It was a singularly thrilling race, but for the San Francisco Giants—the 103-59 Giants—it ended with a thud. In losing to the hated Los Angeles Dodgers 12-1 on Sunday in L.A., in the final year of the current postseason format, San Francisco likely became the last great club to have to sit at home and watch the playoffs. But one ugly loss can't diminish the courageous accomplishments of a team that nearly snatched the National League West crown from the Atlanta Braves, a team that back in April was deemed an unbeatable foe.
"We went as far as we could go," said the Giants' Dusty Baker, the winningest rookie manager in National League history. "With our talent, we went further than anyone said we could."
In the end the Giants went as far as war-horse closer Rod Beck and their Bambino, Barry Bonds, could carry them.
A paradigm of the Giants' grit and determination, Beck trudged to the mound in nine of the final 12 games with aching legs, a sore left hip and a weary arm. In pitching a total of 10? innings, he didn't blow one lead while collecting a win and seven saves. And he was never braver than in the first three games of the Dodger series.
Last Thursday night, when the Giants had a chance to regain a share of first place, Beck worked 1? innings to save a 3-1 victory. The following night, when his hip was so sore he couldn't throw from a windup, he survived 1? innings to preserve an 8-7 win. After that game, in which he gave up a two-run homer to Eric Karros, he admitted to "having nothing." But he also said, "This isn't the time for a day off—it's time to see what you're made of."
Beck is all guts and heart rolled into a junkyard body topped with long scraggly hair and a Fu Manchu mustache. "He looks like a Hell's Angel," says teammate Todd Benzinger. "He looks like he was at Altamont on a motorcycle."
Last Saturday, Beck got the call again, and he retired all four hitters he faced in a 5-3 win for his 48th save of the season. "He's doing it with mirrors," said bullpen mate Jeff Brantley. "I know what it's like to pitch a few days in a row and your arm's falling off. He's wondering where his arm is."
Beck said that his arm was line, "and even if it hurt, I'd pitch." After each game he received extensive treatment for his aching legs. "I've gotten ice. I've been in the ice tray, I've sat in I he beer tub," he said. "I'll be fine."
While Beck was giving the Giants heart, Bonds was providing the backbone with brilliant play in the field and at bat. Down the stretch Bonds went from being the leading candidate for NL Most Valuable Player honors to being a lock for the award.
Last Friday night, knowing the Braves had already won earlier in the evening, San Francisco fell behind 4-0 to L.A. after two innings. But Bonds hit a three-run homer to tie the game in the third, and in the fifth, when Dodger manager Tom Lasorda chose not to walk Bonds intentionally with runners at second and third and no one out, Bonds hit another three-run homer. He added a run-scoring double in the seventh, capping perhaps the most significant single-game performance since George Brett of the Kansas City Royals went 4 for 4, with two homers, and drove in three runs to almost single-handedly beat the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 3 of the 1985 American League Championship Series.