SAN FRANCISCO It was the prudent thing to say. It was thelogical thing to believe. Its the words that dropped from so many lips overthe past six weeks.
Everything is going to come down to those final three gamesat Dodger Stadium.
The Giants would have to step into their most hostile sand pit thosethree days in October and either shrink in the faces of their payroll-fattenedarchrivals or outmaneuver them to win the NL West.
Well, guess what? The Giants team bus wont turn ontoElysian Park Ave. for nine more days. And theyre already soaking in the dewystink of the eighth NL West title in franchise history.
They got there with another resounding win Saturday night,this time dispatching the overwhelmed San Diego Padres 8-4 at AT&T Park.
This was not torture. This was something altogetherdifferent.
This was a team that settled into the bucket seat and floored it, paying no heed to the road hazards. They won their sixth consecutive and their 10th in 11 games.
"This is a really special year for me, the most special,said Bruce Bochy, his gray shirt dampened by the residue of the sixth NL West titlein 17 seasons as a big league manager. This year just had a different feelingin the way we did it, and the way we won it. We didnt get in the back door,and I love that. We got on a winning streak and we came through the front door.
With a battering ram, not a soft knock.
This is a club that trailed by as much as 7 games in late May. They lost Brian Wilson before the home opener. Freddy Sanchez never made it out of spring training. Tim Lincecum, even after a decent second half, still ranks 46th out of 47 NL starting pitchers who qualify for the ERA title.
NEWS: Lincecum absent from celebration, scratched from Sunday's start
Someone always provided a counterpoint. For Wilson, it wasSantiago Casilla, and then Bochys determined committee in the bullpen. ForLincecum, it was Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong, who put together a first-halfstreak in which the Giants went 16-0 in their starts.
Determined group, businesslike, Giants GM Brian Sabean said. As much as youcan say about individual play, its the overall consistency of the team ingeneral. They managed to find a way to win games and win series. Weve shownthat in the second half.
We had enough experience and weve had enough good players.You dont do this without good players.
They lost one of their best on Aug. 15, when Melky Cabrera at the time, the leading collector of hits and runs in the major leagues received a 50-game suspension for testing positive for testosterone.
The Giants were tied for first place at the time. Theirworld was collapsing and the Dodgers were adding high-priced players every day.
The Giants have gone 25-10 since then.
What happened? Well, Angel Pagan caught fire from theleadoff spot. Marco Scutaro hit .361 in 51 games as a Giant. He did it again inthe clincher; two of his three hits were two-out, RBI singles.
And through it all, there was Buster Poseys polish at theplate, his leadership behind it and his permanently set jaw.
Of all the statements in the hazy, celebratory clubhouse,perhaps Posey opened eyes the widest when he offered this blunt assessment of what he called the Melky incident.
I dont think anybody in our clubhouse took it that hard,Posey said. Obviously, he was a big part of our lineup. But guys had to stepup.
They stepped on inferior opponents in September, never onceeasing up despite an obvious edge in the schedule. Bochy would use hisfrontline relievers to go batter-by-batter even with four- and five-run leads.
RATTO: It wasn't clean, but it was classically Giant
Their effort was as plain as the grass stains on their creamcolored uniforms. Pablo Sandoval even flipped over the rail near thephotographers well while catching a foul pop in the fourth inning,hanging onto the ball with one hand while holding upside down to the rail withthe other.
Unbelievable play. Unbelievable, Pagan said. I kind ofgot scared. Then I started laughing. Hey, it looked pretty funny. But I tellyou what, Pablo works hard. Hes a gamer.
Now theyll face a new challenge staying finely tuned overthe final 10 games while taking strategic pit stops to rest up for thepostseason. The Giants are currently positioned to be the No. 3 seed, threegames behind NL Central champ Cincinnati and four behind presumptive NL East champ Washington in the loss column.
They arelikely to open at home against either the Nationals or Reds in the NL DivisionSeries.
Well be playing a really good team. We know it, Bochysaid. But I just like the way weve been playing. This is step one, but thisis a special group with a lot of heart and determination.
Its a group that will not enter that final weekend with aseason on the line.
Two weeks ago if you wouldve asked me, Id say theres agood chance itd come down to that last series, said Posey, the likely NL MVP.It shows you never know whats going to happen in baseball. Its a fickle gameand thats what makes it great."