The Giants have a one-word motto for the brand of baseball they play, a word more descriptive than “low-scoring,” more evocative than “ugly,” more visceral than “excruciating” — to name three other words that also could apply to the champions of the National League West, and one of four teams left standing as baseball’s postseason enters the league championship round this weekend.
The word is “torture,” and depending on one’s perspective, it’s either hard to watch or methodically effective.
“It was torture,” ace Tim Lincecum said in the Giants’ joyous clubhouse after a close-fought Division Series against the Atlanta Braves. “But when you play all these close games, it makes it that much more meaningful, that much more special.”
Giants television broadcaster Duane Kuiper is credited with being the first to use the word “torture” to describe the team’s play. “Giants baseball — torture!” he blurted in the midst of another early-season nail-biter.
The players liked it so much, they printed up T-shirts with the phrase. In a sense, the Giants were poking fun at themselves: The implication was that their sputtering offense was being carried by their dominating pitching staff.
Which was all basically true. The Giants, who will face the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL Championship Series beginning Saturday, ranked 17th in the majors this season in runs scored, putting up 41 fewer runs than any other team that made the playoffs. Their pitchers, meantime, led the majors with a collective 3.36 ERA. In one remarkable 21-game stretch in September, the Giants scored two or fewer runs 13 times — yet still won six of those games.
“It’s the way we play,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “It’s experience you can draw upon. If you play enough tight games, guys get accustomed to it. They know how big every pitch, every play, every at-bat is.”
But in the first round, the Giants lifted their “torture” brand of play into an art form. All four games against the Braves were decided by one run. In three of the four games, the score was 1-0 entering the sixth inning. There were a total of five lead changes that occurred in the seventh inning or later.
True to form, the Giants hit just .212 and slugged .295 in the series, but their pitchers limited the Braves to .175 and .263. Particularly potent was the Giants’ starting rotation — Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and rookie Madison Bumgarner — which limited the Braves to three earned runs in 29 innings.
“It’s a good feeling when you look at those four guys,” said Buster Posey, the Giants’ rookie catcher. “They’re all 27 or younger. It’s amazing.”
For their next assignment, however, the Giants face a monumental task: the NL East champion Phillies, a team that can match the Giants ace-for-ace and, at least theoretically, out-hit them as well. If the Giants thought playing the Braves constituted torture, wait until they get a look at the Phillies.