SAN FRANCISCO -- Don't ever underestimate the heart of a champion. It was NBA coach Rudy Tomjanovich, speaking on behalf of his Houston Rockets, who coined the expression, and it certainly applies to the San Francisco Giants.
For the third time in five seasons, manager Bruce Bochy and his Giants are headed for the World Series. They won it all in 2010 and '12, and here they are again, even-tempered in an even-numbered year, poised to seize another crown. Kansas City, of course, has other ideas.
The thunder the Giants had been waiting for through the postseason finally arrived in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series at the expense of the NL Central champion St. Louis Cardinals. Michael Morse's pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning tied it, and Travis Ishikawa's three-run walk-off blast in the ninth won it, 6-3, turning AT&T Park into a house of roars.
There have been those who felt the Giants, after knocking out the Pirates, were blessed with uncommon good fortune in taking out the Nationals and Cardinals to represent their league against the scalding-hot Royals. But it's worth repeating that luck -- as the great Branch Rickey liked to point out -- is the residue of design. And the Giants' designs are state of the art.
Here are five reasons why the Giants won the NL pennant:
1. Bochy is a leader without peer
They might as well start preparing his bust in Cooperstown, N.Y. What Bochy has done in San Francisco, winning two Fall Classics with a shot at a third, gives the gentleman born in France and raised in Florida glowing, hard-to-dispute Hall of Fame credentials.
Bochy is a communicator who trusts his players and commands complete respect. His leadership goes unchallenged, unquestioned. The quiet dignity in everything Bochy does is reflected in the demeanor of his team. The Giants never get too high -- OK, they got pretty high when Ishikawa's drive reached the right-field seats -- and they never get too down.
Bochy's San Diego Padres won four NL West titles in 12 years and reached the World Series in 1998, running into the dynastic Yankees and getting swept. The achievement was in getting there, turning away the Astros and Braves in the playoffs.
Moving north to his destiny, Bochy transformed the Giants into winners in 2009 and champions of the NL West and World Series a year later. Starting with that 2010 title run, Bochy's teams are 30-11 in the postseason. The names change, but the poise and confidence have remained constants. The big man's handprints are all over this remarkable operation.
2. The Giants have high baseball IQs
Intelligence is the least recognized of baseball tools, but it shows up every day in every way. The Giants play smart. Ask scouts what makes them so special, and this is what they'll tell you: They don't beat themselves.
Their efficiency was evident against the Pirates, Nationals and Cards. They weren't perfect, committing three errors in 10 playoff games, but when it mattered, the Giants were close enough. They held their poise and made all the right plays. Fundamentally, this team is as sound as it gets. That goes back to the hours under the Arizona sun in February and March, to the teachings and guidance of Bochy and his superb coaching staff.
3. Pitching, pitching, pitching Madison Bumgarner set the tone in his NL Wild Card Game shutout of the Pirates, as well as his 7 2/3 scoreless innings in Game 1 against the Cardinals. The big lefty from North Carolina delivered a solid Game 5 effort, going eight innings in a duel with the great Adam Wainwright before watching Morse and Ishikawa launch shots echoing throughout the Bay Area.
In pitching coach Dave Righetti and bullpen coach Mark Gardner, Bochy has two of the best minds in the game developing and refining a wide assortment of talented personalities. Three different closers -- Brian Wilson, Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla -- reflect how things can keep changing but remain the same. Similarly, there have been different aces for different times, from Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain to Bumgarner.
Jake Peavy, Bochy's old ace in San Diego, showed up on July 26 in a deal with Boston and immediately turned back the clock to 2007, when he was the NL's premier pitcher. Righetti tweaked his mechanics, Bochy embraced him, and Peavy was dealing with feeling again.
"It felt like coming home," Peavy said. "It was kind of surreal."
4. Wild Card magic
The move to two Wild Cards and a one-game Wild Card round was designed to give division winners an edge, and it should, in theory, work that way. The Giants, a distant second in the NL West to the Dodgers, threw their ace (Bumgarner) to get to the NL Division Series and managed to ride the momentum of that triumph through the Nats and Cards, division champs.
Now the Giants are off to Kansas City to engage another Wild Card, the young Royals, in the Fall Classic. There is something to be said for getting hot at the right time. The 2002 Wild Card-winning Giants ran into another Wild Card, the Angels, in a great World Series that went seven games and left San Francisco in tears.
By the Bay, things have changed, dramatically so, in 12 years.
5. Yadier Molina pulled a muscle at the wrong time
There is no good time for an oblique strain to wound a great player, but the Cardinals' fortunes clearly took a serious hit when Molina, their peerless receiver, went down in Game 2.
The Giants had their quiet leader, Buster Posey, behind the plate from first pitch to last. Nothing against Tony Cruz, who homered in Game 5, or A.J. Pierzynski. But nobody replaces Molina in the most important games of the season.
Lyle Spencer is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.