Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow (where's that Global Warming we keep hearing about anyway) would prevent Liam from delivering his Giants preview. Although a cranky Internet connection delayed it somewhat.
Take it away...
The walls of my friend’s living room struggle in a state of colourful flux between white and whatever the television reflects at them. Every light is turned off in this cramped little apartment, as through the window a 2 am city skyline provides a quiet, interesting view. The scene is almost serenely peaceful until my friend, passed out right next to me on the couch, begins snoring rather loudly. Not being a fan of nasal instrumentals, I quickly wake him up.
‘Dude, get up! It’s two in the morning and I still don’t have anything done!’ I say.
‘Sure I’d like to… huh? Wha? What are you talkin’ about…’ mumbles my friend, still half asleep.
‘The article man! I’m supposed to have it done first thing in the morning, and I don’t have a single word written down!’
‘Oh’ says my friend, now completely awake. ‘The baseball team, thing… preview story, right?’
‘Yes! That! And the only reason I even came over here was so I could get some peace and quiet to start the stupid thing!’ I explain, stress beginning to make my hands shake.
‘Huh. Interesting,’ my friend answers, nodding his head. ‘But I thought the only reason you came over here was to help me eat these half dozen pizzas I ordered!’
My friend points at each of the cardboard pizza boxes scattered throughout the apartment. ‘Ugh, I can still feel that sausage one going down…’ he adds.
I shake my head in frustration, at both my own procrastination and at my friend’s Italian food loving ways. ‘Well what am I gonna do? Man, all I need is an idea. If I just had an idea, a direction to take this thing, I’d be fine. I could wing it from there.’
‘Dude! I find a nap is always great for discovering newfound inspirations! You should try that! And if it doesn’t work, well, that’s a few hours of your life you won’t have to worry about.’ My friend suggests.
Nodding, I put my feet up on the coffee table and lean back against the arm of the couch. ‘What have I to lose, I guess…’
The room becomes blurry and darker as I close my eyes, letting out a long yawn while I do so. Within seconds I’m out like a cheaply manufactured light, visions of pepperonis dancing over my head. My stomach releases an enormous groan, as I’m unaware of the tricks this midnight pizza splurge is about to play on me.
Monthursday, March 25 2058, this… is… SportsReport!
‘Good evening, I’m Greg Flowers of SportsReport, and yes ladies, I’m single!’
An awe echoes from the studio audience while he poses in his chair for several photographs.
‘Please, Please, heh heh. But folks, this is a very special two hour edition of SportsReport. Tonight we’re going to tell you about a team from exactly fifty years ago, the 2008 San Francisco Giants. Quite possibly, the most astounding team in the history of professional sports. We’ll be back right after this short commercial break!’
*One half-hour of commercials later*
‘Hah hah! Welcome back everyone. Now, let us take you into our time machine, almost half a century backwards. The year is 2007, and the Giants have just finished 71-91, last in the National League West Division. The team has just finished 15th of 16 in the league in runs scored, coming in at 683 mark. The team as a whole put up a miserable line of .254/.322/.387, each stat in the bottom three of the National League.’
‘It was a pretty sucky offense, I have to say.’
-Doctor Martin Harrison, historical expert of the National League in the 21st Century.
‘Things were looking dismal going into the ’08 season. The Giants had also just lost one of the greatest hitters of all time, Barry Bonds, to free agency and scandal. Bonds was 42 years old, played only 126 games, yet still led the 2007 squad in runs scored, home runs, slugging percentage, and walks. Everyone knew losing Bonds was a tremendous blow, but they were still confident that they could score enough runs to get by.’
‘They were wrong.’
‘The 2008 Giants would finish dead-last, by several miles, in scoring runs throughout major league baseball. Outfielder Aaron Rowand, signed to a big free agent deal from Philadelphia, would be the only player to hit over 20 home runs, slug over .500, and have an OPS+ of over 100. It was depressing to watch this team try to hit, with many historians calling them the worst offensive team in the past decade.’
‘No doubt in my mind. I probably would’ve torn my hair out. Fortunately, genetics beat me to it.’
- Kevin Turnell, 2008 Giants season ticket holder
‘Of course, we all know what really happened. While the team’s offense was dreadful beyond description, it was their pitching staff that put this team into the history book. With a team ERA of 1.96, the 2008 Giants were able to capture the division with a 103-59 record, scoring 562 runs while allowing just 398.These Giants didn’t make things easier on their fans either, playing a major league record 93 games in extra innings! This call perhaps best epitomizes this incredible season.’
‘The delivery from Bray… And a deep fly down the left field line! Sailing! Sailing! Goodbye! A walk-off home run from Bengie Mo-lina! And the Giants win 1-0 in the 18th inning!’
- Jon Miller, Giants radio broadcaster.
‘No one had ever seen anything like it. They were an astounding 67-26 in one run games, shutout the competition 37 times, and had three different starters, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, and Chris Begg, throw no-hitters!’
‘Yeah they just called me up for a spot start in August, said they only needed like seventy pitches outta me. And well, they sent me down after all the hoopla and celebration. They really did just need seventy pitches outta me.’
- Chris Begg, former Giants pitcher.
‘But who were these Giants? Who were these guys that defied low expectations, logic, and basic reality? Let’s meet these icons of history, one by one…’
A slow electric guitar riff chimes in.
‘First we have Bengie Molina, the quite portly but lovable catcher. Molina had just turned 33, and had seen his numbers decline in recent years. 2008 would be no different, as he would fail to walk even 10 times that season. He would however be greatly praised for his solid arm and his excellent handling of the pitching staff, despite his habit of allowing balls to, well, hit the backstop.’
‘Heh, yeah. Bengie wasn’t so great with those balls in the dirt. But geez it was funny watching him try to run back and pick it up.’
- Lance Niekro, former teammate.
‘Molina would be one of the Giants best hitters that season however, even batting in the cleanup spot for a time. His backups were Eliezer Alfonzo and Guillermo Rodriguez, who because of their similar age, statistics and position, would often be mistaken for each other. At first base was Dan Ortmeier for the most part, although Rich Aurilia also saw time there as well. Ortmeier would hit for modest power, but be mostly unproductive otherwise. Aurilia’s best days were long behind him, so it’s best we not get into what he did.’
‘Ortmeier was fun to watch. Switch hitter, hit lefties real well. But the best part was his name, Ortmeier. Ort. He he he he!’
- Gerald Cloggis, 92, longtime Giants fan.
‘Ray Durham had enjoyed a terrific career as a great hitter for a second baseman. But in 2007 he completely fell off a cliff and spent all of 2008 slowly trying to crawl his way back up.’
‘Ah, sound effects. 2008 would put Durham at an inbetween in his career. Not quite at the suckitude of his ’07, but also not anywhere close to his previous glories. Can we cue that sound effect again?’
‘Fantastic! The other half of San Francisco’s ancient double play combo was 41 year old Omar Visquel. The eleven time winner of the gold glove also had one of his worst seasons in 2007, and had lost a step in his stellar play at short. Would he bounce back in 2008? Of course not, he’s 41 years old! Sheesh. A spring injury to Visquel would open the door for rookie Brian Bocock, 22, whom had been fairly unimpressive in his minor league career, committing 31 errors in A ball during ’07. Eugenio Velez would also see time at short, as the youngster quickly became a fan favourite due to his electrifying speed. Third base was also a revolving door of players, as Aurilia, former pirate Jose Castillo, and utility player Kevin Frandsen would all see time there. Three heads aren’t better than one, as none of them were especially productive either.’
‘I recall a contest around mid-September, once we had the pennant locked up, called be the Giants third baseman for a day! And this twelve year old kid won it. Man, it was kinda embarrassing. Especially when the kid tripled into the corner.’
- Kevin Frandsen, 2008 San Francisco Giant.
‘Then the outfield, well, wasn’t much better. Veterans Dave Roberts and Randy Winn, 35 and 33 respectively, held their own, mostly in lack of a better option. Newcomer Aaron Rowand played a terrific centrefield and was easily the team’s best hitter, not to mention he would come up huge in the NLCS versus the Cubs.’
‘When Rowand hit that 13th inning home run in Game Six against Chicago, man was that sweet. Too bad the stupid Cubs had to tie it all up at 1 in bottom of that inning.’
- Dave Sheilish, Giants Equipment Trainer.
‘Rajai Davis, Nate Schierholtz and Fred Lewis all played the outfield at some point in 2008, especially the 23 year old Schierholtz who saw his at-bats increase later on in the season. But overall it didn’t matter. The San Francisco bats were a joke all season. People weren’t laughing for long though, because the pitching wasn’t just good, or even great. It was a holy trinity, a new standard by which we all are measured. It was… otherworldly…’
Dramatic Music comes in from every speaker.
‘The ace of the staff without the slightest doubt was Matt Cain, the eventual MVP and CY Young winner of the National League. Cain bounced back from a 2007 where he was actually one of the better starters in the league, yet still went 7-16 with good K-BB numbers. The 23 year old would not be denied in ’08, winning 24 games, striking out 240, dropping his ERA below 1, and pitching six shutouts. Call it the universe balancing out, call it a gift from the heavens, call it whatever you like.’
‘I’ll be telling my grandkids and they’ll be telling theirs, that my grandfather saw Matt Cain pitch.’
- Jerry Donovan, Giants fan.
‘Second up was Barry Zito, who bounced back from the worst season of his career to become an excellent number two behind Cain. Perhaps the pressures of his gigantic contract hindered Zito in year one, but in year two he would not he compromised. Shabby run support of 0.85 only gave Barry 15 wins, but he returned to an all-star level with an ERA of 1.93, despite his K-rate dropping a bit further. Then there was Lincecum.’
‘Lincecum. Whew. Glad I never faced him.’
- Albert Pujols Junior.
‘Tim Lincecum would win 21 games, lead the team in strikeouts with 313, and become the first major leaguer to ever K 30 batters in one game, doing so in a 20 inning affair against Pittsburgh. In the offseason he was nearly traded for Alex Rios of Toronto, a non-move that would work out for both teams, especially the Giants. Filling out the rotation were Noah Lowry and Kevin Correia, who together combined for 30 victories and 363 innings. Lowry was the better of the two, following up a solid 2007 (14-8, 113 ERA+) with 19 wins and an all-star game appearance. Correia would prove the weak link of the rotation, posting a horrific ERA of 3.83.’
‘We were always kidding with him. Hey Correia! When ya gonna win your 10th game? When ya gonna K number 200t? What’s taking ya so long? Stuff like that.’
- Noah Lowry, 2008 San Francisco Giant.
‘The bullpen was not nearly as steady, but was not called upon too often due to the dominance of the rotation. Brian Wilson began the year as the team’s closer, but that role bounced between Brad Hennessey (19 saves in 2007), Vinnie Chulk, Wilson, and Jonathan Sanchez for a short time. In the end the game of musical chairs wouldn’t matter, as the entire staff would only notch a total of 28 saves, mostly Wilson’s. Steve Kline was called upon once again to get tough lefties out, which he didn’t do, while Jack Taschner also gave it a shot, with the same results. Tyler Walker and Pat Misch traded turns being the team’s long man.’
‘I truly think those in the bullpen of the 2008 Giants are the forgotten heroes. Sure, you had guys like Cain and Lincecum throwing 9 innings a start, but it was the threat of the bullpen I’m sure, the mystery of those guys, that really scared lineups. I think Walker went two months without once even warming up.’
- Sal Sanchez, Baseball Historian.
‘So what happened to these guys after their dance with immortality? Well, Bengie Molina opened up a chain of Taco stands in his native Puerto Rico, with incredible success! Molina’s Muncheros is still a strong business to this day. Ortmeier, Frandsen, Jose Castillo and Aurilia started up a barber shop quartet; the aptly named “Wrong Side of the Diamonds.” Dave Roberts became an analyst for ESPN, while Randy Winn became an analyst of ESPN. Aaron Rowand was cryogenically frozen so that he could play major league baseball in three different centuries, unaware that he made his debut in 2001. And finally Barry Zito collaborated with Axel Rose on the latest Guns N’ Roses album, which has still yet to come out.’
‘But let’s break it down for you all. To sum up the secret of the success of the ’08 Giants, here is Doctor Martin Harrison:
‘Did you know that winning pitchers have way better stats than losing pitchers? I think that’s definitely a reason for the Giants success that year.’
‘Well said! That’s it for tonight everyone on SportsReport. I’m Greg Flowers, I hope you enjoyed our special presentation. Good Monthursday night!’
In a daze my senses return to me, my friend having thrown a pillow right into my face. I shake my head, remembering where I am, while the bright morning sun shines through the window.
‘I just had the most insane dream! I dreamt that the team I was supposed to write about had the greatest season in baseball history! And they won the division, the World Series, everything! It was unreal!’ I tell my friend.
He nods, looking mildly interested. ‘Do you think any of that will actually happen?’ he asks me.
I think for a brief second, the vivid images of my dream still flashing through my mind.
66-96, Last in the NL West.