by Richard Booroojian
The 2000 San Francisco Giants did not win the World Series. They did not win the National League pennant. They did not even win a playoff series.
But short of those high achievements, the 2000 San Francisco Giants accomplished just about everything you could ever ask for. They opened up a new ballpark that quickly became the envy of teams everywhere (and just as quickly eradicated all memories of the horrible slag-pile of a stadium in which they had been imprisoned for the prior 40 years), and they then filled all the seats for 81 straight games while fashioning the best home record in baseball. They had five starters win at least 10 games during the regular season, and thanks in large part to that pitching, they won the NL West in dominating fashion. Two of their players (Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent) ended up as legitimate MVP candidates, one of their pitchers (closer Robb Nen) a Cy Young dark horse, and Dusty Baker the NL Manager of the Year. They even earned the best regular-season record in baseball, something they had not done since Alvin Dark was managing the team.
And yet. And yet...
The 2000 Season in Perspective
The Giants in 2000 continued what is becoming a historic run for the franchise; their four-year win total of 362 wins is the most for the Giants since their 1966-to-1969 teams netted an equal number of wins. By reaching the postseason for the fourth time in 14 years (dating from 1987, not counting the wild-card playoff in 1998), the Giants matched the New York Giant franchise's four titles in 14 years from 1924-1937 (or course, those were pennant winners in eight-team leagues, not division winners in four-to-six-team divisions, but we take what we can get in San Francisco Giants Land). It seems that, after several decades out in the cold, the Giants have finally reached a level where it is not unreasonable for their fans to expect regular success out of the team.
The Giants record in 2000 was a sparkling 97-65, the best in baseball. The last time the Giants had the best record in baseball was 1962, when they went 103-62. The 97 wins is the third highest in San Francisco Giants history (behind only 1962 and 1993) and tied with 1954 for eleventh highest in franchise history (seven of the 10 higher win total seasons occurred before the end of World War I).
The 2000 Giants dominated the NL West, winning by a margin of 11 games over the second-place Los Angeles Dodgers and 12 over the Arizona Diamondbacks. This margin of victory was (get this) the third highest ever for the franchise. Only in 1904 (13 games over the Cubs) and in 1913 (12 games over the Phillies) did the franchise win by a greater margin. Considering that the NL West was particularly strong this year (it ended up an aggregate 42 games over .500), this is a remarkable achievement. There is little doubt that the Giants were a team well worth praising in 2000.
Perhaps it is because of all this that the team's fans expected bigger things out of the Giants in the postseason than the team was ultimately able to deliver. The Giants during the regular season achieved unexpected and unprecedented (at least in recent memory) heights. It's not hard to understand why dreams of a league pennant or even (dare we say?) a long-overdue World Series ring started to materialize, or why it was so difficult when those dreams were shattered in the end.
The 2000 Season in Review
Nearly all of the excitement heading into the 2000 season had to do with the opening of Pacific Bell Park. Liberated from the icy confines of Candlestick Park, the Giants' front office was able to do something it had never come close to doing before: sell the whole joint out. Except for day-of-game tickets, every seat was spoken for before even one pitch was thrown in the park, and that fact seemed to lay to rest a lot of fears that ever-jittery Giant fans still carried deep within their hearts. What if they built a stadium and nobody came? What if the San Francisco city government mucked up the construction of Pac Bell Park like it had just about everything else it had touched from a sports perspective in the last 20 years? What if the whole place was a bomb? Would the team ever recover?
Well, the place was the bomb, and by the time the season started, the future of the franchise in San Francisco looked as secure as it ever had. It was perhaps a bit disheartening, though, that the team had made no significant changes to a roster that had faltered badly in 1999 (note that they did dump Julian Tavarez, a factor that may have ultimately paid as big a dividend as anything else they could have done), but the feelings of many seemed to be that the owners deserved one year to rake in a few bucks before they started seriously investing in a playoff-caliber roster. The bold claims by GM Brian Sabean and manager Dusty Baker that this was the best roster they had yet constructed if it could only stay healthy fell on mostly deaf ears. The Giants were a consensus pick for second or maybe third place in the NL West, most likely behind the defending-champ Arizona Diamondbacks and perhaps behind the always-sure-to-be-resurgent Los Angeles Dodgers as well. Even the completely revamped Colorado Rockies could not be overlooked.
The Giants started the season with four games in Florida. The thought of that gave one chills; a three-game sweep at the hands of sad-sack Florida in August 1999 was certainly the lowest point of that season and perhaps one of the lower moments in San Francisco Giants history. However, the team split the four games and would have taken the series had John Johnstone not given up a two run, game-ending home run to Cliff Floyd to lose the get-away game. That, as it turned out, was an ominous sign for Johnstone's season. The Giants then lost the obligatory two of three in Atlanta.
The team returned home 3-4, but it didn't matter. Opening Day at Pac Bell Park was finally here. Fans attending two preseason exhibition games at the park had raved about the ambiance, the weather, and the layout of the field. Considering that the Giants had been searching for a nice place to play for over 25 years, it was a joy to finally have that place built and ready to go. Surely, the dawn of a new era was at hand.
Well, the new era started under a cloud, literally and figuratively. The Giants played poorly, and they lost all five games played in the homestand. The Dodgers gloried in sweeping three games to start things off, with Kevin Elster's three home runs ruining the opener. The next game was suspended due to rain, but the Giants managed to blow a lead when play resumed the next day, then get hammered in the series finale. Next up was the defending Western Champ Diamondbacks. Livan Hernandez lost a brilliant pitchers' duel to Randy Johnson in the first game, and then a young fan snatched a ball from above the glove of Barry Bonds, turning a long Kelly Stinnett fly ball into a three-run home run. The Giants, of course, lost that game 8-7.
The hype and excitement had given way to shock and despair in short order. The weather, the fans and the fates (Kevin Elster, for heaven's sake!) all seemed aligned against the team. Well, one thing did go right; a Sunday rainout saved the Giants from losing six in a row, which would have set a record for most consecutive losses to open up a stadium. There was no way the team was going to win at that point, and they were thus able to hold off setting that record for another 10 days.
What went wrong? Well, players subsequently indicated that it took them some time to get used to the new environment and the new dynamics of the park, but the visitors had the same challenges to deal with and they managed to thrive. Certainly the team subsequently played brilliantly at home, going 55-21 from that point on. In 81 games at home, the team outscored opponents 451-306, committed just 34 errors, and the starters posted a strong 3.48 ERA. Clearly the team was destined to play well at Pac Bell, so in the end one is almost forced to look at the opening week debacle this way: it is the Giants' fate to always embarrass themselves in big and noticeable ways. The opening of Pac Bell Park was a national media event. The Giants had to ruin it for themselves; that has been their mode of operation for the last 40-plus years. Once they had opened the ballpark in the worst possible way, ill-rewarding themselves and their fans for all the excitement and optimism leading into the season, then the team was free to move ahead and play to their abilities.
It's amazing another earthquake didn't hit just as the fan snagged that one game away from Barry Bonds' glove.
The Giants were now 3-9 and in last place, already six games behind Arizona. An eight-game road trip was just what the doctor would have suggested avoiding, but the Giants headed out to Cincinnati to start one nonetheless. A come-from-behind 13-9 win over the Reds in the first game ended their seven-game losing streak, but the team lost the next two to fall to 4-11. The eleventh loss was a particularly dismal 11-1 affair, with hard-luck Livan Hernandez falling to 0-4 after the bullpen (specifically Alan Embree and rookie Aaron Fultz) let the game get completely out of hand. All six starters (including the just-reactivated Shawn Estes) were struggling, the bullpen was in shambles, the hitters weren't hitting, and the defense had just committed five errors in the three games against the Reds. Now the Giants headed for Arizona, which had been a house of horrors for them in 1999. This was indeed a very low point.
In 1999 the Giants had a wild and uneven ride through the season. During the next two months of 2000, the team went through even wilder gyrations as they attempted to recover from their stumble out of the gate.
About the last thing that anyone expected was for the Giants to start to get well against the high-flying Diamondbacks, but amazingly that's just what happened. The Giants won the first two games behind the big bats of Bonds and Jeff Kent, and then went for the sweep against Armando Reynoso.
Key Game #1: This sequence was sweet enough to record for posterity: Marvin Benard singled, Bill Mueller homered, Bonds singled, Kent singled, J.T. Snow doubled, Ellis Burks walked, Rich Aurilia singled. That was it for Reynoso, who never retired a batter that day. Bobby Estalella greeted Brian Anderson with a home run to bring the score to 8-0 before even one out was recorded. Joe Nathan gave up four runs of his own in the bottom of the first, but the Giants hit three more home runs and held on to win 12-7, sweeping the Diamondbacks and moving the Giants back to within 4.5 games of the lead.
Things were starting to look up. The Giants took two extra-inning games in Florida, ending the road trip 6-2. The Giants did indeed set a dubious record by losing their sixth straight home game to Montreal before they finally won their first game at home, 2-1 behind strong pitching from Kirk Rueter.
Next up was a four-game series against the Mets, and it was a memorable one. In the first game, Barry Bonds became the first Giant to hit a home run into the San Francisco Bay, and a collision at home plate between J.T. Snow and Mets' catcher Todd Pratt raised tempers on both benches. In the second game, Livan Hernandez earned his first win of the season by going all the way, while Bobby Estalella hit a grand slam in a 7-1 win. In the third game, strong bullpen work by Aaron Fultz and Felix Rodriguez helped overcome another meltdown by John Johnstone and push the game into the eleventh inning, whereupon Jeff Kent hit a dramatic three-run home run to win it.
This series was, in retrospect, a pivotal moment in the season, not only because of the role it played in the Giants recovery process, but also because it was such a major precursor to the Giants-Mets playoff series in October. The Mets left town vowing revenge, mostly because of what happened in the final game of the series:
Key Game #2: Rick Reed and Kirk Rueter had been locked up in a solid pitchers' duel, with Mike Piazza's two-run homer the difference in a 2-1 game, heading into the bottom of the eighth. However, Felipe Crespo delivered a game-tying pinch-hit single off Reed. The Mets then brought in former Giant Dennis Cook, and Cook blew up. First he balked, then he hit Marvin Benard, and after Benard gave Cook a hard stare, the two players began jawing at each other, causing both benches to empty for the second time in four days. Armando Benitez took over for the rattled Cook, and Bill Mueller came up with one of the bigger hits of the season, a bases-loaded triple to center. In all, the Giants scored six runs in the eighth and won the game 7-2, giving the Giants (according to their research) their first four-game sweep ever over the Mets.
The Giants had finally learned to win at Pac Bell Park. They took two straight shutouts from Colorado, the second a complete game effort from Shawn Estes, lost another game to rain (the first time the Giants had been rained out twice in a season at home since 1967), then took two out of three from high-flying St. Louis. Amazingly, after having lost every game at home coming into the home stand, the Giants left town with a 9-8 home record. They were now 18-14, in second place and finally looking like they were ready for business.
However, no recovery is ever without its relapses, and so it was for the Giants. Sporting a nice 9-6 road record as they headed out to Colorado, the Giants began what would become a long stretch of road woes by losing the first eight games on the road trip.
Worst Pitched Game (Starter Division): Coors Field was a horror story for all the Giants starters in 2000, but none of their outings was as bad as the first. Joe Nathan had been inconsistent in the season so far, but he was coming off his best outing of the season in a home win against the Rockies. In this game, he was totally ineffective, giving up 12 runs (10 earned) in just 2-2/3 innings. Jeffrey Hammonds hit two home runs off Nathan and drove in seven runs overall. Three days later, Nathan was on the disabled list for the first of two visits in 2000.
There was no stopping the Rockies in this series. They scored 36 runs in the three games in sweeping the Giants. Next up was Atlanta, and they swept San Francisco as well. The Giants were stunningly inept in those games; in one, the Braves got out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam on two pitches, while in the next game Atlanta scored two runs on a double play in which the ball never left the infield. For the first six games of the road trip, the Giants had committed 13 errors and their starters generated a stunning 10.50 ERA. To add injury to insult, Ellis Burks went on the DL during the Colorado series, and Bonds hurt his back, causing him to miss several games and affecting his play for several weeks thereafter.
Milwaukee seemed to be a perfect tonic for the team's woes, and in fact the Brewers were, at that point, probably the worst team in baseball. However, the bullpen had seen what the starters were doing, and they were now ready to contribute in kind.
Worst Pitched Game (Bullpen Division): John Johnstone was the source of most of the bullpen woes for the Giants in early 2000, but on this day he was the most effective pitcher out of the pen. Livan Hernandez entrusted a 7-3 lead to his relievers, but rookies Aaron Fultz and Ben Weber never retired a batter, allowing eight straight Brewers to reach base and turning that 7-3 lead into a 10-7 deficit. The Giants did manage to come back to tie the game, but Robb Nen, still not all the way back from offseason surgery after his disappointing 1999 season, allowed a run in the tenth inning to give the Brewers an 11-10 victory.
Jeff D'Amico dealt the Giants their first shutout in the next game and with that, the Giants had suffered an eight-game losing streak, all but on the heels of the seven-game win streak they had fashioned at home. They did salvage one game on the trip by pounding the Brewers 16-10 in the finale. This was a crazy game in which Terrell Lowery, called up to replace Burks, went 5-for-6 with three doubles, and the Giants scored 11 runs in a memorable sixth inning. It was fortunate that they did so because Russ Ortiz, who had by now established himself as one of the more disappointing starters in the league, gave up 10 runs of his own. By so doing, he became the first pitcher since Bob Friend in 1954 to allow 10 runs in a game and still be the winning pitcher.
The Giants returned home and sent Shawn Estes to the mound against the Expos
Best Pitched Game (#1): Okay, this is a little bit of a cheat, because while Estes was excellent, allowing just seven hits and one walk while striking out seven in a complete game shutout, this was not as well pitched a game as one that Hernandez contributed later in the season. However, the grand slam Estes hit in the sixth inning, the first ever by a San Francisco Giants pitcher, certainly added to his achievement, and it is never easy to close out a victory the size of this 18-0 blowout, which happened to be the largest margin in a shutout victory in franchise history.
The season had been a wild series of rides to this point, but now the Giants started to make a run. Commencing with the Montreal series, the Giants had 18 of their next 24 games at home, and they took advantage, going 12-6 at Pac Bell to more than offset losing four of six in Oakland and Anaheim. Many things were starting to work well for the team. The hitters went off, led by a red-hot Jeff Kent and (once his aching back calmed down) Barry Bonds. During the 24-game stretch, the team batted .304 with 36 home runs and 151 runs scored. Likewise, the starting pitching suddenly got it together, posting a collective 3.28 ERA during this period, and they would have been even better had not Russ Ortiz continued to struggle. Burks and Nathan both came off the DL, giving the Giants their most complete active roster in several years. The only area of major concern was the bullpen. Nen was still not dominating hitters, and Johnstone and Embree were pitching very poorly, which overshadowed surprisingly strong work from Felix Rodriguez and, to a lesser extent, Aaron Fultz. The bullpen's ineffectiveness directly led to six of the 10 losses during this period.
The team finally climbed back over .500 by the end of this period, but they were still stuck in fourth place, 4.5 games behind Arizona. The Giants then visited the Cardinals and the Astros, making up additional ground and even reaching third place, but not before one strange game in St. Louis.
Frozen Moment: The Giants had scored eight runs in the fifth inning, knocking out Pat Hentgen, and they had an 8-1 lead heading into the later innings when, out of nowhere, the bugs came out: thousands of moths, creating problems all over the field. The Cards gradually cut the lead to 9-7, and then Shawon Dunston, up with two on and two outs in the eighth, hit a long fly to left that Barry Bonds, fighting the moths and with his back to the wall, leapt for and got his glove on... only to see the ball bounce off the glove and over the fence for a three-run homer. Yet another bad break dealt by the hand of an undistinguished ex-Giant. The Cardinals went on to win 11-10.
It was the final series of that road trip, a four-game set with Colorado, that undermined most of the positive momentum the Giants had built up during their recovery phase. Colorado scored 50 runs in the four games, overcoming an 8-1 lead in one game and literally knocking out Kirk Rueter with a line drive through the box in another. The bullpen was incredible: in 14 innings during the series, they gave up 29 hits and 15 walks and were charged with 25 earned runs. The Rockies won three out of four, pulling them virtually even with the Diamondbacks in the NL West standings. The Giants were back in fourth place and, after losing a miserable game to the Dodgers upon their return home, their record stood at 38-38, 6.5 games out of the lead. The team had come back from their poor start and had finally established themselves at home, but the collapse in Colorado had put a lot of doubts back into people's minds. Who knew what was going to happen with this team next?
It's kind of a strange thing to say, but the most interesting part of the Giants' season was now over. The Giants had done little to indicate that they were up to what came next, but starting on July 1, 2000, the team literally took over the NL West and left almost no room for any other team to seriously challenge them again.
During the period starting July 1 and ending August 31, the Giants went 38-18. They knocked the Rockies, who had finally reached first place before their Pac Bell rematch in early July, completely out of the race in just four games. On the date of Arizona's much-heralded acquisition of Curt Schilling, the team took over the NL West lead for the first time, and within a week of that date, they had taken possession of first place for good. It was a run reminiscent of the surge Atlanta laid on the Giants in late 1993, but for once, it was the Giants doing it. By the time this phase of the season was done, Arizona was a broken team with a roster full of aging dead-weight players and a lame-duck manager. The Giants' great play had done that to them, just as the strong charge Arizona laid on San Francisco in late 1999 broke down the Giants in that season.
Ironically, while the 2000 Giants will always be remembered for their great hitting and incredible power, the team was probably at its least productive offensively during this period. The Giants hit only .257 during these two months (granted, with 66 home runs) and scored only 4.9 runs per game, down substantially from earlier in the season. However, the starting pitching continued to improve and two previously struggling pitchers suddenly got it together. Russ Ortiz had been a disaster for most of the season and was finally dropped from the rotation after the All-Star Break, but he caught a break of sorts when Joe Nathan had to go back onto the DL and finally pulled things together. He went 6-0 in August, striking out 12 Pirates in his final game of that month. Robb Nen was even more impressive during this period, as he finally completed his recovery from offseason surgery and started dominating batters the way he had in 1998 and early 1999. His 14 saves in July tied an NL record for the month, and he did not allow a run from mid-July until late September. The bullpen, also bolstered by the continued strong pitching of Felix Rodriguez, finally started to carry its weight despite the continuing struggles of John Johnstone. In fact, once Johnstone went on the DL in late July, the bullpen became a strength of the team rather than a weakness. A trade deadline pickup of Doug Henry for rookie Scott Linebrink further bolstered the pen.
The first sign that momentum was shifting for the Giants came on July 2 against the Dodgers.
Key Game #3: Any victory over the Dodgers is special, but this one was even better than that. Jeff Kent hit two home runs, but the Giants had blown a 4-1 lead when two wild pitches and a throwing error allowed two runs to score, tying the game at 5-5. Then Marvin Benard, who had been mostly ineffective offensively for the season to that point, led off the ninth with a dramatic home run off Dodger reliever Mike Fetters to win the game. It wasn't quite up to the standard set by Brian Johnson in 1997, but it was a fine moment all the same.
The Giants had now passed the Dodgers and were back in third place. Next up was Colorado, which had just tied the Diamondbacks for first place in the West. Memories of 50 runs in four games were still fresh, but this four-game series (including a make-up game that resulted in the first day-night doubleheader in San Francisco history) was nothing like the debacle at Coors Field. Livan Hernandez no-hit the Rockies for six innings in the opener, and then the Giants, behind seven strong innings from Mark Gardner, shut out the Rockies in the second game, the third shutout of Colorado at Pac Bell Park in 2000. Colorado scored a grand total of eight runs in the four games, five of them coming in the series finale in which Jeff Kent, with the score tied 5-5 in the bottom of the ninth, doubled off the wall to score J.T. Snow with the winning run. (This provided a fine moment for announcer John Miller, who exclaimed after Kent's double hit the Chevron sign in left field, "It's off the top of the wall! It's off the top of the car!")
With the four-game sweep, the Giants had broken Colorado's momentum. The Giants moved ahead of them into second place two days later as they stretched their winning streak to eight during a series in St. Louis just before the All-Star Game, and the Rockies never recovered. They quickly fell out of the race, leaving Arizona as the Giants' only remaining obstacle in the NL West.
The Giants had two All-Star starters in Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent, although Bonds missed the game due to an injured thumb. Kent had been brilliant in the first half, hitting .355 with 23 home runs and a league-leading 85 RBIs, although he went 0-2 in the All-Star Game. Now came a time of great concern, because the Giants had stumbled badly after the All-Star Game in the three previous seasons; their 10-21 post-break stumble in 1999 had effectively knocked them out of the race. This was not 1999, though; the Giants went 12-8 in their first 20 games after the break, overcoming a long 12-game road trip through Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, and Milwaukee. There were several fine moments during this stretch, including one which sealed a three-game sweep at home against Texas
Key Game #4: Rick Helling retired the first 13 Giants before Ellis Burks doubled in the fifth. Helling and Russ Ortiz kept the game scoreless until the Rangers scored two runs in the seventh, and they carried a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth after Ranger closer John Wetteland had struck out Barry Bonds (Bonds' fourth strikeout of the night) to end the eighth. Rich Aurilia and Ellis Burks got on base, and with two outs, Armando Rios pinch-hit for Bobby Estalella
Best Single At-Bat: Wetteland fell behind in the count 2-0, and Rios was looking fastball. He got it, and he hit the ball over the wall in left-center, turning the 3-2 deficit into a stunning 5-3 victory. "This is definitely my best trip ever around the bases," Rios said after the game. "I enjoyed it the whole way around, just hearing the crowd. When I stepped on third base and looked up and saw the whole team there waiting for me, you can't compare that feeling." It was an amazing moment for the fans as well, and it was this game that started to give one the sense that the Giants were indeed destined for big things in 2000.
The Giants had their second game-ending home run in about two weeks, and the good times kept on coming. The Giants finally caught the Diamondbacks in their 99th game of the season, moving percentage points ahead after a win over San Diego. That moment was even more notable because it occurred on the same day that Arizona traded several players to Philadelphia for Curt Schilling, a transaction that inspired most of the national media to concede the Western Division race to Arizona. The Diamondbacks retook the lead over the idle Giants the next day, but on July 31 in a game at Milwaukee, the Giants moved back into first place for good.
Key Game #5: Ellis Burks drove in two runs in the first inning, but after the Giants scored again in the second, they went 8-2/3 innings without a hit. Milwaukee came back to tie the game, but Burks, leading off the top of the eleventh inning, hit a home run on an 0-1 count from David Weathers, giving the Giants a lead they would not relinquish. Felix Rodriguez pitched two hitless innings for the win and Nen set the NL saves record for July after closing out the bottom of the eleventh. The Giants were once again percentage points in front of Arizona in the NL West.
While Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds got most of the notice for their offensive exploits in 2000, Ellis Burks was the choice of many as MVP of the team. His was that third clutch bat that the Giants had sorely lacked down the stretch in the prior two years (as much because of Burks' injuries in 1999 as anything), but he was healthy and productive down the stretch this year. Likewise, Felix Rodriguez had hit his stride as the setup man for the staff, and with him and Nen both dealing, the Giants had as effective a late inning duo as they had with Rod Beck and Mike Jackson in 1993.
Arizona, having relinquished the lead, now pulled an effective imitation of the 1999 Giants by hanging tough for the next few weeks. The Giants won 13 of their next 19 games... and gained all of one-half game on the Diamondbacks. During this stretch, the Giants played a tough four-game series in New York, in which the Mets gained some measure of revenge for the earlier series in San Francisco by taking three out of four. The first three games were tight, well-pitched affairs that all went the Mets' way, but the Giants erupted in the series finale for an 11-1 victory. They took the final three games on that road trip as well and then headed back to San Francisco to play the Atlanta Braves.
Best Pitched Game (#2): Livan Hernandez had recovered nicely from his 0-4 start and was emerging as an ace on the staff. His pitch counts and inning totals remained high, but he had improved his record to 11-9 despite losing several close and well pitched games. Still, he and Baker had feuded several weeks earlier when Baker did not let Hernandez complete a shutout that he had taken into the ninth inning (Hernandez had never thrown a complete game shutout in his short major league career). All that was forgotten after this game, in which Hernandez gave up just four hits and two walks, struck out 10, and shut out the mighty Braves 2-0, supported by Rich Aurilia's two-run homer. Hernandez and Greg Maddux were so effective that the game took only two hours and nine minutes, the shortest Giants game of the year.
Five days later, Hernandez tossed yet another four-hit, complete game shutout, this time against the Florida Marlins. In all, Hernandez threw five complete games during the year and failed to go at least six innings in only three of his 33 starts while going at least eight innings in 16 of them. His shortest outing (perhaps not surprisingly) was his next start after the two shutouts, when he lasted only two innings in a game the Giants lost 8-0 to Pittsburgh. By then, though, the Giants had pushed their lead up to 2.5 games, and they ended August with a three-game lead over Arizona.
September was here, and the Giants were in the driver's seat. Not only were they three up on Arizona, but the Diamondbacks were starting to fall apart, squabbling among themselves and turning on their manager Buck Showalter, who would be fired after the season was over. All the Giants needed to do was play respectably, but they did much more than that. To the poignant sounds of the Baha Men's "Who Let the Dogs Out?", the playing of which punctuated the conclusion of every San Francisco home win down the stretch, the Giants put the finishing touches on their NL West title by going 16-4 in the first three weeks of September, building their lead to an amazing 11.5 games. Long before they finally clinched, the team was actually able to turn its attention to the race for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, with their primary competition being Atlanta and St. Louis.
The Giants had a magnificent run those three weeks, fueled by a nine-game winning streak, and only the Padres (who dealt San Francisco three of the four losses they took during this period) slowed the Giants down in any way. The Giants offense could do no wrong; in one game they drew five bases-loaded walks while blowing out the Cubs 13-2, then, two days later, they clubbed six home runs in a win over the Phils. Bonds had back-to-back games with two home runs as he rushed towards his final season total of 49, and he eventually passed Lou Gehrig on the all-time home run list as well. Bonds played hero in one game in Houston in which Joe Nathan, in his first and only start after returning from his second stint on the DL, blew an early lead and let the Astros get ahead 7-5; Bonds tied it with a two-run homer in the ninth and then Bill Mueller hit a triple in the tenth to drive in Ramon Martinez with the game-winner.
For months since the Giants had gotten back in the race, they and their fans had been looking forward with anticipation to the series beginning September 21 with Arizona. Originally scheduled for four games, it had been increased to five to make up for the early-season rainout at Pac Bell. It had seemed very likely that the series would be a pivotal point in the stretch drive. By the time the series arrived, though, the entire landscape had changed; Arizona had actually fallen to third place behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Giants had an 11-game lead in the division, and all they had left to accomplish in the series was to extract revenge on the Diamondbacks for having clinched the prior year's NL West crown at Candlestick Park on September 24, 1999.
Key Game #6: Kirk Rueter allowed six runs (four earned) through 5-1/3 innings but the Giants, who had fallen behind 6-4 in the sixth, tied it at 6-6 in the bottom of the inning on RBI singles from Burks and catcher Doug Mirabelli. In the bottom of the eighth, Russ Davis, who had hit two dramatic late-inning pinch-hit home runs in the latter half of August to fuel Giant wins, again pinch-hit and drove in a run with a sacrifice fly. Felipe Crespo drove in an insurance run, and then Robb Nen, despite giving up a run for the first time since July 13, induced Jay Bell to fly out to Calvin Murray in center field to win the game and clinch the fifth division title in San Francisco Giants' history. With the win, the Giants completed an amazing stretch in which they went 54-22, a .711 winning percentage.
The Giants had won it at home, which was appropriate considering that the team was 54-23 there at that point. They played very flat for the next week, briefly falling out of the lead in the race for home field advantage and the best record in baseball, but they finally locked down that distinction on the next to last day of the season despite losing in Arizona. On the final day of the season, the Giants faced Randy Johnson, who had outdueled Livan Hernandez during the disastrous first week at Pac Bell Park, and they put the crowning touch on their regular season by roughing up the Big Unit, denying him both his 20th win and an ERA title thanks to a grand-slam homer by Calvin Murray during a six-run fourth inning. Felipe Crespo hit a home run in the ninth, giving San Francisco an 11-4 victory.
The Giants scored 925 runs for the year and hit a franchise-record 226 home runs. The team scored 10 or more runs 27 times while being shut out just five times (all on the road). Their final home record was 55-26, and they had even pulled out their road record in the last week, getting it to a respectable 42-39. Everything seemed in order for the Giants to put together a great postseason run, starting against the wild-card New York Mets. Even the Giants seemed subdued after the end of what had proved to be a great and memorable regular season, with many players indicating that their task had only begun and that a World Series title was the only acceptable result.
Unlike regular season results, postseason scores are forever and easily accessible in the baseball history books. As such, it is not necessary to spend much time recapping how the Giants managed to lose their opening playoff series to a wild-card entrant for the second time in four years. Suffice it to say that, after a fine outing by Livan Hernandez and a big home run by Ellis Burks had given the Giants their first postseason win since Will Clark singled off Mitch Williams in 1989 and, after J.T. Snow had hit perhaps the biggest home run of his career in the ninth inning of the second game to erase a 4-1 Mets' lead, the 2000 San Francisco Giants offense went into hiding, never to be seen again. The team scored just two more runs in the final 23 innings of the series despite numerous chances that they somehow never cashed in on. So complete was their impersonation of the choke job put on by the 1987 Giants against the St. Louis Cardinals that one could not help but look for the likes of Atlee Hammaker and Candy Maldonado wandering the field in a Giants' uniform once again. The one-hitter thrown against them by Bobby Jones in game four in New York was the final insult.
A Sour Postmortem
The fallout from the series loss was immediate and dramatic. Criticism of the team's poor performance and of many of Dusty Baker's in-game decisions was deafening. It seemed for a time that Baker, who was unsigned for 2001 and looked to be attracting a lot of attention if he chose to become a free-agent manager, would leave the team, so upset was he at the critical comments he was now being subjected to. Considering that Baker had been treated fairly gently by the local media for most of his time with the Giants (even during his three losing seasons from 1994-96), this seemed an unfair reaction on his part, but good sense ultimately prevailed on both sides and Baker eventually signed a new two year contract to stay in San Francisco.
It is good that Dusty Baker, who has been the spiritual leader of the team for some years now, is back in the fold, but it is still hard to see what the near future holds for the San Francisco Giants. The big hitters on the team (Bonds, Kent, and Burks) are closer to the end of their careers than the beginning, and Burks as a free agent is likely to go elsewhere next season. The Giants do have their young pitching staff mostly tied up contractually for the next few years, and the pitching was very good and surprisingly deep in 2000. With reasonable health (always a big qualifier), the team could well win another division crown in 2001, even though recent history argues against it; nobody has repeated in the NL West since the Braves left the division after the 1993 season.
But what if they do? It's hard to look at the Giants as they are currently configured and see a World Series team in the making, especially since Barry Bonds does indeed seem determined to prove his critics right when they say he can't produce in the postseason. It also doesn't look like the Giants intend to throw caution to the wind with their payroll any time soon, and with the debt service they now carry on Pacific Bell Park, it's not hard to understand why. The Giants are now established enough to regularly compete for a division title for at least the next few seasons, but there is almost nothing that has happened over the last four years that would reasonably suggest that they will ever go any further than that. There will always be a hotter team, a better team, a luckier team, and that team will always be matched up against the Giants in the first round and the Giants will always lose. It seems inevitable. It has been inevitable.
Because of that, we must take extra satisfaction when the Giants perform as wonderfully as they did during the 2000 campaign. It is always good to root for a team that can provide six months of entertaining, well-played, and ultimately thrilling baseball, and the 2000 San Francisco Giants delivered all of that and more in their beautiful new ballpark by the Bay. These were indeed good times.
And yet. And yet...
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