-- As the Champagne flew in the visitors’ clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium, and the air became heady and close, and the gold-flagged Commissioner’s Trophy was passed around the room from manager to player to goggles-wearing, well-soaked player late Wednesday night, a common question followed in its wake.
For the third time in five seasons, that trophy was in the hands of the San Francisco Giants. Does that make them a dynasty?
"That’s up to you guys," said catcher Buster Posey. "But I think in today’s game, if it’s not, it’s as close as you’re going to get."
Posey, at the age of 27, owns three World Series rings after the Giants defeated the Kansas City Royals, 3-2, in Game 7 of this year’s Series on Wednesday. Madison Bumgarner, who pitched the final five innings for the Giants and earned series Most Valuable Player honors, also won his third ring -- at the age of 25.
Manager Bruce Bochy, the guiding hand during this run of success in San Francisco, became just the 10th manager in major-league history to win three World Series. The names of the other nine all adorn plaques in Cooperstown.
"I mean, you win three, I think you have to consider it a dynasty," said reliever Jeremy Affeldt. "I don’t know, but I definitely won’t say no if they ask us if we are one. If they ask permission to call us that, I’ll give them my permission."
Affeldt is one of eight players who have been on the active roster for all three World Series wins -- one of four in the bullpen, along with Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez and Sergio Romo. There is the combination of Posey and Bumgarner, who embraced near the mound after the final out of Game 7 settled into Pablo Sandoval’s glove in foul ground near the Giants’ dugout. And there is Sandoval, who had a minor role in 2010, and Tim Lincecum, who was relegated to a bit part out of the bullpen this postseason.
Otherwise, the cast has revolved. The Giants have had three different center fielders in their three title runs -- Andres Torres, Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco, and three left fielders -- Cody Ross, Blanco and the combination of Travis Ishikawa and Juan Perez this year. Same goes for second base -- Freddy Sanchez, Marco Scutaro and Joe Panik. Half their starting rotation this postseason -- Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson -- was pitching elsewhere in 2012. But the Giants plugged in the new pieces this season and, again, made it work.
They did it without Matt Cain, the erstwhile horse of the starting rotation and starter of all three postseason series clinchers in 2012, who was sidelined this October following elbow surgery. Cain was present Wednesday night as a spectator and a happy but quiet participant in the rowdy clubhouse post-game celebration. Are the Giants a dynasty, Matt?
"I don’t know," Cain said. "I know it’s fun. Let’s keep it going."
It’s hard to rule out the possibility, because few seemed to expect that this team would be the last left standing when the dust of the 2014 season settled. Not after the two-month tailspin they went into during mid-summer, losing at a clip that matched the worst teams in baseball for a spell. Not with the loaded Los Angeles Dodgers putting a clamp on the division. Not when the Giants had to win on the road in Pittsburgh in the wild-card game just to get into the playoffs, then face the N.L.-best Washington Nationals in the first round, then play the St. Louis Cardinals -- a team in the Championship Series for the fourth consecutive year -- in the NLCS.
But there they were Wednesday night, pouring out of the dugout when Salvador Perez’s pop-up in foul territory finally -- after what seemed like an eternity in the air -- feathered into Sandoval’s glove, mobbing Bumgarner near the pitcher’s mound, atop the baseball world once again.
Posey shook his head when asked if he could have expected such a decorated beginning to his already remarkable career. Posey caught all but two innings of this World Series, but said even toward the end he felt healthy. As he watched Perez’s pop-up hang in the Kansas City night, he said: "I’m just hoping that it stays in play. I’m hoping it stays in play, and then when I see Pablo under it, it’s just sheer joy. Excitement. Relief."
Bumgarner, whose historic October will earn him a place in postseason lore, used some of the same words to describe his reaction. It was Bumgarner’s 68th pitch in his 21st inning this series, bringing his total for the postseason to 52 2/3 -- a new major-league record. In those innings -- nearly a third of the 160 the Giants’ pitching staff totaled as a whole in the playoffs -- the left-hander allowed six earned runs, for a 1.03 ERA.
"A little bit of relief, a little bit of excitement combined," Bumgarner said. "You’re just sitting there trying to figure out if it really just happened or not, for me.
"But it was an awesome experience getting to be out there for the last out of Game 7 of the World Series."
In 2010, it was Brian Wilson striking out Nelson Cruz. In 2012, it was Sergio Romo freezing Miguel Cabrera. Neither, arguably, came in such an acutely pressurized situation as Bumgarner faced Wednesday -- the tying run on third base in the ninth inning of Game 7 on the road.
The Giants became the first team to win Game 7 of the World Series on the road since the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates. Only a handful of their players were alive then, certainly not the rookie Panik, who said Wednesday night he had learned of that fact the day before. In characteristic fashion for the 23-year-old -- whose diving glove-flip to start a double play in the fourth inning loomed as a pivotal play Wednesday -- Panik said his reaction upon hearing it was this:
"You know what? Stats are always changing."
And yet here is one that has not changed: The Giants have played in 10 postseason series under Bochy, including the wild-card round this year, and won them all. In their last three playoff runs, their combined record is 34-14, a .708 winning percentage. And all three have ended with the Giants being sized for rings.
"I’m numb, really through all of this," Bochy said in the interview room afterward. "You’re so blessed or fortunate to get in the World Series and to get one, it just doesn’t happen that often. To look at this and see that we won three times, I mean, I’m amazed with what these guys did, and the fact that we have won three times in five years, it’s not that easy. But when you have a group of warriors like we have, I mean, they continue to just amaze you. They were relentless."
Before the game, sitting in the same room, Bochy had been asked whether, regardless of Game 7 outcome, he thought the Giants would be set up to contend again in 2015. Sandoval and pitcher Ryan Vogelsong are among those players headed for free agency this offseason. Cain and center fielder Angel Pagan will be returning from injury. Despite some of those question marks, Bochy answered: "I think so.
"We’ve kept our core players," he said. "We’ve got some good young players, Bumgarner, Panik with what he’s done, and we do have some free agents. I don’t know what’s going to happen there.
"The thing I love about what’s happening in San Francisco is the continuity that we have, so that allows you to hopefully compete and contend every year."
Or at least, as has been the case with the Giants and the World Series, every other year. Among the most common questions directed at the Giants throughout this postseason was some variation of: How do you explain this team’s recent October success? Their answers varied, from Bochy’s leadership, to a clubhouse full of players comfortable under the bright lights of the postseason, to an organization that has created a culture of winning.
Those questions won’t stop coming now. Not after the 2014 season ended with the Giants, for the third time in five seasons, on top of the baseball world.
No team had done that since the New York Yankees won four from 1996-2000. No N.L. team had done it since the St. Louis Cardinals won three from 1942-46.
So, pitching coach Dave Righetti, are the Giants a dynasty?
"No," Righetti said.
"Well, I’m not saying it’s not," Righetti said. "But I grew up with the (NBA’s Boston) Celtics winning 10. UCLA won how many? I like to think this is the beginning of something special."
An ambitious thought. But watching the Giants celebrate yet again Wednesday night, one might have been forced to think: Why not?
"To me, a dynasty’s the Yankees -- how many did they win, seven of 10 back in the 50s?" said Righetti. "So not yet. It’s fun, though."