By Ronald Blum
DETROIT — Kung Fu Panda, The Freak, The Beard and all their seed-throwing buddies are on top of baseball — again.
They may be under the radar, unappreciated and unexpected. But they’re unassailable, the winner of two World Series titles in the last three years.
Their sweep of the Detroit Tigers, completed Sunday night with a 4-3, 10-inning win, was simply historic.
No National League team had swept a World Series since the 1990 Cincinnati Reds.
No NL team had won twice in a three-year span since the Big Red Machine in 1975-76.
“I’m numb, really, the fact that we’ve won two World Series in the last three years,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “This will sink in, but right now, I’m kind of speechless on that.”
This happens in the NL only slightly more often than appearances of Haley’s Comet. They are just the fifth NL team to accomplish the feat since the 1907-08 Chicago Cubs, joining the 1921-22 New York Giants, the St. Louis Cardinals of ‘44 and ‘46, the Los Angeles Dodgers of ‘63 and ‘65, and that Big Red Machine. And these Giants did it with small ball, becoming only the fifth big league team — and the first since the 1982 Cardinals — to win the title after finishing dead last in home runs during the regular season.
“Our guys had a date with destiny,” Giants general manager Brian Sabean said.
Marco Scutaro delivered one more key hit this October, a go-ahead single with two outs in the 10th inning against Phil Coke. On a night of biting cold, stiff breezes and some rain, the Giants sealed the title when Sergio Romo got Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera to look at strike three for the final out.
“Tonight was a battle,” said Giants catcher Buster Posey, the NL batting champion. “And I think tonight was a fitting way for us to end it because those guys played hard. They didn’t stop, and it’s an unbelievable feeling.”
Posey, the only player in the starting lineup when San Francisco win the 2010 clincher at Texas, celebrated with his teammates in the center of the Comerica Park diamond.
In the clubhouse, they hoisted the trophy, passed it around and shouted the name of each player who held it.
“World Series champions!” hollered outfielder Hunter Pence, who started the pregame seed-tossing ritual.
Pablo Sandoval, nicknamed Kung Fu Panda, was benched for most of the 2010 Series and then went 8 for 16 this year, including a three-homer performance in Game 1, to win MVP honors.
“I was ready for the moment,” he said. “I was waiting for the opportunity to be in the playoffs again.”
Cabrera delivered the first big hit for Detroit, interrupting San Francisco’s run of dominant pitching with a two-run, wind-blown homer over the right-field wall in the third.
Posey put the Giants ahead 3-2 with a two-run homer in the sixth and Delmon Young hit a tying home run in the bottom half.
San Francisco then won a battle of bullpens.
Ryan Theriot led off the 10th with a single against Phil Coke, moved up on Brandon Crawford’s sacrifice and scored on a shallow single by Scutaro, the MVP of the NL championship series.
Center fielder Austin Jackson made a throw home, to no avail.
“We were very adamant that we have to step on their throats,” Giants pitcher Barry Zito said. “We saw what they did to New York.”
Santiago Casilla got one out in the ninth for the win. Romo struck out the side in the bottom of the 10th for his third save of the Series.
The Giants finished the month with seven straight wins and their seventh Series championship. They handed the Tigers their seventh straight World Series loss dating to 2006.
“Obviously, there was no doubt about it,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “It was freaky. I would have never guessed we would have swept the Yankees and I would have never guessed the Giants would have swept us.”
The Giants combined for a 1.42 ERA, outscored the Tigers 16-6 and held them to a .159 batting average — third-lowest in Series history ahead of only the 1966 Baltimore Orioles (.146) and 1966 Dodgers (.142).
“This was the worst day of my career,” Tigers catcher Alex Avila said. “They played great, and we didn’t. It’s that simple.”
The NL has won three in a row for the first time in 30 years. San Francisco won six elimination games en route to the title. Once again, San Francisco took an early lead. Pence hit a one-hop drive over the center-field fence for a double and Brandon Belt tripled off the right-field wall on the next pitch for a 1-0 lead in the second.
The next inning, Cabrera gave the Tigers a reason to think this night might get them back on track to end a title drought dating to 1984.
With two outs and a runner on first, Cabrera lofted an opposite-field fly to right — off the bat, it looked like a routine out shy of the warning track. But with winds gusting over 25 mph, the ball kept carrying, Pence kept drifting toward the wall and the crowd kept getting louder.
Just like that, it was gone.
Cabrera’s homer gave Detroit its first lead of the Series, ended its 20-inning scoreless streak.
Trailing for the first time since Game 4 of the NL championship series, Posey and the Giants put a dent in Detroit’s optimism.
Scutaro led off the sixth with a single and clapped all the way around the bases when Posey sent a shot that sailed just inside the left-field foul pole for a 3-2 lead.
Young, the ALCS MVP against the Yankees, made it 3-all with another opposite-field homer to right, this one a no-doubt drive.
But other Tigers disappointed. Prince Fielder, signed to a $214 million deal last winter, finished 1 for 14 (.071) against the Giants without an RBI.
Cabrera, the first Triple Crown winner in 45 years, was 3 for 13 (.231) with three RBIs.
“You just don’t get to write your own script,” Fielder said.
San Francisco did. The Giants overcame a 2-0 deficit against Cincinnati in the best-of-division series by winning three straight on the road. They overcame a 3-1 hole against defending champion St. Louis in the league championship. And then they became the first champion that hit the fewest home runs in the majors since St. Louis in 1982.
Brian Wilson — aka The Beard — missed nearly the entire season. Tim Lincecum — aka The Freak, was ace of the staff during the 2010 title run. He morphed into a middle reliever who held the Tigers hitless in a pair of outings.
Sandoval said “heart” was the critical ingredient.
“It’s amazing what they accomplished,” Bochy said. “I think when you look at this club, the terms ‘teamwork,’ ‘team play,’ and ‘play as a team,’ that’s used loosely, but these guys truly did. They set aside their own agenda and asked what’s best for the club. And we put guys in different roles, nobody ever said a word, complained or anything, and that’s the only way it got done.”