For the record, and just so you understand, the San Francisco Giants did not celebrate clinching a Wild Card berth Thursday night, nor did they celebrate avoiding a humiliating gas-piping at the hands of the San Diego Padres. They thought they were celebrating because they figured they’d deserved it after all they’d been through in 2014.
But the secret truth, one they dare not speak, is that they celebrated because they thought they were supposed to. They celebrated survival, is what they did, and when they put on the cheesy hats and T-shirts telling the world they had earned the right to a 163rd game, they looked mostly like they wanted to know when they could leave.
They celebrated because they weren’t dead yet.
It’s not that they were ashamed of what they’d done, because they shouldn’t be. They beat themselves half-bloody just to get here, with a 9-8 come-from-way-ahead win over the Padres as the final pro forma response to Milwaukee’s midway eradication. Like the season, the game was not about heroism, but endurance.
And yes, that should be commemorated somehow. It’s just that there’s no good template for exhaustedly backing in, and when they approached the buckets of champagne in their clubhouse, they mostly drank and sprayed it about as a salute to making it up the stairs one more time.
This is in many ways the most bizarre celebration of all the ones they have created in this ballpark, because this was the season that made the least sense. The Giants were one of the game’s best teams. Then they were one of the worst teams. Then they were good, and then bad, and then good enough, and then barely not bad. They lost half their pitching staff, half their infield and the top of their batting order. They spent as much time getting hit as they did hitting, and if they had thought to do it, they’d have put the champers in ice bags and taped them to their heads and rib cages.
In fact, Hunter Pence’s Fireside F-Bomb Chat has been done better, by Pence himself, because he too was exhausted. As many times as players and broadcasters tried to convince themselves that “it never gets old,” they know that celebrations are not created equal. If there are any more of these this fall, they will be delivered with far more verve and emotion, but this is one they won’t forget because it is so much different than the norm.
This time, they are saluting not being the Brewers, whom they could easily have been. This was a triumph stained with relief because they stared abject failure in the face so often. If this is the best it gets for them, they will have the knowledge that they didn’t give in to the forces that pulled at their ankles and calves.
And if they cheat the reaper and go deep into the postseason for a third time in five years, this will be the celebration that most explains the year. It wasn’t about euphoria, it was about exhaustion. It doesn’t have a catchy word or phrase, unless it’s this:
“They haven’t killed us yet.” It may not fit easily on a T-shirt, but at least it’s true. Especially if they italicize and underline the “yet.”