For the past decade or so, the San Jose Giants have made it look easy in the Cal League. From 1998 to 2009, the team won five championships, made the playoffs nine times and only finished below .500 three times. They won over 82 games five times in that span, culminating in a 93 win season in 2009. For the first half of 2010, it looked effortless for the Giants again. Of course the roster for a minor league team changes year to year, and the coaching staff isn't always the same either. However, the San Francisco organization always seems to have talent at this level, and the fans respond by coming to games year after year.
This time it wasn't easy though; Rancho Cucamonga fought hard in the five game series and almost won it themselves. It took until the 10th inning of game five for a champion to be decided, and it was the Giants winning their second straight championship for the first time in team history. Jason Stoffel earned the win, pitching his longest and perhaps most effective outing of the season. With one out in the 8th inning, Rancho Cucamonga just tied the game with two runs and had the bases loaded again. Stoffel got Luis Jimenez to strike out and Gabe Jacobo to pop up to get out of the jam.
Both teams had opportunities in the 9th, but neither could come through. The Giants had two runners in scoring position with one out after an Ehire Adrianza sac bunt, but Eddie McKiernan made a tough play on a roller down the first base line to record an out at home and then struck out James Simmons to end the inning. In the bottom half of the inning, Matt Long stole second base, his second steal of the game. However, with two outs and Jon Townsend at the plate, Long was caught stealing 3rd to end the inning. Who knows if Townsend would've delivered the winning hit, but the Quakes didn't get a chance to find out.
In the 10th, Juan Perez hit a check swing triple down the first base line with one out. It wasn't his best swing of the game, but baseball is a funny game. On this day, the Giants were the beneficiaries. Charlie Culberson hit a sac fly to bring the run in, and Jason Stoffel recorded three more outs to win the championship but not without a little drama. With two outs, Stoffel hit Mike Trout, and he stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error. However, Darwin Perez struck out to end the season.
That was how the game ended, but the first seven and a half innings were a battle as well. The game was started by a couple guys no one would've expected to be starting a game five a year ago. Neither starter was great, but they both gave their team a chance to win considering the circumstances. Justin Fitzgerald, who prior to April 2010 hadn't started a game since high school, started on short rest. He finished with 164.2 IP this season counting the playoffs, which is more than twice as many as the rest of his pro career. He was opposed by Kyle Hurst, another pitcher who was used to pitching out of the bullpen. He was moved to the rotation at the end of the season, and despite not pitching in 17 days, gave the Quakes four solid innings.
Rancho Cucamonga took a quick lead in the first on a Gabe Jacobo sac fly. Fitzgerald wasn't sharp early, and the Quakes took advantage of a pitcher that could've been a bit tired at this point in the season. In the top of the second, fans got a taste of how back and forth this game would be when San Jose took a 2-1 lead on Brandon Crawford's second home run of the series. Of course the game would soon be tied again after Luis Jimenez hit an RBI triple in the 3rd. This was the nature of the game; Giants scored two in the 5th, the Quakes responded with one in the bottom half. The same thing happened in the 7th inning, and then Rancho Cucamonga's final comeback in 2010 began in the 8th.
No one ever wants this to be the case, but umpires were a part of the story Tuesday night. A number of controversial calls took place during the game, but one good thing is they huddled up and discussed the calls to try and get them right. This one didn't come back to hurt the Giants because they scored on a walk anyway, but a pitch thrown inside by Chris Scholl went to the backstop. Johnny Monell scored from third, but it was ruled the pitch was a dead ball. However, they did not award the batter Brandon Crawford first, and Monell had to return to 3rd.
First base umpire Tom Woodring might've had the worst night. Two of his calls were reversed after some discussion, but ultimately the correct calls were made. In the 5th, Darwin Perez hit a ground ball to first base with a runner on third. The runner scored and would have no matter what, but it was initially ruled that Drew Biery didn't tag Perez running to first. They changed the call, and it potentially changed the complexion of the inning as Rancho Cucamonga had two more runners reach. In the next inning, a Brandon Crawford throw pulled Biery off the bag, but Woodring ruled he held onto the base for the out. That was also reversed, and no damage was done.
Johnny Monell was named series MVP. Partway through the series, it appeared Francisco Peguero could win his second straight championship MVP, but his performance tailed off in the last couple games. Monell was solid through the series and deserved the award. He had at least one hit in every game in the series, including three home runs in the first two games. He scored six runs, drove in four more and posted a 1.202 OPS. His defense behind the plate wasn't always sharp, but his big hits contributed a lot to the championship and picked up for some teammates that were struggling.
Game five was certainly memorable, but the entire series was one to remember. The Giants won running away in game one behind another great playoff start by Justin Fitzgerald. He pitched seven scoreless innings and struck out nine while walking none. The game was close for six and a half innings, but the Giants got to the Quakes' bullpen, scoring five in the 7th and three in the 8th. The Giants had a balanced attack, getting hits from everyone in the starting lineup. Ehire Adrianza had two hits and scored three times, and four different San Jose players had two RBI games.
Rancho Cucamonga turned the tables in game two and got their own great pitching performance. Garrett Richards pitched seven strong innings, allowing just one run and striking out eight. A night after scoring eight runs in their final two at bats, San Jose was limited to just two runs and three hits. Both runs came on Johnny Monell solo home runs, so the Giants certainly didn't get the balance they did from their lineup in game one. Kelvin Marte made a solid start for San Jose, but it wasn't enough with the lack of offensive support. Jon Townsend had three hits, including a solo home run, and two RBI.
Game three may have finished with a five run margin, but prior to game five, it was probably one of, if not the most wild game of the season. Rancho Cucamonga took an early lead, but San Jose eventually tied it up. After the Quakes' bullpen let the game get out of hand to waste a good start by Ryan Chaffee, Rancho Cucamonga fought back in the bottom of the 9th again. Jon Townsend led off the inning by reaching on a wild pitch for strike three (sound familiar?) and it was downhill from there for San Jose. Jason Stoffel struck out Matt Long, but then a walk, two hits and sloppy play eventually led to the Quakes tying the game on a sac bunt. San Jose recovered to win in 11 with a five run inning, highlighted by Brandon Crawford's grand slam.
Momentum swung back in Rancho Cucamonga's favor in a must win game four. Manny Flores was making his third playoff start, and he stepped up when it matters most. San Jose was shut out, and it was thanks to Flores' eight scoreless innings. Baserunners were scarce for both teams, but Flores did a great job and didn't allow a hit w/ RISP. Oliver Odle was solid despite having two and a half weeks of rest, and Flores was just better. Mike Trout and Luis Jimenez each had two hits to lead the Quakes offense to force game five.
At the All Star break, it wouldn't be a surprise that the Giants would win another championship. Lake Elsinore had the better half, but San Jose wasn't far behind. Their offense was one of the best in the league despite not hitting many home runs. They put the ball in play and stole a lot of bases, and their lineup was pretty deep. Brandon Belt dominated this league's pitching from the start, and Juan Perez joined him in the All Star game. Jose Flores was making a somewhat surprising contribution, and Charlie Culberson was starting to realize his potential.
Their pitching also set the standard in the league for the first half. They were led by a trio of All Stars, Craig Westcott, Eric Surkamp and Justin Fitzgerald. Westcott got the All Star game start after posting a tremendous ERA. Surkamp and Fitzgerald both posted great halves, and the rest of the six man rotation was delivering too. It was another great first half for the Giants, who have made a habit out of clinching a playoff spot at the 70 game mark. It was their 6th straight first half championship.
The second half didn't go quite as well. After winning 45 games in the first 70 games, the Giants finished last in the division with only 31 wins. They still hung on to finish with the best overall record in the division, but they probably expected to finish with more than 76 wins after the great first half. Brandon Belt was promoted, and obviously it's very difficult to replace a player like that. A number of key players such as Juan Perez, Jose Flores and Charlie Culberson saw their numbers drop in the second half, and that contributed to the team's struggles.
Their pitching wasn't quite the same either. Like Belt, Craig Westcott was quickly promoted to AA Richmond after the break, and it wasn't the first loss the rotation would suffer. About a month later, Eric Surkamp had to be removed from a start with a hip injury and didn't return. Fellow prospect Kyle Nicholson also went down with an injury, and San Jose's projected starters at the beginning of the season continued to dwindle. Justin Fitzgerald was able to be the anchor and stay in the rotation the entire season.
At the end of the second half, the Giants seemed to start playing better and build some momentum. They had almost a full week off between the end of the regular season and their playoff schedule thanks to their first half championship, but sometimes this can hurt teams. San Jose shrugged it off and remained hot against Modesto. At the time, the Nuts seemed unbeatable, riding an eight game winning streak into the playoffs and past Stockton. That momentum suddenly stopped against the Giants who averaged seven runs per game to sweep Modesto and advance to another championship.
The Rancho Cucamonga Quakes deserve credit too. They didn't win a championship which is surely disappointing for the team and fans, but it was still one of the best seasons in franchise history. They survived a lot of promotions and roster turnover and played some of the most consistent baseball in the league, and they were very close to coming out on top. They were right with San Jose the entire series, and they proved to be a great competitor.
That's the story of the 2010 San Jose Giants. It's not well organized, but I tried to cover as much as I could. Before the playoffs, I wasn't sure about their chances because of their second half struggles, but they quickly proved that they could still get hot and win. Congratulations to the Giants players, coaches, front office, fans and anyone involved in the win. It was another great season for San Jose baseball, and it doesn't seem like anybody can stop them. It'll mostly be a new roster next year, but the player development staff does a great job at this level and always has players prepared to compete. Repeats in the minors don't happen often, and the Giants deserve credit for having top talent year after year.