Giants wrap up West with plenty of time to spare
Angel Pagan let out a cheer as he ran in from center field with both arms raised after catching the final out to secure San Francisco its second NL West crown in three seasons.
Sure, the outfield around him looks a whole lot different than it did a month and a half ago when suspended All-Star game MVP Melky Cabrera was still around leading the way.
The Giants were never fooled. They knew full well that much of the baseball world figured this club would flop after losing its best hitter to a 50-game suspension in mid-August for a positive testosterone test.
Hardly. The Giants put it out of mind in a hurry and kept on winning.
''The whole lineup has come to life,'' general manager Brian Sabean said as the champagne flowed in a celebratory clubhouse.
The Giants won the West with an 8-4 victory over the San Diego Padres on Saturday night, a few hours after the rival Dodgers did their part by losing at Cincinnati as the Reds clinched the NL Central.
''Some people in baseball were thinking, oh, we're in trouble because we lost a guy who was leading the league in hitting and was doing so much for us,'' manager Bruce Bochy said. ''Yet this group never talked about it. They never even discussed it; they kept their focus forward and kept marching. If anything, I think it did bring guys together, saying, `You know what, we still have a lot of talent in this room and we can still get this done.' And they showed it.''
Now, with more than a week remaining on the schedule, Bochy and the Giants have plenty of time to put together their playoff roster and rotation - and rest up a little bit, too, before beginning a best-of-five divisional series.
''This is the first step,'' third baseman Pablo Sandoval said.
From losing All-Star closer Brian Wilson - whose 48 saves led the majors in 2010 - in April to Tommy John surgery and Sandoval to a broken hamate bone and two stints on the disabled list, and never having injured second baseman Freddy Sanchez as planned, the Giants have succeeded with so many different faces. Not unlike that eventual World Series squad of two years ago.
''That just says a lot about the character of this team,'' said Madison Bumgarner, Saturday's winning pitcher. ''We've been through a lot of adversity, and a lot of different guys have stepped up, day in and day out. That says a lot about the guys we have on this team.''
Bochy has successfully mixed and matched all year long.
After the Giants failed to make the 2011 playoffs as reigning World Series champions, Sabean added several key pieces to make a push this year.
Like Cabrera and Pagan. Marco Scutaro and Hunter Pence around the trade deadline.
He kept many of the familiar faces, too. Matt Cain received a new $127.5 million, six-year contract just before opening day as the right-hander had hoped - then backed up that big money by pitching the franchise's first perfect game, June 13 at home against the Houston Astros.
''We have remnants from the 2010 team that won the World Series and some other veterans who have been around the block, and we've got some young guys who are coming into their own,'' Sabean said. ''So, it's a very diverse group. I've said it before: They love the game of baseball. They respect the game, and they play for 27 outs and try to win each inning. I think that's one of the reasons, as crazy as it sounds, we're up by 11 games.''
Bochy made do with all the moving parts week after week, month after month.
Maybe not quite with the ''castoffs and misfits'' of 2010 this time, but close.
''They were relentless. I love the way they did it. We did it how you're supposed to do it, and that's by winning,'' Bochy said. ''This makes it so special, how we did it, how resilient we've been all year with the adversity we've had to deal with - Melky, Wilson and Pablo going down.''
When Wilson went down, Bochy turned to Santiago Casilla, then went to a committee approach. Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez - they all did their part in the late innings.
''They did what they had to do. They had no choice,'' Bochy said. ''Put anything behind you that you can't control, whether it's an injury or a suspension. These guys didn't dwell on it or talk about it or `woe is me.' They just came out here and were ready to play a ballgame and try to win that ballgame.''
Down to that final out on a cool night by the bay, Pagan didn't think past finishing it off right until Mark Kotsay's fly ball had landed safely in his glove.
''There was a lot of time to celebrate,'' Pagan said. ''That's what we were thinking as a team: Go out and play hard. We weren't thinking about a championship or anything. Once we got the 27th out we could celebrate.''