Baseball teams take months and years to form. But as any Giants fan knows, championships are won and lost in moments.

A pivotal one of this year's National League Championship Series came in the second inning of a scoreless game five on Friday. At the time, the St. Louis Cardinals were up three games to one and needed only one more win to advance to the World Series. They had runners on second and third with no outs, and they were playing loose and confident before a hometown crowd. All hopes for the San Francisco Giants rested on the team's fifth starter, Barry Zito, who time and again had shown his mortality.

But 2012 was different. Plays were made when needed. Players changed when needed. And whether the Cardinals were aware of it or not, their firm grip on the National League pennant was about to slip away.

Zito struck out the next batter, intentionally walked the eight-place hitter before getting the pitcher to ground into an inning-ending double play.

Two innings later, the Giants scored four runs and never looked back. Over the final 28 innings of the series, the Giants outscored the defending World Series champions 20-1, capped by a 9-0 victory in the deciding game.

And when it was over, Giant infielder Marco Scutaro, the eventual series MVP, was staring up into the rainy night sky over AT&T Park and smiling before gloving the final out, setting off a sloppy celebration.

It was not pretty. But nothing about this team has been pretty.

The Giants have faced more than their share of storms since their last appearance in the Fall Classic. They've been inundated with setbacks, from the horrific injury to Buster Posey last year and the season-ending surgery for Brian Wilson this year to the inexplicable control problems of two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and the 50-game suspension of star outfielder Melky Cabrera for violation of the league's ban on performance-enhancing drugs.

To the Giants' credit, they overcame it all and showed some character in the process by leaving Cabrera off the post-season roster even though they could have included him for the run at the league title. The ball club stuck with the team it had. And it proved to be more than sufficient.

The Giants now move on to compete in their third World Series in the past 11 years. And once again, they're being given little chance to win as they meet the powerful Detroit Tigers. The first game begins at 5 p.m. today.

We don't know what will happen. But our guess is at some point the Giants will have their backs against the wall, and, once again, they will show their resilience and defiance for conventional outcomes.

And if this storyline, this string of game-changing plays made by improbable and often inconsistent stars, continues, the Tigers, like the Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds before them, won't know what hit 'em.