The San Francisco Giants pulled on gray NL West champion shirts and white caps, then took a victory lap around AT&T Park slapping high-fives with any fans they could reach.
The Giants have needed every face in their clubhouse and every ounce of support from their city. They lost All-Star closer Brian Wilson in April to season-ending elbow surgery, and top hitter Melky Cabrera to a 50-game drug suspension in August. They lost Pablo Sandoval to the disabled list twice, and second baseman Freddy Sanchez for the year months ago.
And, still, San Francisco won and won.
Madison Bumgarner pitched the Giants to their second division title in three years and newcomer Marco Scutaro had three hits and three RBI in an 8-4 victory over the San Diego Padres on Saturday night.
”It’s almost like we take it personally when people say we’re going to kind of fade away,” first baseman Brandon Belt said. ”When somebody goes down, it seems the whole team just kind of picks it up and takes over. That’s what happened the last few weeks, and that’s why we’re NL West champions right now.”
The Giants captured their eighth divisional crown – wrapping it up once again with a victory over the Padres in front of their home fans, just as they did on the season’s final day in 2010 on the way to an improbable World Series championship.
A little earlier this time was nice, with 10 games to go.
”I’ll take this one,” manager Bruce Bochy said. ”I like a margin of error.”
Belt homered leading off the eighth to give the sellout crowd of 42,418 one more thing to stand and cheer about in a season full of such moments.
The real party began after Sergio Romo retired Mark Kotsay on a fly ball to center to end it. Fireworks shot off behind the main center-field scoreboard as the players rushed to the mound and began bouncing up and down.
”It’s the first step,” Sandoval said. ”We’re excited to get it done early. We’ve got it now. We’re going to focus on finishing the season the right way.”
Romo was among the first to grab a T-shirt, and as music blared and fans roared, the pitcher waved his high for everyone to see.
”It never gets old,” general manager Brian Sabean said in the champagne-soaked clubhouse. ”They’re all different because the faces change and the dynamics change. It’s a special group. The long and windy road this season’s been, I don’t know that we’re known for any real star quality. I can’t remember a team that attacked the schedule at the end.”
Buster Posey and Hunter Pence each hit a sacrifice fly in the first and Bumgarner tacked on an RBI single in the second. Pence singled twice as the Giants won their season-high sixth straight game and moved 26 games above .500 (89-63), the club’s best record since finishing the 2003 season 39 games over.
Scutaro singled in the first to match his career-best hitting streak of 12 games, also accomplished from April 9-21, 2004, while with Oakland. He is tied with Milwaukee’s Norichika Aoki for longest active streak in the National League.
Scutaro’s two-run single in the fourth chased rookie Andrew Werner (2-2). He singled in another run in the sixth.
Now, Bochy can rest his regulars and prepare his playoff rotation – but don’t count on it. San Francisco is still eying the best record in the National League if it can catch Washington and newly crowned NL Central champion Cincinnati.
The Reds helped make it possible for the Giants to clinch, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-0 at home earlier in the day.
”It’s one of those things you don’t want to prolong it – you want to get it done as soon as possible, celebrate and have a good time,” Belt said.
These Giants are hardly the castoffs and misfits of the 2010 title team. Sabean again added some key pieces for the second half, getting Scutaro in a trade from Colorado on July 27 and acquiring Pence from the Phillies three days later.
San Francisco also played on, seemingly unfazed, after Cabrera’s suspension Aug. 15 for a positive testosterone test. Just as it did in the season’s first month when Wilson was lost to season-ending elbow surgery.
These Giants are still defined by their pitching.
The 23-year-old Bumgarner (16-10) struck out six and walked one in 5 2-3 innings to win his second straight following a four-start winless stretch in which he was 0-3. He took over the team lead for wins and also has the most victories by a Giants left-hander since Kirk Rueter won 16 games in 1998.
”That’s pretty cool,” Bumgarner said.
Bumgarner knows plenty about coming through in big games. He won Game 4 of the World Series at Texas two years ago as a rookie.
But he was done after surrendering a two-run homer to Yonder Alonso that cut San Francisco’s lead to 5-3.
A mix-and-match bullpen that has been so reliable since Wilson went down took over from there. Romo, the fifth reliever of the night after Javier Lopez recorded the first out of the ninth, closed it out to set off a ballpark frenzy.
Sandoval received a standing ovation when he made an amazing catch in foul territory in the fourth on a popup by Alonso. The burly third baseman fell over the railing of a party suite close to the field, backhanding the ball while grabbing onto the rail with his right hand.
Once back in the dugout, Sandoval received a hug and pat on the back from Bumgarner.
”A deserving champion of winning our division,” San Diego skipper Bud Black said in congratulating the Giants. ”They played well, especially the second half of the season. They’ve had a great second half.”
Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal was a late scratch as a precaution, a day after he left the game in the seventh inning after taking a foul ball off his mask. Black wanted to see how Grandal did in pregame baseball activities before starting him.
NOTES: Bumgarner is 31-3 when the Giants score at least three runs for him. He improved to 3-0 with a 3.04 ERA in four starts this season vs. the Padres. … San Diego named Eric Stults (6-3) its starter for Sunday’s series finale. The Giants changed their starter after the clincher to RHP Yusmeiro Petit. … San Francisco leads the season series 10-4 with four meetings remaining.