SAN FRANCISCO – The most successful postseason teams are the ones capable of winning in different ways and under different circumstances.
The Giants more or less had to beat the San Diego Padres twice Thursday night to ensure the heartiest possible postgame party.
They built a six-run lead with extra-base power, and after their bullpen blew it all, their offense rallied back with singles and small ball to take a 9-8 victory at AT&T Park.
Pablo Sandoval stepped to the plate in four RBI situations and delivered each time, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford hit solo home runs off hard-throwing right-hander Andrew Cashner, Belt came through again with the tying single in a three-run seventh inning and Matt Duffy’s pinch safety squeeze scored Hunter Pence as the Giants were able to go straight from the handshake line to a clubhouse celebration.
Reliever Tim Lincecum got his 100th career win, and all he had to do was face one batter and throw two pitches.
The Giants clinched a wild card berth earlier in the day when the Milwaukee Brewers lost. They were resolved to stage a celebration either way. After coming back with a three-run rally in the seventh inning, they assured a genuinely good time.
They also kept pace with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who retained their one-game lead over the Giants for home-field advantage in a potential Wild Card game. The Pirates are now just one game behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the NL Central lead, so the Giants’ opponent is far from set.
Starting pitching report
Yusmeiro Petit struck out eight and walked one while taking a shutout into the sixth inning – a solid audition as the Giants attempt to rank their options for a potential NL Division Series rotation.
But he allowed three hits to four batters in the sixth, including two home runs. It was the first time since May 16 that Petit allowed two homers in a start. Will Venable connected for a two-run shot and Yasmani Grandal’s solo homer on Petit’s 85th pitch knocked the right-hander from the game leading 6-3.
For the second consecutive game, the Giants bullpen made a mess of things. Javier Lopez, who was coming off a frustrating outing the previous night at Dodger Stadium, started the seventh inning and gave up hits to two of the three batters he faced. Then Jean Machi entered, issued a walk to load the bases, then threw a hanging splitter that Grandal crushed over the arcade for his first career grand slam.
Grandal raised one arm all the way down the first base line as he watched the shot clear the top of the bricks. The Padres had a sudden lead, and they made it 8-6 when Rene Rivera hit a solo homer to end Machi’s night. It was Rivera’s 42nd RBI, and 10 have come in six games against the Giants.
Tim Lincecum perked up a stunned crowd, receiving his usual adulation as he replaced Machi and recorded an out in the air to end the five-run seventh inning. Because the Giants took the lead in the bottom half, it was Lincecum who received the decision.
With a lead to protect in the eighth, Sergio Romo worked a scoreless inning and Santiago Casilla did the rest to record the save.
At the plate
Cashner faced the Giants on Saturday in San Diego and had overwhelming stuff while taking a two-hit shutout into the ninth inning. He tossed a two-hit shutout over the Philadelphia Phillies in his previous start, too.
But the Giants worked solid at-bats and took advantage of mistakes that cut through the heart of the plate. They tallied six runs on eight hits, with four of them going for extra bases.
Joe Panik and Buster Posey singled in the first inning and Sandoval, who had gone 12 games without an RBI, hit a sacrifice fly to end that barren streak.
Belt, who led the team with nine home runs when he was hit by a pitch that fractured his thumb May 9, rediscovered his power stroke with a water shot to start the second inning. It was Belt’s 12th homer of the season and the fourth splash shot of his career, placing him behind only Barry Bonds (35) and Sandoval (seven) for the most in 15 seasons at AT&T Park.
Gregor Blanco doubled in the third inning and made yet another inexplicable baserunning mistake, when he didn’t take third base on Panik’s ground out to the right side. But Posey papered over this one, hitting an RBI double that rolled to the base of the wall in right-center. Sandoval followed with a one-out hit to score Posey without a play.
Crawford tacked on a solo shot in the fourth that landed in the arcade for his career-best 10th home run. The Giants made it 6-0 in the fifth when Posey walked, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on Sandoval’s single.
That was quite a haul for a struggling offense that hadn’t scored six runs in a game since their 9-0 pounding of the Dodgers on Sept. 12.
It turns out they needed more. The Giants started the seventh inning with three consecutive singles, with Sandoval notching the last of that trio to knock in his fourth run. It was Sandoval’s first four-RBI game since Sept. 4 of last season, when he had his memorable three-homer, six-RBI game at San Diego.
Pence beat out a potential double-play grounder, and with runners at the corners, Belt left even more evidence that his timing is back at the plate. He lined a tying single, and the Giants went ahead when Duffy bunted to the first base side of the mound and Pence slid a foot across the plate ahead of the tag.
Posey, who has been battling a tight back, was replaced at catcher in the seventh inning even though the Giants led just 6-3 at the time.
Blanco ended the game with a sliding catch in center field as the Giants peeled off their jerseys and put on the postseason swag T-shirts.
With an official crowd of 41,850, the Giants extended their streak of announcing sellouts to 324 consecutive regular-season home games.
The Giants and Padres continue their four-game series at AT&T Park on Friday. Ryan Vogelsong (8-12, 3.96 ERA) takes the mound against Padres right-hander Ian Kennedy (12-13, 3.76 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. PDT.