While covering or attending a game at gorgeous AT&T Park remains unchecked on my baseball bucket list, the Red Sox' semi-annual business trip to San Francisco doesn't necessarily jog instant and warm recollections.
You remember what happened three years ago. A Red Sox team that in retrospect was very likable (I'll always wish we had more than a season of the awesome Adrian Beltre experience) saw its season knocked off the rails during a late June trip to San Francisco.
Dustin Pedroia, coming off the best game of his career (five hits, five RBIs, four runs, three homers) the previous night in Colorado, fouled a ball off his left foot in the third inning of the series opener. The diagnosis: broken navicular bone. While we all remember the image of Pedroia trying to come back -- taking grounders on his knees, like some kind of Dorf On Second Base -- he would play just two games the remainder of the season.
That was the most devastating injury of that trip, but it wasn't the only one. A day after Pedroia's injury, Clay Buchholz hyperextended his knee, because of course he did. A day after that -- in a game, coincidentally, started by Jon Lester and Tim Lincecum, Monday night's starters -- Victor Martinez took a foul tip off his thumb. The diagnosis: Broken bone. He would miss exactly month.
The circumstances are different this year, thank goodness. The Red Sox are reasonably healthy, though it feels like Buchholz hasn't pitched since, oh, roughly the time of the San Francisco trip three seasons ago. (It's actually been since June 8 of this year. Go figure.)
And these Sox have made a habit out of winning games that feel like must-haves, thus short-circuiting potential prolonged losing streaks as they continue to fend off the Rays in the American League East race. The latest we're-not-going-anywhere statement arrived Monday night, with Lester's masterful and encouraging 8.1 innings of shutout ball in a 7-0 win.
It was a nice reminder that things can go right for the Sox in San Francisco. And who knows, but perhaps it's also a positive harbinger that things can go right for the Sox like they did for San Francisco.
In looking back on that 2010 Red Sox-Giants series, I was struck by one thing, at least beyond how devastating it was to the Sox: Those Giants are a pretty compelling model for what the 2013 Red Sox could become.
It's not an exact blueprint, mind you. The Giants, winners of 92 games and the NL West crown in '10, had a deeper, better rotation than do the current Sox. Tim Lincecum (16-10, 3.43) and Matt Cain (13-11, 3.14) were the 1-2 punch, though Jonathan Sanchez was arguably their best starter statistically (205 strikeouts. 1.23 WHIP) and Madison Bumgarner excelled in 18 starts upon his promotion. Barry Zito played the guitar.
But the lineup, and the way the roster was constructed? Pretty similar to what we've had the pleasure of watching this summer at Fenway. The '10 Giants didn't quite have the offensive star power to match current Sox -- Buster Posey was a rookie, Pablo Sandoval had just a .732 OPS, and there wasn't a David Ortiz to anchor it all.
What they did have was a collection of respected veterans, high-end role players and a quality middle-class of talent -- that rose to the occasion when the stakes were the highest. Pat Burrell, discarded by the Rays, hit 18 homers in 96 games. Aubrey Huff hit 26 homers with an .891 OPS. Juan Uribe hit 24 homers.
The Giants won again last year, of course, Posey having emerged as a genuine superstar and Marco Scutaro doing the unlikely-postseason-hero thing. While the '10 team is more similar to the current Sox squad than the '12 champs, neither time did the Giants enter the postseason anything close to the favorite. The same applies to the champion Cardinals in '11, winners of 90 games during the regular season.
The relative underdog status will probably apply to this year's Red Sox presuming they make it to October; the Dodgers, Rays, Tigers, and Rangers will all be much more popular picks to have the season's final champagne celebration.
But the recent history of the Red Sox' current opponent is a reminder of this: Anything is possible in the postseason if you can survive the grind to get there.
Better yet, the Red Sox have already developed that knack for rising to the occasion. They may not have a lot of star power, but like those '10 Giants, that hasn't prevented them from proving to be a damn good team.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.