LOS ANGELES – On an afternoon last September, when the San Francisco Giants were three games behind the San Diego Padres with 27 to play, and the Padres hadn’t won in more than a week on their way to 10 consecutive losses, Tim Flannery hiked the canyons behind Dodger Stadium.
Flannery, the third base coach for the Giants, is a spiritual guy, maybe more like free-spirited spiritual, as in whatever feels best in his soul at the moment.
In the dust and scrub of the Hollywood Hills, Flannery discovered five feathers from a red-tailed hawk. He gathered them up and carried them to the visitor’s clubhouse and hours later the Giants trailed the Los Angeles Dodgers, 4-0.
In time, some of the feathers found themselves in Flannery’s children’s cars; a plea to the spirits for safety.
One, however, stayed with Flannery and the Giants, through September and into October, when they eliminated the Padres on the final day of the season. And then through playoff series against the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies, and then into the World Series, into November, and then to the Giants’ first championship in more than a half century.
Sure, there were beards and a red thong, but there also was a red-tailed hawk feather.
Today it is lashed to a six-foot walking stick owned and operated by Giants closer Brian Wilson(notes), the stick derived from the rib of a saguaro cactus (of course), bought and paid for by Flannery in Arizona and presented to Wilson. Flannery last season had taken to calling Wilson “Moses,” for the beard. And every Moses needs a staff.
According to the story going around the clubhouse, Wilson got the stick through airport security by feigning a limp, and as a pleasant consequence was invited to pre-board.
“That,” Wilson said, nodding to the stick, “parted the sea.”
So the Giants gathered themselves again, a day short of five months since they carried each other from a baseball field in Arlington, Texas, defending a championship again after 56 years, Thursday night in Los Angeles, still a little kooky.
Still a little imperfect. Still a little heavy-footed. Still a little light in the batting order.
They threw two balls away in a 2-1 loss to the Dodgers, bobbled another one, and so within a couple hours of a single-engine plane dragging a banner that read, “Dodgers still suck. From SF champs fans,” the Giants had played to their scary place. They’d pitched powerfully and precisely enough to win, but didn’t put the ball in play enough against a brilliant Clayton Kershaw(notes), and were shaky on the outfield corners and at shortstop. Therefore, they thrilled a Dodgers crowd still smarting from the events of October and November, that drew zero satisfaction from a second small plane that buzzed along not far behind the first and pulled a banner responding, “Go Dodgers. Giants suck.”
Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti gazed into the blue sky, spotted the planes and said, “I don’t think they ever did that at the Polo Grounds or Ebbets Field.”
Times change. And now it’s the Dodgers playing from behind and the Giants pushing the conversation and the baseball with their pitching and their verve. Tim Lincecum(notes) was nearly as effective as the blossoming Kershaw, losing because of a single unearned run over seven innings and 103 pitches.
While this particular game found their soft spot (as scoreless games into the sixth inning tend to do), the Giants won’t concern themselves with it too much. Cody Ross(notes) will in time return from his groin strain and stabilize the outfield defense, and Buster Posey(notes) won’t throw a pickoff attempt past third base, and the greater fear with aging shortstop Miguel Tejada(notes) is less erratic throws than slow feet. Also, Wilson is recovering well from an oblique strain. His take: “It’s there. It’s attached. It’s well. It says hi.”
This remains the group whose fragile defense went unexposed last season, when the Giants committed only 73 errors, fewer in the National League than all but the Padres and Cincinnati Reds. While some of that was luck, the other part was strikeout pitchers and hardball intelligence, and more than a little determination.
They probably won a year earlier than they should have, what with Posey a rookie and a cleanup hitter at that, and Madison Bumgarner(notes) finding his way, and Brandon Belt(notes) still a year off, last fall watching the series from a Scottsdale apartment he shared with two Arizona Fall League teammates.
But that was the beauty of the Giants, who figured out a way, and won games in all the little places other teams couldn’t, and believed through October, into November, and then again into late March.
It’s why they arrived here different, still feeling an experience that made champions of them all.
“Sure, I think so,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “They should. They’ve earned all the attention they’ve gotten. You’re hitting the field for the first time as world champions.”
That didn’t change in a single evening, and won’t. They’re still the Giants, still pros, still defending champs, and still, yes, plainly and perfectly kooky.
- Tim Flannery