It’s amazing what a guy can do with his time when he’s been away from the ballpark for almost a week. For me, for instance, I have allowed the charms of the Pacific time zone to wash over me even though it’s been several days since we returned from San Francisco.
Hey, if you can’t beat them, join them.
Nevertheless, in trying to figure out just how the San Francisco Giants beat the Phillies in the NLCS and why we’re not headed to Dallas/Fort Worth for Game 3 of the World Series on Friday, I have been re-reading some notes and old stories searching for ideas and clues. And while I’m not sure if I found an answer, I did find a bit of prophecy from a conversation I had with Aaron Rowand in September of 2009.
Rowand, of course, is the popular ex-Phillies center fielder whose claim to fame was his penchant for recklessness in the field and his ability to hit well at Citizens Bank Park. Though he spent just two seasons playing for the Phillies after being traded from the White Sox for Jim Thome, Rowand was unforgettable. Specifically, the catch at Citizens Bank Park where he smashed his face into the exposed metal on the center field fence remains the greatest catch I’ve seen.
He also broke his ankle trying to make a tough catch at Wrigley Field and belted the ball around as an integral member of the 2007 club that broke the long playoff drought for the Phillies.
My favorite Rowand injury was the one he got while playing with his kids at his daughter’s birthday party. That little shoulder injury tells you all you need to know about Rowand—whether it was a big league game or his daughter’s birthday party, he went all out.
“The next day I got shot up a little bit and went back out there and it was fine,” Rowand remembered for us about hurting himself at the birthday party.
Nevertheless, Rowand left the Phillies for the Giants after the 2007 season as a free agent when San Francisco ponied up the years in a long-term contract he was looking for. The Giants gave him a five-year, $60 million deal that runs out in 2012, while the Phillies countered with three years. The Giants also gave him a $8 million signing bonus though he hasn’t come close to producing the types of numbers he posted in his two years with the Phillies.
Interestingly, when Rowand jumped to the Giants he took quite a bit of flack for it because it was seen as a money grab. Considering that San Francisco finished last in the NL West in 2007 and improved by one win and one spot in the standings in 2008, it’s not tough to understand why it looked like a rush for a pay day.
But all along, Rowand held fast to the theory that when the core group of young pitchers for the Giants—Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez—developed properly, things would change quickly.
He nailed that one.
Not that it was tough, of course. Anyone could see that Lincecum and Cain were the real deal, though the right-handed Cain's current scoreless innings streak through the playoffs is pretty extraordinary... make that downright Christy Mattewson-esque.
Still, the part that stood out was that Rowand didn't give off any false bravado of a guy bragging about his team. He was calm and matter-of-fact. He also knew that the Giants were better than most of us realized.
Though the Giants finished in third place and faded in September in 2009, they won 88 games and the young pitchers began to show their promise. Lincecum won his second Cy Young Award, Cain pitched exactly 217 2/3 innings for the second straight season with 14 wins, and even veteran Barry Zito showed flashes of his old form.
Teams like the Phillies saw what was going on in San Francisco and took notice. Better yet, Rowand, once again, reminded folks about the Giants’ pitching.
“When you look at teams that have success in the postseason, a lot of it has to do with how they pitch,” Rowand said before a game at the Bank in September of 2009. “And when you have a pitching staff like us that you can line up for a five-game series or a seven-game series, you know you have a chance to win every game.”
Not-so secretly, folks in my line of work wondered what would happen to the Phillies if they had to face the Giants in a wild-card series. There was a chance the Phillies would have used Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Pedro Martinez against Lincecum, Cain and Sanchez in ’09 in the same way they sent Roy Halladay, Hamels and Roy Oswalt out there in the 2010 NLCS.
Would the result have been the same a year earlier? Probably not. After all, the Giants’ offense got a serious upgrade with Pat Burrell and Aubrey Huff, which speaks to how bad the Giants were with the bats in 2009. They finished toward the bottom in runs and batting average, next-to-last in homers and dead last in on-base percentage in 2009.
Clearly, pitching will take a team only so far. The Phillies learned that lesson the hard way in 2010.
Interestingly, Rowand told us in September of 2009 that he had spoken with Phillies manager Charlie Manuel about the prospect of a Philadelphia-San Francisco playoff series, which is another bit of Rowand prophecy that came true. Stranger still, Rowand said his Giants reminded him a lot of his 2005 White Sox that tore through the postseason by winning 10 of 11 games to win Chicago’s first World Series since 1917.
“[The Giants] reminds me a lot of the team we had with the White Sox in the year that we won. We had a decent offense but we weren’t a powerhouse by any means,” Rowand said back in ‘09. “We had a couple of guys who could hit home runs, but we were a pitching and defense team. In the postseason the pitching staff stepped up and it carried us.”
That’s the way it’s going in 2010 with the Giants. Rowand may have been a year early with his predictions, but he’s right on time now.