The San Francisco Giants rule baseball.
Feels weird to type it, feels weird to say it, even feels weird to think it. But it’s true. After winning last night’s clinching game which wrapped up a dominating 4-game sweep of the Tigers the G-men have now won two of the last three World Series titles, which passes for a dynasty in this day and age of free agency and fluctuating rosters. Naturally the Sports Philosopher is thrilled because they are, of course, his favorite team. Life is good today.
How did they do it, you ask?
I don’t have time to explain it. If I tried to really get into it for you, really dissect how this anonymous band of misfits shocked and conquered the baseball world, this column would be a longer document than the federal budget. Suffice to say, in brief, that it was a recipe of many strange ingredients: The best pitching staff in baseball, the stingiest bull pen, the Southern elegance of Buster Posey, the preacher-like zeal of Hunter Pence, the folk-hero rise of 37-year-old Venezuelan journeyman Marco Scutaro, weird guys with weird beards, a manager with a head the size of a microwave oven, the Resurrection of Barry Zito, a closer who throws marshmallows that curve, a string of comebacks nobody would try to sell to Hollywood, the occasional lucky break along the way, and a home stadium stuffed with fans louder and more loyal than any other. Yeah, it was lots of stuff.
But I want to talk about one of their players who has a chance to become the stuff of legend.
Pablo Sandoval, their portly third-baseman. Another Venezuelan. The Giants have five of ‘em. Pablo is a rather big man. A big fat cuddly teddy bear of a young man. In fact his nickname, “the Kung-Fu Panda”, is a kind of bear, right? He looks more like a bear than a ballplayer, that’s for sure. Pablo looks about as much like a ballplayer as the guy who moves furniture by day and swills beer at his local tavern by night. He should be the national spokesman for In-N-Out Burger. But boy can he rake. He hit the snot out of the ball for four games and was named World Series MVP.
And he did most of his damage in Game One. In fact, the Giants probably won this World Series in Game One. And that’s what I want to talk about. (And I promise to be as brief as a Mitt Romney debate rebuttal segment….)
It’s easy to say now, but glancing back at the big picture Game One was the whole series. A series Detroit was supposed to win, not San Fran. Because the Detroit Tigers had (supposedly) the best starting pitching in baseball, the best hitter in baseball in Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, and theyhad just swept the mighty Yankees four straight in the league championship round. Conversely the Giants were generally seen as just, well, lucky. Indeed, the Giants hit less home runs in 2012 than any team in baseball! What a bunch of wimps, right? The Tigers had the real strength, had all the power, and had all the pitching depth, everyone said….
And they also had a man named Verlander. Justin Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball. The defending Cy Young Award winner and American League MVP, he has set new standards for excellence the last couple years. Naturally he was named the Game One starter for Detroit, and was supposed to win easily in a grossly unfair starting pitching mismatch of a match-up over Zito, thus exposing the Giants for the frauds they were.
Pablo owns Justin Verlander.
Y’see, folks, sports is filled with match-ups where one guy owns another. It is especially interesting when the owner is considered a far lesser athlete than the ownee. Take basketball. Bill Russell owned Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt the Stilt might be the greatest athlete to ever run around a wooden floor in short tight shorts , but whenever he would play against the tougher, nastier Russell in the NBA playoffs, Russell— the Celtics’ shorter, lighter, far less talented and strangely bearded wildebeest of a center—would take ol’ Wilt out to the woodshed for a whuppin’. Didn’t matter if Wilt was on the Warriors, 76ers, or Lakers, Russell almost always won the day. Why? Because Russ “owned” Wilt.
Take football. Eli Manning owns Tom Brady. Owns him. Brady is considered one of the four or five best quarterbacks ever (rightly so, perhaps), and until the NFL served Brady up to him on a platter in the Super Bowl—not once but twice!—Eli was generally considered to be merely the goofy younger brother of the far greater Peyton Manning. But young Eli virtually stole two Super Bowls from Brady, games that if Brady had won would have stamped him, in conjunction with all his other accomplishments, as the greatest NFL quarterback ever, bar none. But he couldn’t beat the lesser Manning in those two games. Why? Cuz Eli owns him.
And Pablo Sandoval owns Justin Verlander.
We should have known it, too. It started back in the All-Star game in July. Verlander was the starting pitcher for the American League, in another game he was supposed to dominate. But the Detroit ace was shelled and driven for cover, most of the damage being done by, you guessed it, the Panda, who tripled in three runs. In fact, Panda’s triple is the only bases-loaded triple in the 80-year history of the All-Star game. We should have known.
So what does Pablo do to Verlander in Game One? Nothing much. Just smoked two home runs off the Tiger stud in his first two at-bats of the game. (brief pause here, while The Sports Philosopher does a little recreational laughing). Two homers off Verlander? The announcers were stunned. The Tigers were stunned. Verlander was stunned. I was stunned! The look on Verlander’s face after the second tater will stay with me forever. He looked like a guy who has just walked in on his wife having an afternoon roll in the hay with the entire cast of a Chippendale’s show. Verlander was driven to the showers after only four innings. He had not gone less than six innings in any of his starts all year. Pablo added another homer later in the game just for fun, off a relief pitcher who had bounced the previous pitch ten feet in front of home plate. And the next pitch, the one Pablo hit out, almost bounced as well. Pablo didn’t care. He’ll swing at anything. Three home runs in one World Series game, are you kidding? What a big, goofy lovebucket Pablo is….
Anyway, the Giants breezed in Game One by the lopsided score of 8 to 3, took all the starch out of the Tigers and their vaunted ace of aces, their ace who was essentially carried off the field of battle on his shield, beaten, broken, and humbled, and the Tigers offered very little resistance thereafter. In fact they didn’t score a single run in either of the next two games. That’s 18 innings of consecutive goose eggs, folks. It was comical. (But hell, I loved it. So did my kid.)
To take it just one step further, the National League had home field advantage in the World Series specifically because they won that All-Star Game. That’s the rule. So the Giants and the Panda were playing that key first game in front of their home fans and not on the road largely because of what Panda had already done to Verlander back in July! Sometimes sports, like life, really is perfect….
So the Giants won the World Series for a lot of reasons, no doubt, but the main reason is, I firmly believe, because ‘Panda owns Verlander. For me, this Series will always boil down to what the portly third-sacker did to the best pitcher in baseball. He set the tone, broke their will, shattered their air of invincibility, and caused everyone in that Giants dugout to believe they were the invincible ones. No wonder the Tigers hardly got any hits at all the entire series….because Pablo owns Verlander. Owns him. He had already proved it in the All-Star Game.
We shudda known.
So on that point, who do you own? Is there someone out there you regularly beat at tennis, even though he or she is the better player? Is there some fellow housewife friend of yours who doesn’t look nearly as good as you in a bikini, no matter how many donuts you eat and no matter how many hours she spends in the gym? Is there some guy you’ve known since high school who says you always got the girl, over him, even though he’s not nearly as ugly as you?
Let me hear ya, all you Pablos out there….who do you own? Who’s your Verlander?
THE SPORTS PHILOSOPHER
Brad Eastland is an author, an historian, film buff, an undiscovered literary savant, and a big fan of pandas everywhere. Brad’s other recent columns for La Verne Online can be found in the Sports Section under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’. His columns on very old and very underappreciated movies can be found by clicking Arts & Entertainment, then clicking ’Upon Further Review’. Brad has also written 4 fine novels* and over 20 short-stories.
*To pick up a copy of his recently published novel of life at the racetrack (and of triumph and utter despair) entitled WHERE GODS GAMBLE, a tale of American mythology, simply search for that title in both hardback and paperback on amazon.com, iUniverse.com, or bn.com. And then order it. And then READ it. And then tell everyone about it. And then read it again. And then post your praise on Facebook. And then order a dozen more copies to use as Christmas presents. Okay? Okay??? For all this he thanks you….