to be a genius to appreciate the multi-faceted game where the importance of crafty pitching, moving runners and defense has reemerged. But the unjuiced version is much more interesting.

Rarity increases value, and that includes home runs — like the lone four-bagger in yesterday’s Giants win, Uribe’s eighth-inning, opposite-field solo shot that brought them the pennant.

You may need to learn some of the names. But the nuances of their game could make this an enjoyable World Series.

Reach Star-Advertiser sports columnist Dave Reardon at dreardon@staradvertiser.com, his "Quick Reads" blog at staradvertiser.com and twitter.com/davereardon.

 

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