SAN DIEGO In a sense, the Giants 7-5 victory at PetcoPark had all the markings of one of their comeback victories from down thestretch in 2010.
Simply substitute Xavier Nady for Pat Burrell and cast HunterPence in the role of Juan "Jazz Hands" Uribe. Their home runs in the ninth inning gave theGiants a sudden and stirring 7-5 victory over the Padres at Petco Park.
But in so many other respects, this is not the same teamthat so memorably squeaked into the playoffs two years ago. Their pitchersdont have near the run of dominance heading into an NL Division Series, and aswe all know, pitching is what usually leads to trophy hoisting, stingingcorneas and the like.
Tim Lincecum, for all his brave face, is not Tim Lincecumanymore. And for all the teams success in holding a bullpen together without atrue closer, the Giants will miss Brian Wilsons bravado more in October thanany other month. Someone has to have the stones to throw that last pitch to naildown a postseason series. Aside from Wilson, nobody in a Giants uniform has anyexperience doing that.
But every year is unto itself, with a different set of namesand chemistry and circumstances.
Here is where the NL West champion Giants stand right now,with three games remaining in the regular season:
Theyre going to open at home as the No.3 seed unless theylose the last three and the Reds win their last three. Their opponent could bethe Reds or Nationals; the two teams have identical records after the Reds wonand the Nats lost on Sunday. But Washington holds the tiebreaker by virtue ofwinning the season series. So theres still a better likelihood itll beCincinnati.
It hasnt been announced that Matt Cain will start for theGiants in Game 1 on Saturday at AT&T Park. But it also hasnt beenannounced that I have a nose in the middle of my face.
I would be surprised if its anyone but Cain and MadisonBumgarner in the first two games, both because Bumgarner has pitched so muchbetter at home and because hes looked upon as the second most trustworthystarter of the bunch
As for Cain hes Matt Cain.
Under this (one-time only!) 2-3 format, the lower seedpretty much has to throw the best two guys and hope to sweep their two homegames. I think thats how the Giants will decide to line them up.
I also think youll see Lincecum start Game 3, in spite ofhis wretched season. As Bochy said, Lincecum is a rise to the occasion typeof guy. And as we reported today, Lincecum has been told he will be a part of the postseason rotation. (Although it was unclear who, exactly, delivered that message.)
But as Lincecum himself acknowledged Sunday, he cannot expect to get along leash if he struggles. Ryan Vogelsong has much more experience in reliefthan Barry Zito, so Id expect that Vogelsong would unbutton a jacket in ahurry if Lincecum is out of whack in the early innings.
That would leave Zito for Game 4, right? Well, thats myguess, too. But only if the Giants are leading the series. Actually, my guessis that the Giants wont announce a Game 4 starter at the outset. If they faceelimination, it might be more likely that theyll bring back Cain on shortrest.
Remember, Bochy is the wily skipper who used three-fourthsof his playoff rotation in a clinching Game 6 victory at Philadelphia in theNLCS two years ago. And that was a non-elimination game.
During the regular season, the smart money is always topredict that Bochy will make the conservative move. In the playoffs, all betsare off. Its all decks on hand, as he himself once famously said.
One other thing to keep in mind: Two years ago, the Giants opened the postseason against an injury-wrecked Braves team that limped to the wild card with a skeleton crew in their lineup. This time, the Giants are guaranteed to face a powerhouse. So that's one more reason the pitching needs to step up, and fast.
Nady hit his pinch home run to dead center not far fromwhere Cameron Maybin robbed him by reaching over the wall a night earlier. Thisone was hit a little deeper, and Maybin mustve left his Go-Go Gadget arm inhis car.
It also should be noted that Nadys homer came off aright-hander, Huston Street, who had not given up a home run all season.(Street hadnt given up a homer since Aug. 1, 2011, when he was wearing aRockies uniform.)
It begs the question: Would Bruce Bochy consider startingNady in left field against right-handers in the postseason?
Bochy did go as far as to caution that left field wouldntbe a straight platoon between Nady and Gregor Blanco.
No, not necessarily, Bochy said. Weve talked about it,the matchups, and the defense, speed and (Nadys) bat. These are things weretalking about. In the meantime, hes getting his at-bats and hes getting moreand more comfortable out there.
One other advantage to starting Nady: It would allow Blancoto provide another option off the bench to get a bunt down or pinch-run.
Not only had Huston Street not given up a homer all year,but he hadnt been dealt a loss or blown a save.
As the great Bill Center of the San Diego Union Tribunewrote it: Gone, gone and gone twice.
Xavier Nady and Hunter Pence hit home runs in the ninthinning to save Tim Lincecum from his 16th loss.
If you told me in spring training that Id be typing thatsentence on Sept. 30, Id assume you escaped the drunk tank at the city jailbeyond the center field fence at Scottsdale Stadium.
Come to think of it, that must be the shortest distance inAmerica between a drunk tank and an actual beer line.
The Dodgers are two games behind St. Louis for the finalwild card spot. They could be eliminated with a Cardinals victory and a loss tothe Giants on Monday night.
Nothing would give the Giants greater pleasure or theirfans, to be sure.
This series at Dodger Stadium might be exactly what theGiants need a motivated opponent throwing quality pitching at them to helpthem get tuned up for the postseason.
As advantageous as the Giants downy soft schedule has beenin September, they havent faced many high-level arms. And theyre sure to seegood ones (Mat Latos, Gio Gonzalez, etc.) very soon.
So ending the season with Clayton Kershaw on Wednesday couldbe constructive, for once.
Plus, theres the chance to eliminate the Dodgers. And youdont need to be Wayne Franklin to realize thats a good thing.