SAN FRANCISCO — Having spent a dozen years around the Tampa Bay area playing at Eckerd College, coaching at several schools and working out of the Yankees' complex, Brian Sabean is quite familiar with Florida's official state pest.
So it is with the highest praise that the Giants general manager jokingly references his players' staggering ability to stay alive by comparing them to cockroaches:
"We can't kill you."
Other members of the Giants take a more humane approach in trying to describe the remarkable achievement — winning six consecutive elimination games — that has them opening the World Series, against the favored Tigers, tonight at AT&T Park.
"Can I explain how we did it? Absolutely," said Brian Wilson, the Giants' injured reliever and eccentric philosopher. "We had to."
Their explanations share some common themes: Resiliency, determination and selflessness.
"I just want to play hard today so I can play tomorrow," pitcher Tim Lincecum said. "Play for the guy next to you. That was our whole mentality, our whole slogan."
"It's just intangible," outfielder Hunter Pence said. "We really love to play and we gave it everything we had. It was a mixture of a lot of things — we had good play, we caught a few breaks, we just kind of came together. It just seems to be somewhat destined."
After winning 94 games and the NL West by a comfortable margin — despite losing Wilson, their closer, to injury and outfielder Melky Cabrera, their top hitter, to a drug suspension — the Giants opened the best-of-five Division Series at home against the Reds and lost both games. After a fiery pregame speech by Pence, they won Game 3 in Cincinnati, then two more, to take the series.
They then opened the best-of-seven Championship Series at home against the Cardinals with a split, lost the next two in St. Louis and were again one loss from elimination. Then Pence spoke up again, and they won Game 5 in St. Louis and two more back home by the bay.
"We probably should just have him give a speech (today) so we don't go down in this series," said Giants reserve Aubrey Huff, the ex-Ray.
Several players said manager Bruce Bochy deserved some of the credit for the quiet confidence he exuded no matter how doomed things seemed, even the subtleness of bringing the celebratory champagne with them on the flight to Cincinnati. Bochy nodded back in their direction.
"I'd be lying if I didn't say these guys have surprised me how many times they've survived," Bochy said. "It says a lot about the character of the club and how determined they were not to go home. They just kept fighting, and good things happen when you do that and you don't give up and you have that never-say-die attitude. That's how they hit the field every day, like there's no tomorrow."
The Giants' reputation will now precede them, and the Tigers, certainly, are well aware.
"I think what they've done speaks for itself," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "To be honest with you, when they were down 0-2 going into Cincinnati having to win three games, for me that was unbelievable. So nothing surprised me when they got to the Championship Series after I saw what they did in the Divisional Series. … Unbelievable, really."
As impressed as the Giants have been with themselves, they also are aware they may not want to try for history to repeat itself a third time.
"I think we also respect the fact that you can't keep being behind in series," reliever Jeremy Affeldt said, "and expect it to turn out the exact same way."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]