SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - San Francisco Giants fans, once in love with home runs and Barry Bonds, will be cheering a selfless, grinding club chasing their third title in five years when the World Series resumes at AT&T Park on Friday.
The Giants and Royals split the first two games of the best-of-seven championship series in Kansas City with the next three to be played in a rocking stadium that the host team says has been sold out for the last 330 games.
Bonds, signed as a free agent in 1993, helped turn the Giants into a winning team and led them into the 2002 World Series as a record-breaking home run hitter but his retirement after 2007 set them on an even more successful course.
“We’ve built a non-traditional, against the star-system type of team,” Giants General Manager Brian Sabean told Reuters about life after Bonds during a batting practice. “We need links in a chain and everybody buys into being a link in the chain.”
That is not to say the Giants lack talent or personality. In Buster Posey they have one of the best catchers in the game, and one of baseball’s most likeable players.
But these Giants pull together, unlike the muscled-up reign of home run king Bonds, who led a pampered life in the clubhouse with four lockers, an easy chair and preferential treatment.
Instead of being linked to infamous doping source BALCO, the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative that contaminated so many sporting competitions, these Giants thrive on team work.
“I think we learned some things,” Giants president Larry Baer told Reuters. “Barry was an aberration in a sense.”
Bonds, however, is still revered at the gem of a waterside stadium his impact made possible and even threw out the ceremonial first pitch at a recent playoff game at AT&T Park, which is known for its cavernous gaps and deep corners.
“In our ballpark, you really have to be an extraordinary hitter for power to be (relied on to generate home runs). It became a lot more of a pitching and defense team, and a gap-to-gap hitting team,” said Baer.
“That’s an architecture that we’ve worked on, given our ballpark.”
Working on the blueprint alongside Sabean and Baer has been manager Bruce Bochy, who has pushed all the right buttons since taking over from Felipe Alou in 2007.
Alou, who remains in the Giants front office, admires the team.
“It took a few years to make that adjustment to play today’s type of winning baseball,” Alou told Reuters in Kansas City. “It’s hard to win on home runs. There’s really not that many home runs hit anyway.”
Home run numbers have shrunk since MLB’s crackdown on performance enhancers.
“The game itself has evolved into the right strategy — good defense, good pitching and great bullpens.”
Character also counts.
“We want guys that can play in a team context. The good thing about our team is we can do a little bit of everything,” said Sabean.
First base coach Roberto Kelly, a former major league outfielder, came to San Francisco the year after Bonds departed.
“When Barry was here you could sit back and wait for him to hit a three-run homer,” Kelly told Reuters. “With the kind of team we had when Barry left you had to put hits together, get pitchers who could really help, and play good defense.
Kelly said team chemistry helped.
“It’s a good group of guys,” he said. “They really like each other.
“We realize we need each one on this club to be successful. We don’t have that one superstar who is going to carry the whole team.”
Editing by Frank Pingue