No-name Giants finally move beyond Bonds

Steve Henson
The Giants celebrate with fans after winning the NL West title and reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2003

SAN FRANCISCO – The last vestiges of the Barry Bonds era dissipated into the fog hanging over McCovey Cove Sunday afternoon. The San Francisco Giants are now a bunch of little people, a collection of mostly no-names, rejects and second-chancers, the sum greater than the individual parts.

''Versus the past, when we lived and died with one superstar player, there aren't any superstars on this team,'' general manager Brian Sabean said seconds before champagne was poured on his head by one of those anonymous, appreciative additions.

The Giants won the National League West title on the last day of the regular season because Sabean – long maligned for ignoring sabermetrics and leaning too much on gray-haired scouts – gradually improved the roster the last six months. The Giants had excellent pitching all along, but added bat after bat, and stockpiled more arms as well.

Improving a team as the season progresses is not against the rules. It's not a blemish. It's how a champion often is built, especially when the players who reported to spring training in February don't appear up to the task.

As the Giants players dashed around the warning track at crazed AT&T Park after defeating the pesky San Diego Padres 3-0, slapping hands with the orange and black-clad fans hanging over the outfield wall, it was impossible to tell from afar the homegrown Giants from the short-timers. They all wore NL West championship T-shirts, all wore huge grins, and all basked in the crowd's adulation and their own feelings of accomplishment.

The Padres player who a week ago questioned the Giants' team-building process as being mercenary, Mat Latos(notes), was the losing pitcher, the two runs he gave up in the third inning two too many. The team that scored first in each game of this taut three-game series won, the way it usually works when both bullpens are bulletproof.

''I had a good feeling as soon as we put a couple runs across,'' said Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez(notes), who earned the win and also scored the first run after hitting his first career triple. ''Their bullpen has gotten a lot of praise, but our bullpen is incredible. We have so much depth.''

Giants relievers haven't given up a run in their last 36 1/3 innings, and manager Bruce Bochy had a quick hook, lifting Sanchez after the first two Padres reached base in the sixth inning. Santiago Casilla(notes), Ramon Ramirez(notes), Javier Lopez(notes), Sergio Romo(notes) and Brian Wilson(notes) followed, each one as effective as the next.

The Padres were stunned, barely able to process the cold reality that they didn't make the playoffs after having a lockdown on first place in the West most of the season and holding a 6½-game lead as recently as Aug. 25. A 10-game losing streak tightened the race with the Giants and Colorado Rockies by early September, yet despite having no consistent hitters besides Adrian Gonzalez(notes) and having several starting pitchers run out of fuel a month too soon, the Padres hung tough until the final day.

But their most dangerous swing all day came when the bat flew out of Scott Hairston's(notes) hands in the sixth inning and helicoptered into the stands halfway up the field level. Fortunately, like everything the Padres hit between the foul lines, it landed out of harm's way, in a stairwell.

''It's something that hurt us at times,'' manager Bud Black said. ''We couldn't get the bats going. Our guys had a great season and should be proud of what they did. We fought right until the end.''

Fact is, the Giants improved more than the Padres as the season unfolded because the Giants drew more than three million fans while the Padres drew barely two million. Fans mean revenue and revenue means payroll. The Giants are hardly the New York Yankees and couldn't add a big price-tag hitter such as Prince Fielder(notes), but Sabean had enough money to bring in position players Pat Burrell(notes), Jose Guillen(notes), Cody Ross(notes) and Mike Fontenot(notes), and relief pitchers Ramirez, Lopez, Guillermo Mota(notes) and Chris Ray(notes).

None of them is going to the Hall of Fame. The aloof Burrell and volatile Guillen have had rocky relationships with managers and teammates. Ross and Fontenot are overachievers, not impact players. The relievers are all middle men, not stoppers or closers. But together in a clubhouse, they sprayed champagne and beer on one another and talked about how grateful they are to be part of something special.

''A lot of us needed second, even third chances,'' said first baseman Aubrey Huff(notes), who was signed as a bargain-basement free agent in January after struggling with Baltimore and Detroit last season. He bats third for the Giants and will play in the postseason for the first time in his 10-year career.

''Now I'd say we are battle-tested. Battle-scarred maybe, but battle-tested.''

Beware the Giants from here on. With Tim Lincecum(notes), Matt Cain(notes) and Sanchez anchoring the rotation and that bullpen locked and loaded, this is a team that should be better in a short series than over a 162-game schedule. The lineup has no Bonds, not even a close approximation, but from leadoff man Andres Torres(notes) to rookie cleanup hitter Buster Posey(notes) to the likes of Juan Uribe(notes) and Pablo Sandoval(notes) at the bottom, every hitter is capable of going deep.

The sum is greater than the parts. Bonds is a memory as distant as his prodigious blasts. Long live the little Giants.