How the Giants led San Francisco out of pandemic purgatory

‘Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart, you just gotta poke around’

The San Francisco Giants set a franchise record for regular season wins since moving West this season, using a ragtag roster of talented veterans, untested youngsters, interchangeable parts and indispensable pluck. They even employed a submariner.

It’s been an absolutely magical summer at the ballpark, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. San Francisco remained locked in a strange pandemic purgatory of sorts, stuck between third and fourth gear, ready to come back but unsure it can.

In stepped the Giants with the most improbable season imaginable. Nostradamus would be baffled.

As the victories piled up, so did the confidence. On the field and in the stands. I remember coming out to Oracle Park for a celebration of Willie Mays’ 90th birthday back in May. It was a surreal scene, marked by masks and trepidation. Fast forward four months, and Oracle Park feels like the heart of town. Packed houses and anticipation. Some of us are still wearing masks, but it’s really starting to feel normal again.

My colleague Jeff Elder was marveling about the situation the other day, saying the Giants have singlehandedly led us out of quarantine, encouraging people back downtown and making it OK to have fun again. I wholeheartedly agree. San Francisco needed the Giants to show us the way.

And what a way it’s been. Unbelievable comebacks. Unpredictable heroes. All orchestrated by an unproven manager whose hiring was widely questioned when he first arrived. Those skeptics have vanished. Using a very San Francisco formula mixing innovative analytics with industry best practices, Gabe Kapler and his partner in sublime, Farhan Zaidi, have rebuilt in record time, delivering a legitimate contender ahead of schedule.

It’s really been a masterful managerial performance by Kapler, who has juggled a roster of misfit toys while keeping everyone happy. The team set a record for home runs, on top of victories, spreading the pop across the entire dugout. Ten players had posted double-digit taters with four games to go. (The injured Brandon Belt, whose thumb fracture looms large in the postseason, will end the season as the likely team leader with 29.)

And the mix-and-match nature of the roster also feels right, bringing back memories of the original “Torture” Giants. There’s a lot of Cody Ross and Pat Burrell in this year’s team. Having covered all three recent World Series championships, I have to say the 2010 vintage was my favorite. It was the perfect mix of brash youth (Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Pablo Sandoval) and cagey veterans (Edgar Renteria, Juan Uribe, Bengie Molina), all orchestrated by the wise old sage, Bruce Bochy. Watching long-haired Timmy mow ‘em down in Arlington, right in front of the Bush family dynasty no less, was a truly historic moment for San Francisco. The freaks and weirdos won it all. That trophy brought this town together in a way I’d never seen. The love affair remains passionate to this day.

Posey is now the cagey vet, joined by Brandon Crawford and Belt, leading a much older team (the oldest in the Major Leagues), but one with the same sensibility. Us against the world. No one expects anything. So let’s give ‘em everything. And boy have they delivered on that promise.

Think about all the amazing moments this season. My former colleague Steve Kroner put together a great list of memorable games in the Chronicle the other day. Among my favorites:

— Mike Tauchman’s absolutely amazing, game-saving catch against Albert Pujols at the wall back in May. Lamonte Wade Jr. won that game over the Dodgers in the 10th, the first of many heroics provided by that young man.

— Mike Yastrzemski’s grand slam against the Diamondbacks in June.

— Curt Casali’s double to beat the A’s in the Bay Bridge series a few weeks later.

— Kris Bryant’s game-winning double against Arizona in the 10th.

— Wade’s dramatic, game-winning home run against the A’s in August.

— My personal favorite: The super-strange victory over the Dodgers on Sept. 3, when Posey, of all people, legged out an infield hit helped along by an errant throw. After a long and awkward review, the umpires signalled safe and it was the rare “walkoff by review.”

— Oh, and how about we add Thursday night’s 5-4 victory over the Diamondbacks, and our old friend Bumgarner? Once again, “Late Night” Lamont came through with a game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth, to give the Giants a 5-4 walk-off victory. This guy has been absolutely amazing in clutch situations all season. And he did it off a lefty, against whom he rarely ever bats. Remarkable.

What a season. So many memories. Now we’ll see if the magic dust will continue to sprinkle at the corner of Third and King. Many of us have read this script before. Perhaps we’re in for another Hollywood ending.

So, thank you Giants. Thanks for bringing us out of the darkness. Whatever happens in the postseason, you’ve given us well over 100 reasons to come out of hiding.

As the great poet Robert Hunter taught us, “Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart, you just gotta poke around.”

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