On season's final day, Giants find way back into playoffs
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Pitcher Jake Peavy grabbed the microphone and promised a sellout crowd more special October baseball, and who could doubt him given the Giants' recent history of even-year World Series success?
Ace right-hander Johnny Cueto tossed a baseball into the seats in celebration Sunday, then expressed his thanks to a higher power for putting him in another winning situation this season after last fall's World Series victory in Kansas City.
''That energy's back,'' Peavy said. ''This isn't the last game we're playing at AT&T ballpark, there's no chance.''
Yet the way the Giants played in the second half, when nearly everything seemed to go wrong at some point and the old reliable bullpen blew it over and over again, manager Bruce Bochy couldn't help but wonder if his team could pull it off in the end. With all that talent and depth, San Francisco nearly squandered a big chance.
Bochy never counted on the Giants getting any help to reach the playoffs, either.
On Sunday, he knew his club would have to get there on its own - and that's exactly what San Francisco did on the season's last day.
''It's a tough group. I kept saying, `They've been through it, they're battle-tested,''' he said. ''We stayed in it a lot longer than I thought. When they needed to answer the bell, they did it.''
The Giants owned the best record at the All-Star break at 57-33, sputtered for months then all but needed to sweep the division champion Dodgers to return to the postseason. They did just that to wrap up the second wild card and headed East on Monday ahead of Wednesday night's game against the New York Mets for a spot in the Division Series against the Chicago Cubs.
Now, ace left-hander Madison Bumgarner will take the ball just as the 2014 World Series MVP did two years ago at Pittsburgh with the season on the line. Noah Syndergaard will oppose Bumgarner, whose `14 postseason was among the best ever by a pitcher.
''It comes down to that one game, all the work we've put in comes down to that,'' Bumgarner said. ''... Early in the season things were looking real promising for us, then we went through a pretty good stretch when it wasn't looking too promising at all.''
The Giants have momentum again. Things are clicking at the plate, with the pitching and on defense.
Nobody wanted to travel first to St. Louis for a potential one-game playoff to determine the last wild card.
''This game is hard to explain sometimes,'' Bochy said. ''We just got in a funk between we were missing a couple guys and then we were sputtering offensively, we were trying to get this bullpen in order. For us to get there, and how we got there, I said earlier I felt we had to win out in this series. We couldn't count on somebody helping us. It was up to us to take care of business and these guys took care of business in a great way. Five runs the first two innings, they were on a mission.''
The Giants (87-75) finished the regular season with their first four-game winning streak of the second half.
They have a chance to follow up those every-other-year championships the franchise has captured this decade: in 2010, `12 and `14. Many of the same faces have been around for them all.
''It's always fun to go to the postseason, especially with the core group of guys we have, some experience with the wild card and with the postseason,'' shortstop Brandon Crawford said. ''It's going to be fun. We've done a good job of maintaining that belief that we would get here. Hopefully we can just keep it rolling. We've been playing good baseball the last few days.''
Santiago Casilla lost his closer's job. Sergio Romo got healthy and stabilized the ninth inning, and everybody in the tight-knit bullpen stuck together.
''It's unbelievable,'' Casilla said. ''This year, I believed 100 percent we'd win the World Series, no matter what anybody was saying or how we made it. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's hard. We played hard, we believed. Now, we can win the World Series and make the city happy.''
Right fielder Hunter Pence has been telling Bochy for weeks how much he cherishes playing for something this time of year.
''This is October baseball,'' Pence said, ''it's the best versus the best.''