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Sunday, October 24, 2010
San Francisco living on the edge

By Wayne Drehs
ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- As he leaned against a wall in the clubhouse early Saturday morning, cold beer dripping off his National League championship cap, San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson tried to make sense of it all.

With his tattoo-covered arms wrapped around the Warren C. Giles Trophy, which goes to the NL champions, Wilson talked about his team's resilience, its ability to bounce back and how it would all make the celebration that night sweeter.

And before he finished talking, Wilson offered three words that undoubtedly resonated with cardiac surgeons 3,000 miles away back in San Francisco.

"We're not done," he said.

Andres Torres
In 10 postseason games, Andres Torres and the Giants outscored their opponents by a 30-29 margin.

This, of course, is exactly what the fan of any team would want to hear from one of its star players. But cheer for the San Francisco Giants and it means it's time to buy another package of Rolaids.

And a nail file.

Saturday night's 3-2 series-clinching victory over the Phillies was San Francisco's sixth one-run victory, tying a postseason record set by the 1972 Oakland Athletics. Only Tuesday's 3-0 Game 3 victory over the Phillies allowed fans to put down the oxygen tanks.

And if the Giants plan to beat the high-powered Texas Rangers in the World Series, the recipe will have to be much of the same. One word can describe the Giants' postseason game plan: torture.

"We talked about it last week," Wilson said of the Giants' style. "It's not going to come easy. We're not going to blow a team out. It is well earned. It is exhausting. But damn, it feels good."

Beginning on Wednesday night at AT&T Park, the Giants will try to end the third-longest World Series title drought in baseball (sorry, Cubs and Indians fans.) But the team that awaits them appears far more formidable -- at least on offense -- than anything they've seen to this point. Sure, the Phillies were the two-time defending National League champions and their lineup featured seven current or former NL All-Stars. But the Philadelphia offense was hardly operating at maximum output.

Texas, meanwhile, scored 36 runs against the Yankees in the ALCS. San Francisco has scored 24 runs this entire postseason.

The Giants know that the moment the starting lineups are posted for Game 1, they will be overmatched -- on paper. Anyone in his or her right mind would choose an offense with Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Vladimir Guerrero over Buster Posey, Cody Ross and Aubrey Huff.

The nine players who take the field for the Giants each night are a mismatched group of castoffs, wannabes and used-to-bes: Pat Burrell, Edgar Renteria, Juan Uribe, Andres Torres -- even cult hero Ross is barely a bit more than a solid if unspectacular major league player. But because of the Giants' pitching, it works.

And unlike in the NLCS, when San Francisco had to face Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, the Giants likely will send the better starting pitcher to the mound in every World Series game not started by the Rangers' Cliff Lee.

"We're just a bunch of fools who really want to win," said Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt. "We're all the wildcats and misfits and people nobody wanted. We're all unique individuals. We have some crazies in this clubhouse. But that is who we are. We compete because of it, and we win close games because of it."

Giants outfielder Aaron Rowand said the situation was very similar to that of the 2005 Chicago White Sox. That team relied on stellar postseason pitching from Mark Buehrle, Jose Contreras and others to end its own its own 88-year championship drought.

"That's how championship teams are made," Rowand said. "Everybody pulling on the same end of the rope. Everybody setting their sights on the same goal. This is a special group. And I think everybody is starting to realize that now."

It isn't exactly the formula general manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy drew up in spring training. But it has worked. The Giants have used great starting pitching to keep the game close and then, often in the late innings, come up with one clutch hit to make the difference.

For the Giants, it's a different hero every night. Maybe it's a rookie phenom such as Posey, a once written-off veteran such as Uribe or an overlooked talent such as Ross, stepping up on the biggest stage of his life.

Ross was named the NLCS MVP on Saturday night. And as the outfielder walked through the clubhouse after the announcement, Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti could only smile.

"How about that?" Righetti said of Ross, a career .265 hitter. "What an incredible story, what a great kid."

A few feet away, Huff had his only take on the Giants outfielder.

"Not bad for a garbage pickup, huh?" he asked.

Not bad at all. And now for an encore comes the challenge of taking that last step -- a step the franchise has never achieved since moving to California -- ideally without giving its entire fan base a heart attack.

"They'll be fine," second baseman Freddy Sanchez said of the San Francisco fans. "They've been behind us the entire way, and they know that as long as they stay with us, good things are going to happen in the end."

Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn.com.