On October 2, 2012, Barry Zito eliminated the Dodgers’ last hope of contending for a wild card berth. Not only did he record his fifth back-to-back win and eleventh consecutive team win, but he landed the 2012 Giants in an exclusive sector of club history.
Since 1904, the Giants have boasted 19 seasons with at least three pitchers racking up 15+ pitcher wins. While there are more accurate ways of evaluating individual pitching success, and more illustrious clubs to belong to, this is still a rare accomplishment in major league history. In over a century of MLB games, clubs have completed a season of 45+ pitcher wins only 324 times. Next to the Cubs’ league-leading 23 seasons, and quite a few seasons short of the Athletics’ 29, the Giants place 4th in the National League and 7th overall.
The last time a Giants’ rotation reached at least 45 wins in a single season, their starters included Juan Marichal, Billy O’Dell, Jack Sanford, and Billy Pierce. Like Zito, Pierce waited until the tail end of the season to notch his 15th win, putting up a 5-hit, 3-run effort against the last-place Cardinals on September 26, 1962. Five days later, he cemented his record with a 16th and final win on October 1, tossing a complete game shutout against the 101-win Dodgers. By season’s end, the qualifying ’62 starters finished strong with an incredible 77 combined wins.
In 2012, the current band of Giants is only the third to meet this particular benchmark in the San Francisco era. Barry Zito and his 15 wins are joined by Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain, who each recorded 16 wins. One win shy of initiation is Ryan Vogelsong, who managed 14 wins by September 28, but was left scraps of run support on the last day of the season, finishing his 31st start with a 2-hit, 1-run, 7-strikeout performance in L.A.
While it’s impossible to project a trip to the World Series on the backs of a 47-win season from Zito, Bumgarner, and Cain, their inclusion in the 45+ win club is encouraging. In 12 of 26 postseason trips, the Giants have carried 15+ game winners on their playoff roster. Ten resulted in a World Series visit, three in a World Series championship. Granted, the last time a 45+ win team won the World Series was 79 years ago, on the combined efforts of Freddie Fitzsimmons, Carl Hubbell, and Hal Schumacher. Since then, the 1954 Giants arrived to the Fall Classic with two 15+ game winners in tow; the 2010 team, with just one.
Should Matt Cain successfully kick his nerves this afternoon, Zito and Bumgarner will get another shot at redemption in the 2012 postseason. Whether they’re clasping a World Series trophy by October’s end or taking a quick flight back to San Francisco tomorrow, they’ll have already made history.