A pair of unlikely league champions begin their duel for Major League Baseball supremacy Wednesday night in San Francisco, as the National League champion Giants host the American League's Texas Rangers at AT&T Park (8pm EDT). Neither team was expected to make it to the 106th edition of baseball's World Series.
This year marks the first time in their 50-year franchise history the Texas Rangers have made it to the so-called Fall Classic. Since their inception as a replacement for the Washington Senators in 1961 - before moving to Texas 10 years later - the Rangers had never even won a playoff series until this year. Now after winning two playoff rounds this month they will become the fourth team in the past six seasons to be appearing in their first World Series.
For the Giants, it has been 56 years since they won their last World Series title in 1954, and that was when the franchise was based in New York, until moving across the country to San Francisco in 1958. That is the third longest wait in the basball's history, behind the Cleveland Indians' 62 years and the Chicago Cubs, who have not won Major League Baseball's annual championship since 1908.
Neither team has had an easy path through the playoffs. Texas defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 3-2 in their best-of-five game divisional series, while San Francisco needed four games to get past the Atlanta Braves.
In the best-of-seven League Championship Series, both teams needed six games to advance. The Rangers beat the defending World Series champion New York Yankees, while the Giants took the National League crown from the reigning champion Philadelphia Phillies. Giants outfielder Aaron Rowand says their pitching made the difference.
"Our pitching staff, in the bullpen, our starters, everybody did an unbelievable job," he said. "For them to do that and keep this team [the Phillies] down and give us the opportunity to win some games is unbelievable."
The Giants' starting pitching staff includes two-time reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum. It also boasts a strong relief corps anchored by closer Brian Wilson, whose 48 saves led the majors this season and tied the Giants' franchise record.
But the Rangers also have strong starting pitching, led by Cliff Lee. He has been practically untouchable in the playoffs with a 3-0 record and a stingy earned run average of just 0.75 (per nine innings pitched). And he has previous World Series experience, having won two games last season as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies against the World Series champion Yankees.
With both teams featuring great pitching, the Series could well come down to offense, and there it appears Texas has the advantage. AL Championship Series Most Valuable Player Josh Hamilton hit for a .350 average with three home runs and seven runs batted in. The Rangers' line-up also features lead-off man Elvis Andrus, veteran slugger Vladimir Guerrero and long-time team star Michael Young. With Texas having little experience with the Giants pitchers, Young says they have to concentrate on their own strengths.
"I think the biggest thing for us is to make sure we stick with what we do well," he said. "Because as much as you can trust a scouting report or something like that, most of us have little or no experience facing a lot of these guys. So it is going to be up to us to make sure we stick to what we do well."
Although the Giants batters cannot claim the star power of the Rangers, they have been getting it done with timely hitting from players throughout the lineup. Cody Ross, rookie catcher Buster Posey and Juan Uribe have all come through with key clutch hits, but 11 different players combined to score 19 runs during the National League Championship Series. Giants manager Bruce Bochy says his team has really come together.
"I've never had such a diversity of contribution from everybody like we have had this year," he said. "You know, we have been getting guys they have been called cast-offs and we have misfits, but to see them coalesce into a group that has one mission - they set aside their own ego or agenda."
And San Francisco has one other advantage - the ability to win the close ones. Seven of the Giants' 10 post-season games have been determined by one run, and they have won six of those contests.