San Francisco had started a nice run of success in 1997 when they won the NL West, then followed that up with two more winning seasons. The 2000 San Francisco Giants kicked it up a notch and won another division title.
Barry Bonds had been the juice in the San Francisco lineup since coming to the Bay Area in 1993 and Bonds had another big year in 2000. The now 35-year-old leftfielder posted a dazzling stat line of .440 on-base percentage/.688 slugging percentage. He hit 45 home runs and finished with 106 RBIs. It was good enough for second in the National League MVP voting.
The Giants still had the 2002 NL MVP, even though it wasn’t Bonds. Second baseman Jeff Kent had his career year. Kent had a stat line of .434/.596. On the traditional Triple Crown categories, Kent batted .334, hit 33 homers and drove in 125 runs, en route to the MVP award.
Kent and Bonds were a potent combo, but one more veteran had a big year on the Bay. Like Bonds, right fielder Ellis Burks was 35-years-old. And like Bonds, Burks was far from done. His stat line was .419/.606, with 24 home runs and 91 RBIs.
That’s a pretty good Big Three right there, to use a basketball term. And the lineup had more. First baseman J.T. Snow drove in 96 runs. Catcher Bobby Estalella had a terrific batting eye, so much so that that he turned a .234 batting average into a .357 OBP. Marvin Benard was a solid centerfielder and posted a .342 OBP.
Even the lineup’s weak spots were pretty good. Third baseman Bill Mueller and shortstop Rich Aurilia had OBPs over .330. Manager Dusty Baker had depth, getting solid contributions off the bench from catcher Doug Mirabelli, centerfielder Calvin Murray, corner outfielder Armando Rios, and middle infielder Ramon Martinez.
This was still the height of the Steroid Era in baseball, so offensive numbers were juiced league-wide. But even allowing that, San Francisco still had the third-best offense in the National League.
The rotation was anchored by Livan Hernandez, who won 17 games with a 3.75 ERA. The Giants’ had the good fortune of a rotation where the top four were consistent at taking their turn. Hernandez, Russ Ortiz, Shawn Estes and Kurt Rueter all combined to make 126 starts. The fifth spot was shared by 38-year-old veteran Mark Gardner and a 25-year-old future closer, Joe Nathan.
ERAs ranged from Reuter’s 3.96 to Nathan’s 5.21, but pitching stats that look mediocre in this era have to be given the same context as spectacular hitting numbers. And in the bullpen, closer Robb Nen was having an outstanding year for any era—41 saves with a buck-50 ERA. Nen led up a bullpen that included terrific work from Felix Rodriguez (2.64 ERA) and contributions from Aaron Fultz and Alan Embree. It all added up to the fourth-best staff ERA in the National League.
The Giants were slow out of the gate though, stumbling to 11 losses in their first 15 games. Meanwhile, the Arizona Diamondbacks were off to a hot start. San Francisco went to the desert for a weekend series on April 21, needing to play with at least a little bit of urgency, sooner than they might have liked.
Benard led the way from the leadoff spot on Friday night, getting three hits and driving in four runs. Mueller, batting in the 2-hole, added a couple more hits. And Kent, in middle of the order, cleaned up to the tune of three hits, including a home run, and 5 RBIs. The Giants got a needed win in the opener, 11-5.
San Francisco trailed Saturday afternoon’s game 4-3 going into the sixth inning. Then a two-out error and a couple walks gifted the Giants a couple runs and the lead. Kent slashed a two-run double in the seventh. The Giants pulled out to a 8-4 lead and hung on for an 8-6 win.
They went for the sweep on Sunday afternoon and got it with a vengeance. An explosive eight-run first inning was keyed by home runs from Mueller and Estalella. The game did tighten and got to 9-6 after five innings, but the Giant bats pulled away one more time and won 12-7.
That series sweep didn’t immediately turn the season around, and the Diamondbacks quickly picked up and started winning again. But what the sweep did do was stabilize San Francisco’s own ship. By Memorial Day, they were 22-25 and within 4 ½ games of what was then just a single wild-card berth. Arizona led the NL West by nine games.
June saw the Giants continued to play .500 baseball, but the Diamondbacks started to come back to earth and the division race gradually tightened. That set the stage for San Francisco to take off when the calendar flipped to July. They opened the month by beating the Los Angeles Dodgers in a series, one that put San Francisco on the right side of .500 for good.
Just before the All-Star break, the Giants took a series from eventual NL Central champ St. Louis. On the far side of the break, San Francisco welcomed their Bay Area neighbors from Oakland into Pac-Bell Park for a Thursday-Friday-Saturday weekend series.
The A’s were putting together a run to the playoffs of their own and sent Mark Mulder to the mound on Thursday night. Ortiz won a good pitcher’s battle, with help from two-hit nights by Bonds and Burk. San Francisco took it 4-2. On Friday night, they got another 4-2 win. This time it was Gardner doing the mound work, with Bonds, Aurilia, and Mirabelli having the two-hit nights. Even though the Giants lost the finale, they had clearly turned the corner.
By the end of July, San Francisco was in a virtual dead heat with Arizona at the top of the NL West, and Los Angeles nipping at the heels of both teams. The downside was that in the NL East, the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets were running 1-2 in the National League overall and had control of the wild-card race. The NL West offered the promise of an old-school, winner-take-all fight to the finish.
The Giants dropped three of four to the Mets in August, but that was the only real down point of an otherwise strong run through the dog days of summer. Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks could not find their early season mojo, and the Dodgers just weren’t good enough. By Labor Day, San Francisco was in command, at 79-56, with a five-game lead. Moreover, a series win over Atlanta had helped nudge the Giants past the Braves for the best record in the National League.
San Francisco had a weak opponent in the Philadelphia Phillies coming out of Labor Day and took full advantage, with a sweep. The NL West margin grew to 7 ½ games. There were still a couple series with Arizona ahead, but this race would never get tighter than 6 ½ the rest of the way. The Giants wrapped up the division on September 20, with a week and a half to spare.
By the time all was said and done, their 97-65 record was the best in all of baseball. Paradoxically, that probably worked against them in the postseason. The Mets had taken the wild-card, but New York had played better baseball in the second half than had NL East champ Atlanta. The Giants and Mets met in the Division Series as the two hottest teams in the National League. San Francisco dropped the best-of-five series in four games, including two extra-inning losses. The Mets rolled right through to the World Series.
It wasn’t the ending anyone wanted, but 2000 was still an excellent year for the Giant franchise. And the run of success they were on would continue. San Francisco continued to play winning baseball each year through 2004. Bonds set the all-time single season home run record in 2001, a record that admittedly carries the taint of the PED era with it. They made the playoffs a couple more times. And they won the National League pennant in 2002.