SAN FRANCISCO — Aubrey Huff walked away from AT&T Park after a thrilling victory parade last fall on a championship high. He was a World Series winner in his first postseason after an 11-year wait to finally get there.
The first baseman made it clear entering the winter that he wanted to come back to the Giants — and his wish was for the San Francisco brass to bring back as many of his teammates as possible for the chance at another playoff run in 2011.
A self-described bunch of castoffs and misfits somehow pulled off the improbable and won a long-awaited title for the Giants, the franchise’s first since moving West in 1958 and first overall since the New York Giants won in 1954.
Now, just as Huff had hoped, this club looks nearly identical to how it ended that remarkable run in five games over the American League champion Texas Rangers. The main new addition: durable shortstop Miguel Tejada replacing World Series MVP Edgar Renteria. Utility infielder Juan Uribe departed to the rival Dodgers.
“I was hoping in the offseason they’d bring as many people back as they could,” Huff said. “For me, you win it all, let’s try to defend it. Why go out there and change a whole lot? I can understand making a couple moves maybe. Let’s keep it intact and see what happens.”
Repeating is far from easy.
The Giants captured their first National League West crown since 2003 on the season’s final day after missing chances to clinch in the two previous games against the San Diego Padres.
Then, they not only eliminated the Atlanta Braves and retiring manager Bobby Cox but stunned the favored Philadelphia Phillies in six games to reach the organization’s first World Series since 2002.
This group was able to do something the other great Giants teams hadn’t in the Bay Area — not Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal and Orlando Cepeda, or home run king Barry Bonds.
“It’s awesome. I’m thrilled almost everyone came back,” right fielder Cody Ross said. “Why not (do it again)?”
The Giants had the pitching with ace Tim Lincecum leading the way after his career-worst, five-start skid in August, and enough timely hitting and defense to get by a rotation as dominant as Philadelphia’s featuring Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels.
“We know what’s at stake. We did put a stake in the ground here and we want to defend this championship. To say last year was a fluke, that’s the last thing these players want,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “They’re a very talented ballclub. We need to improve in some areas on the field. ...
“We probably do have a target on our back but that’s a good thing,” he added. “Let’s go out and defend this championship.”
The Giants are counting on a comeback season from slimmed-down slugger Pablo Sandoval, who is determined to rebound from a tough year. After the season, Bochy and GM Brian Sabean made it clear the Kung Fu Panda would have to shape up to keep his job at third base.
He did just that.
Several key contributors Sabean acquired along the way last season will be around for the entire year this time, not to mention that the Giants get a full season from reigning Rookie of the Year catcher Buster Posey after he was called up in late May and went on to hit 18 home runs.
Pat Burrell joined San Francisco in early June after signing a minor league deal following his release by Tampa Bay. He re-signed this year for a bargain $1 million to get another chance in this close-knit clubhouse.
Then, there’s Ross, the unlikely postseason hero claimed off waivers from Florida on Aug. 22.
Ross is back on a $6.3 million, one-year contract ready to resume where he left off as NL championship series MVP. He drove in 10 runs during the playoffs, two in the World Series.
Sandoval and pitcher Barry Zito probably have the most to prove.
Sandoval showed up at spring training down about 30 pounds to a fit 240 after a rigorous offseason workout regimen. The free-swinging slugger batted .268 with just 13 home runs and 63 RBI in his second full season in the big leagues only a year after he was among the last players left off the All-Star team.
Sandoval committed 13 errors and grounded into an NL-high 26 double plays. He played in only six of the Giants’ postseason games.
Zito didn’t play at all. The left-hander was left off the roster for all three postseason rounds, and now the 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner is eager for a fresh start in year 5 of his $126 million, seven-year deal.
Zito finished 9-14 in 2010.