Giants manager Bruce Bochy looks at the Royals and sees … the Giants.
“I can’t think of a team that reminds me of the Royals,” Bochy said. “I think we’re similar.”
Clearly, the teams traveled similar paths to the World Series that opens Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium. Neither team won its division, or even as many as 90 regular-season games. Both had to begin the process with a win-or-go home Wild Card Game victory.
They each proceeded to knock off favorites to reach the ultimate destination, often in dramatic fashion. In the playoffs, the Royals have hit four of their eight home runs in extra innings. The Giants ended the National League Championship Series against the Cardinals with Travis Ishikawa’s walk-off blast.
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But there is a difference, too. While the Royals are relishing their first World Series appearance since 1985, the Giants are here for the third time in five years.
In fact, San Francisco has established the game’s current standard of success. The Giants not only reached the World Series in 2010 and 2012, they dominated power teams, beating the Rangers of Josh Hamilton in five games in 2010 and sweeping Miguel Cabrera’s Tigers in 2012.
Now they’re back for more, and a place in history. Not since the Yankees celebrated four championships during 1996-2000 has a team won as many as three titles in a five-year stretch.
These Giants know the way. Of their projected 25-man roster, 16 have played in a World Series and seven will have the chance to play in all three of the Giants’ recent appearances.
The Royals stand between Bochy and another ring. He’d become the 10th manager with as many, and any comment on the Giants’ place on the doorstep of a dynasty begins with him.
Players rave about his intuition and sense of the moment.
“A great feel for the game and his players,” Giants catcher Buster Posey said. “He’s always a tick or two ahead.”
Bochy, like Royals counterpart Ned Yost, was a reserve catcher during his playing days. Before coming to the Giants, he managed the San Diego Padres and turned in four playoff years, with the Padres’ 1998 team reaching the World Series, where they were swept by the Yankees.
If he’s changed, Bochy said, it’s in how he manages in the postseason. His playoff record with the Padres was 8-16. With the Giants, he’s 30-11 and his teams haven’t lost a series in nine attempts.
Drop a game in May, or three in August — as the Giants did at Kauffman Stadium when they were swept by the Royals — and plenty of time remains to reach a goal. The postseason presents a different challenge.
“You might manage a little different because of the sense of urgency,” Bochy said.
It’s worked. Nearly every button he has pushed in postseason play has been the right one, but the Giants find creative ways to win. Over a span of four playoff games, including the first three against the Cardinals, they scored seven runs without the benefit of a base hit.
The Giants went 242 plate appearances without hitting a home run before rookie second baseman Joe Panik’s two-run shot against the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright opened the scoring in game five of the NLCS. With the blast, Panik matched his regular-season total.
If the Giants feel invincible, well, they come by it naturally. They don’t know what it’s like to lose a playoff.
“We knew if we got into the playoff we’d be a force to be reckoned with,” first baseman Brandon Belt said. “There’s a feeling here.”
The Giants put pressure on opponents by putting the ball in play. They’ve struck out 51 times in 10 postseason games, 30 fewer times than their opponents. They’ve also hit seven fewer postseason home runs, but they ground out victory after victory with the utmost confidence supported by that history of playoff success.
Panik felt it when he took up residence in the clubhouse for the first time this season.
“You sense the pride they have,” Panik said.
That was never stronger than when the team scuffled in August but never doubted its bounce-back ability.
“You have a lot of guys who have been through it together,” said pitcher Matt Cain, whose season ended in July with elbow surgery. “They’ve been down in the past, but they’ve been able to dig themselves out of bad situations. These guys know how to do that.”
Veterans are a galvanizing force and the Giants’ core is loaded with championship jewelry. Madison Bumgarner, the Giants’ game-one starter, takes the ball bidding for a victory in his third straight World Series.
But the Giants also have rolled with the times. In the 2010 World Series, Tim Lincecum started twice and Bumgarner, Cain and Jonathan Sanchez each started once. Brian Wilson was the closer.
With Cain out for the season, Lincecum in the bullpen and yet to make a playoff appearance, Wilson with the Dodgers, and Sanchez long gone — traded to the Royals, who moved him to the Rockies in exchange for Jeremy Guthrie — the Giants have also shown great resiliency.
Now, they’re back in familiar territory with an opportunity to stake claim to a dynasty.
“It’s very satisfying when you get in this situation where you have a chance,” Bochy said. “That’s all we wanted at this stage, just a chance.”