David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Of all the improbable stories wrapped up in the black-and-orange menagerie that is the 2012 Giants, one of the more familiar for us East Coasters sat on a stool Tuesday at AT & T Park and seemed a bit overwhelmed by all of it.
Not in an "OMG, this is the World Series" kind of way. More like a "This is such an incredible feeling I'm not exactly sure what to say" sort of thing. That giddy face belonged to Angel Pagan, who was shipped out of Flushing last December as an underachieving malcontent -- in the Mets' view anyway -- and is now the starting centerfielder / leadoff hitter for the NL champions.
Weird, right? Like the city they play in, these Giants are quirky, strange and difficult to fully explain. Who could have scripted a scenario where Barry Zito is the celebrated Game 1 starter for this World Series and Tim Lincecum, a back-to-back Cy Young winner, is banished to the bullpen?
No one. And you can bet the Mets never guessed Pagan would make them look foolish for trading him away for Andres Torres, his supposed replacement in center, and relief pitcher Ramon Ramirez. Of course, that's how it all played out, with Torres and Ramirez both landing with a thud in New York.
Pagan claims not to have noticed. Two years ago, he was honored to take over for Carlos Beltran as the Mets' once-and-future centerfielder. It feels like ancient history now.
"This is a business, man," Pagan said. "And you have to understand that sometimes teams are going to take different directions . . . I moved on. I wish the New York Mets the best and I just keep going my way."
His way has worked pretty well. During the regular season, Pagan logged career bests in runs (95), doubles (38) and triples (15) and stole 29 bases.
As for the perception he "won" the trade for the Giants, Pagan insists he takes no satisfaction from that.
"I don't want to say that I'm proud," Pagan said. "I don't want to make any team look bad because I have a special place in my heart for Chicago and New York and now San Francisco. But coming over here, I had to bring everything I got -- 2011 wasn't my best season and I wanted to bounce back badly."
The Giants, as a whole, are a team on the rebound. They missed the postseason last year after winning the World Series in 2010, and in the first two rounds of these playoffs, San Francisco has needed to rally from deficits of 2-0 to the Reds and 3-1 to the Cardinals. That's a 6-0 run in elimination games this October, but the Giants would rather not try to duplicate those feats. It's fun to look back on, but not a formula for continued success, however.
"You certainly don't want to get down 3-1 to these guys," Aubrey Huff said. "The anxiety and the stress is killing us."
Huff was smiling during that last part, but there's some truth in it. So much has been made of the Giants' clubhouse speeches and pep talks that they've created their own can-do mythology. The belief you can run through walls is not supposed to apply to baseball, and yet Type A personalities like Hunter Pence have made it work with this group.
"I've always been pretty intense," Pence said. "I was called 'Captain Intensity' in high school. It's just who I am. I can't be someone else. To me, there's a beautiful saying -- 'Know Thyself' -- and everybody on this team knows who they are."
Not who they were. That's the key. Pence was playing for the Phillies three months ago. Marco Scutaro, the NLCS MVP, was a Rockie. At least in Pagan's case, he's been with the Giants since Opening Day. No wonder he feels so comfortable there.
"Every day, we all smile," Pagan said. "Every single day, man."
On the Giants, there's a lot to be happy about right now.