KANSAS CITY Missouri (Reuters) - A different kind of Major League Baseball dynasty has emerged.
The San Francisco Giants are champions of a new age of parity, the best at juggling budget and talent, and managing the changing tides of a tumultuous 162-game regular season.
Despite missing key players due to injury in pitcher Matt Cain and center fielder Angel Pagan, the Giants squeaked into the playoffs and won a third World Series title in five years with Wednesday’s Game Seven win over the Kansas City Royals.
It took an historic postseason performance by 25-year-old pitcher Madison Bumgarner, but when his last pitch was thrown the resourceful Giants ruled again, following up their 2010 and 2012 Fall Classic triumphs.
The World Series pitted two wild card teams, neither of whom managed to reach the 90-win mark this season.
“Wild card teams are usually pretty good teams, too, and they’re usually fighting so hard to get there at the end,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said before Game Seven.
“So good chance that they’re playing well. It just goes to show you, in baseball, anything can happen when you get to the playoffs.”
The Giants are by no means MLB paupers, ranking sixth with a $148 million payroll, but they spent nearly $100 million less than California rivals the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Kansas City made the playoffs for the first time in 29 years with the blossoming of young talent turning a $90 million payroll team into a force to be reckoned with.
Neither of the finalists resembled powerhouses of the past.
These are not the spend-at-all-costs New York Yankees, who dominated for a stretch during the 1990s. Or the power-hitting Oakland A’s or Big Red Machine Cincinnati Reds of the 1970s.
In fact, oddsmakers rank the Giants the fifth pick to win the next World Series. Kansas City stood seventh.
Bumgarner was the difference maker, and the cap worn by the Series MVP is headed to Cooperstown for a Hall of Fame display.
The strapping, 6-foot-5 left-hander crowned a postseason for the ages with two wins and a five-inning save in the Series decider, lowering his career record World Series ERA to a mind-boggling 0.25 (one run in 36 innings).
“He put that team on his back and carried them,” Royals designated hitter Billy Butler said in a hushed Royals clubhouse on Wednesday. “You’ve got to appreciate that.”
Coming back two days after tossing a 117-pitch shutout on Sunday, Bumgarner was asked to protect a 3-2 lead.
In a rare relief performance, he threw five innings of two-hit ball, stranding a man on third with two outs in the ninth after an outfield error, with the home crowd thundering support for the home team.
“Sometimes you wonder if he has a pulse,” said Cain.
The Giants and Royals, both blessed with young talent, figure to contend again next season but have difficult choices ahead with key players able to become free agents.
San Francisco’s Pablo Sandoval, the beefy third baseman and AT&T Park fan favorite who was the 2012 World Series MVP, is expected to command a huge contract.
Kansas City must decide on impending free agents James Shields, who heads their starting rotation, and hitter Butler.
The delicate balance of the ball clubs will be at stake.
That matters quite a bit to the fans who were barbecuing in Parking Lot J along the left-field line at Kauffman Stadium hours before going inside for Game Seven.
“It’s just wonderful to see them back on top, coming out of nowhere with a young team,” said Steve Copeland, 57. “This thing is a joy just to see it, to get to a Game Seven.”
Jackie Enderle was holding her four-month-old son Hank, while six-year-old Ben and three-year-old Susanna were playing in the flat bed of the family pick-up truck.
“I’m so proud of these Royals,” she said. “I love this team, they’ve been so fun to watch this year. I’m proud of them no matter what.”
Editing by Frank Pingue