Pot. We’re not talking Haight-Ashbury and the days of flower power, here. If there is a memory that lingers from covering post-season games at San Francisco’s AT & T Park, it is weed. Lots and lots of weed. Clouds of the stuff. Happy, raucous baseball fans, that have turned one of the most picturesque ballparks in the Major Leagues into its noisiest.
There was a happiness to this place even as the dour Barry Bonds harrumphed his way past Hank Aaron to become the all-time home run leader, allegations of steroid use and Bonds’ dodge-balling his way around federal investigations taking much of the shine off the pursuit in the eyes of everybody else in the baseball world. Live and let live … and pass it down.
San Francisco is ready for what could be its second World Series title in three years, starting tonight with Game 1 against the American League champion Detroit Tigers. Tickets were going for $1,500 on StubHub.com on Tuesday night and San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr told KCBS-TV that all discretionary days off for police officers had been cancelled through a possible Game 7. Yes, Suhr is well aware that Game 6 is scheduled for Halloween night – fitting, since the colour orange figures prominently in both teams colour scheme – and, yes, he has put two and two together in terms of the goofiness scale being ratcheted up. Suhr said the city had mutual aid agreements in place with, for example, the California Highway Patrol but did not think that would be necessary.
It is difficult to get much of a sense of build-up in this city, because the Giants only captured the National League Championship Series less than 48 hours ago. Civic manifestations of support for the team are everywhere, but in many ways it seems as if the build-up in Detroit has been more pronounced because the Tigers had six days off after thumping the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series. One thing the Tigers took away from watching the NLCS: the crowd noise. To that end, playing their AL Division Series in front of the Oakland Athletics raucous fans was good preparation. “If they’re anything like Oakland, it’s going to be a crazy series because that was the most intense thing I’ve ever seen,” Tigers outfielder Delmon Young told Comcast Sports. “That was like playing in FIFA World Cup soccer. The only thing that separates them is a bridge, so I think it’ll be crazy.”
San Francisco remains one of North America’s most fascinating places: bawdy at its core but elegant all the same. The Giants seem to have embraced its quirkiness; they are all goofy beards and routines and scruffiness. They are Beach Blanket Babylon. The Tigers, in the words of their manager Jim Leyland “have their moments, just like anyone else,” but they seem to take their lead from the simpatico superstars: Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera. And given the downtrodden nature of Detroit, they have taken pains all week long to stress an awareness of how important a World Series would be to the beaten pride, particularly of the city’s core. Not much goes on in downtown Detroit; San Francisco, on the other hand, is peopled 24/7. They’re not always up to any good, but by god they’re on the street.
But do not dismiss the Giants as some goofy, effete collection. They have won six elimination games in a row, after being down 2-1 in their National League Division Series matchup against the Cincinnati Reds and 3-1 in their NL Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. They have done nothing easy in 2012: losing their closer, Brian Wilson, to Tommy John tendon transplant surgery and seeing a contender for the NL batting crown, Melky Cabrera, suspended for failing a drug test. Cabrera was kept off the post-season roster with the blessing of the Giants players. Tonight, the Giants will send out Barry Zito – who is almost at the end of one of the worst contracts in baseball history and was so ineffective last season that he didn’t even make the post-season roster – against Justin Verlander, the best pitcher in the game right now who, if you believe what his grandfather told Celebuzz, is also dating Kate Upton. Don’t know how that jibes with the blue-collar sensibilities the Tigers.
“This team has had its tests in the regular season, and so the tests we’ve encountered in the post-season didn’t really make us panic as much as we would have if we didn’t have those muscles kind of built up early on,” said Zito. “It kind of makes sense that we had some serious adversity, because that seemed to ignite us.”
The Series is a matchup between two of the most popular managers in the game, the Giants Bruce Bochy and the Tigers Leyland. Both have 1,400 career wins, and after the World Series, one of them will become only the 14th manager in Major League history to achieve that total along with multiple World Series wins. Bochy has been under-estimated throughout his career, and at 57 years of age it’s time to start talking about his place in the pantheon of managers. Leyland is a crusty, profane 67-year-old who still sneaks a cigarette in the dugout, although he’s become a little more savvy now to the placement of TV cameras.
There are several offensive stars in this series. The Giants splendid catcher, Buster Posey, should win the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award when it is doled out next month. Marco Scutaro has played himself into a sizable free-agent pay increase late in his career. The Tigers, meanwhile, have a ferocious lineup led by American League Triple Crown winner Cabrera and Fielder, the latter of whom signed a nine-year, $214-million contract to join the Tigers in the off-season.
But this Series will come down to pitching. The Tigers buzz-sawed the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series while the Giants starters were at their best when they needed to be at their best: allowing nine runs in those elimination games. Because the NLCS went seven games, Bochy will not have his two most effective post-season starters available until the third and fourth games, when the series shifts to Comerica Park. He has decided to keep Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, the scraggly-haired hippy who suffered a frightening loss of velocity and form this season, in the bullpen. Bochy is a masterful handler of relief pitching, and if the games are close, the advantage shifts to him in the later innings.