We're all Giants: Jon Miller

Photo from the Bay Area Radio Museum. http://www.bayarearadio.org/sports/giants/index.shtml

It's been over a month, but at KALW News, we're still celebrating the San Francisco Giants' World Series victory. We're not kidding, either – this Thursday's Crosscurrents will be all about the team, the torture of being a Giants fan and, of course, the indescribable sweetness of a World Series win. To prepare for the show, we spoke with fans all around the Bay Area – like SF Weekly’s Joe Eskenazi, San Francisco District 6 Supervisor Chris Daly, and KALW’s morning announcer Joe Burke – to get their best Giants fan stories.

One fan we spoke with is much more than your average Giants enthusiast, however. In this interview snippet with Hall of Fame broadcaster Jon Miller, Miller explores the origins of Giants “torture” and remembers Edgar Renteria’s three-run homerun in what would become the decisive game in this year's World Series.

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JOHN MILLER: I kept thinking, the things I thought about there were simply: there’s nine outs to go, and Lincecum’s been great. But this is a very good park in which to hit, and the Rangers have some guys, and if they can get a couple men on, they’ve got several guys capable of popping one. Nelson Cruz hit a solo homer, and that just sort of underscored the fragile nature ... now they just needed one guy on base, and the tying run, the possible tying run comes to the plate.

I mean Lincecum never wavered. It was just like he shrugged that off as if just a minor irritation, and proceeded with it. And again I think, had it been a 1-0 game, it could have been that that homerun never happened. It’s a whole different manner of pitching, when it’s 3-0, in terms of your approach, and willing to be aggressive in the strike zone, or even make a mistake in the strike zone – which he did. That mistake might not have happened in a 1-0 game.

So I was not concerned, and then Lincecum really kept any concern from really escalating because, had there been a homerun, and now he walks the next guy, and then the next guy gets a broken bat single, it’s like ... uh oh. Now it’s like, wow, there’s still like seven or eight outs to go. And this is, “here we go again.” But that never really happened.

The other aspect of Brian Wilson, and torture ... I think that the whole, Duane Kuiper’s whole thing – and it was just a joke, this torture thing that he always says – began with a couple of Giants wins, where I think they must have been playing Houston. Kaz Matsui was playing for the Astros, and Wilson was having one of those games which were fairly frequent for Wilson, where he’d walk a couple of guys, and this would happen, and that would happen, and he’d have to make all these huge pitches.

Now the bases were loaded with a one run lead with Kaz Matsui, and he gets two strikes on him. And Matsui must have fouled off 11 or 12 pitches. The count finally went to 3-2. Now if he walks him the tying run is forced home. He has to throw him a strike, and a base hit could put the Astros ahead. And another foul ball ... another foul ball. I believe it was the sixteenth pitch of the sequence. The whole crowd is about to have a heart attack here. The sixteenth pitch, he gets him on – I can’t remember if it was a fly-ball or a pop-up, or whatever happened – he finally got him, and Giants win.

The next day, the same two guys end up in almost the identical situation. Here we go again. It wasn’t 16 pitches this time, it wasn’t quite as dramatic, but it was another 12 pitches or thereabout. He finally got him on a fly ball to left, which was hit well, and the Giants win again. Now, after those two games, which are just like killers –  it’s like you had to have a complete physical, a cardio stress test to qualify to be a Giants fan at that point. You had to be in a certain level of health and fitness to be able to endure it.

Now the Giants have another game on a weeknight and it’s very similar again. There’s a key error, and there’s some walks, they hit into double plays with the bases loaded instead of scoring runs, and somehow they eke out a 3-2 win despite all of that. And Duane Kuiper comes on our little roundtable discussion on the radio after the game. He says, “On the TV side I came up with a new slogan for the Giants: Giants Baseball – It’s Torture”. And it was a funny joke because they won the game. And coming after the Matsui, just remarkable plate appearances against Wilson, and that particular game.

I think that the Giants’ powers that be, as time went on – cause this kept being repeated as there were more and more games like that. And the Giants were a little uptight about it from a marketing standpoint. The marketing people were like, “It’s not torture, it’s dramatic! What are you talking about, torture?” But you know, it’s a funny joke when they win.

But the fans kind of picked up on it, like they were basking in this torture. Especially as the success began to really mount in September. Because most of those wins were tense wins. They weren’t ... they had that release game every fourth or fifth day where they’d hit a bunch of homers and score seven, eight, 10 runs. But most of the time it was 1-0, 2-1, and just tight, tense games.

As a broadcaster I thought this is fabulous because they’re so dramatic, every pitch is so important. We have the story every day. We don’t have to create a story, the story’s there: this is a critical game in a pennant race. They need a win! We’ll be keeping close tabs on the Padres game as well. And by extension the Reds games, and the Braves and the Phillies games. Because there was always the other race going, the wild card race, as well.

But at the same time, so much drama and so much tension, and the fans sort of had this wry comment that they all were making about the Giants, that it’s torture, and we love it! Torture is fun! And so on and so forth. The fans took that themselves and turned it into a positive. Which, when you go to Game 5 in the World Series, and the whole World Series in general, I think ... how did that happen? Where did this Giants team come from?

They beat the Rangers in Game 1, what was it, 11-7. They scored 11 runs in a game started by Cliff Lee. They’re hitting home runs. These games were not tight, tense 1-0, 2-1 games. They were scoring runs, they were making great defensive plays, they were not hitting double plays with the bases loaded and failing to get ... Aubrey Huff was laying down a key bunt in a key spot in Game 5!

All of a sudden a Giants team had emerged that was methodical, it was smooth, it did everything right. Where was the torture? The torture didn’t exist! The Giants were just good, and they were clearly the best team on the field. In the League Championship Series and in the World Series. It was like the Giants had graduated to something more than, and something better than we’d seen all year long, by the end.

This story was originally published on December 13, 2010.