By Sam McPherson

16 seasons is a long time to go without playoff baseball, that’s what fans of the San Francisco Giants had to endure after their 1971 National League West title. For the next 15 seasons, the Giants never finished better than third in the division, only managing to finish single-digit games out of first place twice (1978, 1982). San Francisco seemingly was buried in the division hierarchy for a new generation of fans born to experience disappointment.

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There were highlights here and there, but generally, the Giants were a laughingstock in the NL for years. Things hit rock bottom in 1985 when S.F. lost 100 games in a season for the only time in franchise history, finishing 33 games out of first place. The team hired former pitcher Roger Craig to manage late in the season and, in 1986, it paid immediate dividends as the Giants improved 21 games in the win column; setting up reasonable and solid expectations for the 1987 season.

The Giants didn’t disappoint. San Francisco won 90 games and finished six games ahead of the Cincinnati Reds to win its first NL West crown since 1971. Craig finished second in the NL Manager of the Year vote, somehow not winning the award he richly deserved for taking a team from 100 losses in 1985 to 90 wins and a division crown just two years later. 

San Francisco’s lineup was a potent one in 1987, although there were astronomical offensive numbers that year all across baseball. The Giants had seven starters hit double-digits home runs and the eighth guy, shortstop José Uribe, still managed to hit .291 overall. This lineup produced the third-highest run total in the NL for the season, finished with the second-most home runs in the league as well. Overall, the Giants had nine players that hit at least 10 home runs each, including two bench/utility players.

First baseman Will Clark, just 23 years old, finished fifth in the NL MVP voting after hitting 35 home runs and driving in 91 RBIs. Toss in the .308 average and the .951 OPS, Clark was a monster at the plate. Center fielder Chili Davis added 24 home runs and 76 RBIs, while right fielder Candy Maldonado hit .292 with 20 home runs and 85 RBIs. Utility man Mike Aldrete hit .325 with nine home runs off the bench, a deep bench that also featured infielder Chris Speier (11 home runs) and backup catcher Bob Melvin (11 home runs).

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These Giants weren’t all about the home runs, though, as the pitching staff finished first in NL ERA in 1987 with a 3.68 mark. Six pitchers made at least 11 starts and four relievers notched at least four saves each. Mike LaCoss led the team with 13 wins, Dave Dravecky had the best starter ERA (3.20) and closer Scott Garrelts notched 11 wins and 12 saves to go with his 3.22 ERA. Dravecky was the only starter without a relief appearance all year, as Craig managed his staff with tons of flexibility to maximize the results.

The St. Louis Cardinals awaited the Giants in the 1987 NL Championship Series. By virtue of their 95 wins, the Redbirds had home-field advantage. In Game One at Busch Stadium, the Cards broke open a 2-2 tie with three runs in the sixth inning to win the opener, 5-3. However, Dravecky was brilliant in Game Two; tossing a two-hit, complete-game shutout as the Giants evened the series with a 5-0 win that featured home runs from Clark and Jeff “HacMan” Leonard.

Game Three at Candlestick was a big one in front of 57,913 fans, as S.F. held a 4-0 lead at the end of the fifth inning. The San Francisco euphoria would come to a screeching halt as St. Louis scored six runs in the next two innings to take the game and the lead in the series itself. This loss would haunt the Giants later, of course. San Francisco won Game Four behind a gritty complete game from Mike Krukow, who gave up nine hits but only two runs. Leonard homered for the fourth straight game to set a new NLCS record and the series was tied at two games apiece. This meant Game Five was sink or swim for the Giants. They scored four runs in the bottom of the fourth inning to pace themselves to a 6-3 win, heading back to St. Louis for Game Six with a 3-2 lead in the series.

Sadly, San Francisco never scored again in the 1987 NLCS. John Tudor outdid Dravecky in Game Six, as the Cardinals won the game 1-0. The Giants managed one more hit than St. Louis did, but the Cardinals got the run that mattered in the second when catcher Tony Peña tripled to lead off the inning and scored later on a sacrifice fly. In Game Seven, the notorious Atlee Hammaker—old-school Giants fans remember him as the guy who gave seven runs in less than an inning at the 1983 All-Star Game, of course—gave up four runs in the second inning as the Giants lost again, 6-0.

The series was over, and San Francisco had been so close to getting back to the World Series for the first time in 25 years. But it wasn’t to be … this time.

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Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball and fantasy sports for many online sites, including CBS, AXS and Examiner.