By Alex Pavlovic, San Jose Mercury News –
SAN FRANCISCO — They came together despite crushing injuries and unexpected slumps. They stayed together through a spending spree by their closest rivals and a suspension that rocked baseball but only furthered the resolve within the clubhouse.
On Saturday, the Giants finally got to celebrate together.
An 8-4 victory over the San Diego Padres at AT&T Park clinched the organization’s second National League West title in three years and set off a wild celebration for a Giants team that brought in plenty of new faces this season but again found the right mix.
“To be successful in this game, it takes a lot of people,” catcher Buster Posey said. “This team is a great example of a lot of different guys getting it done on different nights.”
The Giants trailed the Los Angeles Dodgers by 7½ games May 28 but slowly chipped away. When their eighth National League West title came into view, the Giants started firing on all cylinders. With manager Bruce Bochy preaching the need to “take care of business every day,” the Giants won six straight this week to clinch the West, improving to 43-23 since the All-Star break.
“They were relentless,” Bochy said. “We did this the way you’re supposed to, and that’s going out and winning it. We didn’t back in.”
Said G.M. Brian Sabean: “I can’t remember a team that attacked the schedule at the end like they did. It’s a special group.”
The Giants’ strong second-half stretch included one attention-getting Dodgers deal after another, but the Giants never looked south. Instead, they quietly pulled away with a lineup that gets contributions from top to bottom and always followed the lead of Posey, a leading MVP candidate who only increased his production after left fielder Melky Cabrera was suspended.
It was one thing for the Giants to state that they would move on when the All-Star Game MVP was banned for 50 games Aug. 15 for use of a banned substance. It was quite another for them to do it.
A revolving cast of stars did so on a nightly basis. Saturday’s key contributors included Marco Scutaro, a trade deadline pickup who drove in three runs, young first baseman Brandon Belt (homer, three runs), and even pitcher Madison Bumgarner, who delivered an RBI single in the second inning.
The Giants now head back to the postseason, where a stellar pitching staff led them to the 2010 World Series title. Closer Brian Wilson recorded the final out of that run but pitched just two innings this season before having season-ending Tommy John surgery.
As they did in replacing Cabrera’s production, the Giants made up for Wilson’s loss with widespread contributions. Five players have multiple saves, and five relievers got the Giants through the final 3 1/3 innings Saturday. Sergio Romo got Mark Kotsay to line out to center to end the game.
All season long, the bullpen has backed a starting staff that weathered a stunning slump by Tim Lincecum that nearly cost the two-time Cy Young Award winner his spot in the rotation. Lincecum had a 6.42 ERA in the first half but was picked up by Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong, Barry Zito and Bumgarner, who gave up three runs (two earned) in 5 2/3 innings Saturday.
These days, it’s Lincecum who is often picking up the rest of the staff.
“The key is there isn’t a selfish person in this clubhouse, there are no hidden agendas or intentions,” Romo said. “We understand how good we are if we play together, and it’s been fun to watch.”
The clinching victory gave the Giants a season-high 11-game lead in the division and was their third consecutive division-clinching win that came against the Padres, Bochy’s previous team.
Bochy has remained patient throughout the season, especially in the down times. Bochy insisted that his team was better than it was showing, and as the intensity picked up down the stretch, Bochy slowed things down, meticulously managing every game as if the Giants were playing Game 7 of the World Series.
Bochy’s players made his job a bit easier Saturday night. Sacrifice flies by Posey and Hunter Pence scored two runs in the first inning, and Bumgarner drove in Belt an inning later. Belt and shortstop Brandon Crawford reached base to lead off the fourth inning, and Scutaro’s two-out, two-run single gave the Giants a 5-1 lead.
Yonder Alonso’s two-run homer cut the lead to two in the top of the sixth, but Aubrey Huff got the Giants going in the bottom of the inning. Huff, who has had three stints on the disabled list this season, drew a two-out walk before giving way to pinch runner Francisco Peguero, a rookie without a major league hit. Peguero stole second, took third on Pagan’s infield single and scored when a pickoff throw got away. Scutaro followed with a single to score Pagan and give the Giants a 7-3 lead.
The Giants improved to 25-9 since Cabrera’s suspension and 15-5 in September.
“September is always a tough time to play well, and these guys have done that,” Bochy said. “They came out ready to go every single day. That’s who we are. You can’t drop your guard. Every game is important until you get it done.”
On Saturday, the Giants finally did.