Spander: Postseason baseball back in the Bay

The Atlanta Braves have better hitting, and even if you’re an optimist and figure the Giants can go the next step, there’s no way they beat the Philadelphia Phillies. Unless they do, and then if it’s New York Yankees or Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series. It’s a given, top to bottom, American League teams are superior to those from the National League.

And yet, who cares? It’s October, and there’s baseball by the Bay. The boys of summer have made it to autumn. We’ve waited for the postseason in San Francisco, and in Oakland, far too long. Now that it’s arrived, live for the moment. Seize the day.

Our priorities have changed. The usual procedure around here is to wave goodbye to baseball, to mouth the eternal line, “Wait ’til next year.” Next year — at least in a small way, at least so far — finally is this year.

The 49ers are a pathetic 0-4. The Raiders are a near pathetic 1-3. Stanford is competent. Cal is satisfactory. Imagine if we had to rely on football. But this time we don’t. We still have baseball.

We still have Tim Lincecum and Bruce Bochy and the Panda. We still have all the nonsense of orange jerseys. We still have garlic fries.

Sure, the Giants have weaknesses. How many times can a team be shut out in a season? (Answer, not as many in a stretch of eight games as the Phillies; ah yes, baseball is so bewildering.) How many times can a team lose when its own pitchers throw a one-hitter? (Answer, twice). How many times can fans — and writers — complain Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand are overpaid. (Thousands).

Baseball is a lot like life. Rod Kanehl, who played for the Mets back in the ’60s, made that point. “The line drives are caught,” said Kanehl, “and the squibblers go for base hits. It’s an unfair game.”

Yet a compelling game. A game of survival. Week after week, month after month, the Giants took two steps forward and one step back and the Padres wouldn’t yield. Nor would the Giants surrender.

It’s the best of games, baseball, The most perplexing of games. College teams play major leaguers in exhibitions. And sometimes the college teams win. It couldn’t happen in basketball or football.

What happens in baseball is for a week a .220 hitter bats .320. And a .320 hitter bats .220. Gil Hodges, an eight-time All-Star, a man who once had four home runs in a game, went 0-for-21 in the 1952 World Series. Gene Tenace hit only five home runs all of 1972 for the A’s, but hit four in the World Series that year against Cincinnati.

The postseason is so different from the regular season. Every pitch and every swing become critical. The issue is less one of consistency than one of reaching a peak for a short time. Of finding a groove. Or of keeping a groove.

San Francisco, the community, has taken to these Giants. They are champions, if only in the division, and true everyone loves a winner. Yet, their appeal is greater than their record.

They did it the hard way, the gritty way. We gave up on them. They never gave up on themselves. Thank heavens.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at typoes@aol.com.</p>

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