FOR THREE STRAIGHT GAMES—THE CLINCHING DIVISION SERIES Game 4 win over the Braves and Championship Series Games 1 and 2 against the Phillies—the Giants' first hit was a solo home run from outfielder Cody Ross, and each time it came off a past or present All-Star pitcher: Atlanta's Derek Lowe (in the sixth inning) and Philadelphia's Roy Halladay (third) and Roy Oswalt (fifth).
After the second game in Ross's unusual streak, his manager, Bruce Bochy, let slip during his postgame comments that the rightfielder—who had also added a second homer off Halladay in a 4-3 Game 1 win—had grown up with aspirations of being a rodeo clown, an occupation fraught with the peril of saving a grounded cowboy bucked from a raging bull. "I guess the reason I was drawn to them so much is because those guys have no fear," Ross (whose father moonlighted as a rodeo cowboy) later explained. "They would put their life on the line to save a cowboy."
Fearless in his own way, Ross, who attended high school in Carlsbad, N.Mex., chose baseball. And after seven big league seasons with four teams—most notably Florida, where over 4½ seasons he batted .265 and hit a modest 80 home runs—he found himself saving a Giants offense that had been limping unproductively through the Division Series.
As recently as August, Ross, 29, was an unwanted player. San Francisco claimed him off waivers from the Marlins, acknowledging that a key reason for the pickup was to block Ross from going to the NL West—rival Padres. Little could Giants management know that Ross, who had just seven RBIs in 82 regular-season plate appearances for San Francisco, would drive in a team-high five runs against the Phillies. While batting as high as fifth in Bochy's batting order, Ross pounded six extra-base hits (three doubles and three homers) and hit .350 to win NLCS MVP honors. "It's been a whirlwind last couple of months for me," Ross says.
Few players so visibly enjoy success as Ross does. When many Giants who were renting in the Bay Area saw their leases expire at the end of September—there hadn't been playoff baseball in San Francisco in seven years—they all moved into a downtown hotel, a four-block walk from AT&T Park. Ross became a fixture in the lobby, entertaining family, friends and fans, always with a smile framed by his scraggly brown beard.
Ross's hot streak actually started earlier this season, when the Marlins faced the Mets in Puerto Rico. He and New York outfielder Jeff Francoeur—who was later traded to the Rangers and would face Ross in the World Series—played casino blackjack until five o'clock one morning. Both won large stacks of chips, and Ross has seen his winning streak carry over from the card table to the ball field. Said Ross before the start of the Series, "The luck's still going."