SAN FRANCISCO – Only here at AT&T Park could a sellout crowd stand and go hoarse at the sight of a 60-82 pitcher taking the mound for a 76-86 team on the final day of the regular season.
Barry Zito’s final bow was just one dramatic act on a day of high theater that will keep Giants fans counting the days till pitchers and catchers report next spring.
There was tragedy as Gregor Blanco sustained a potentially serious leg injury with two outs in the ninth inning. There was suspense when his replacement, Francisco Peguero, tied the game with his first big league home run in the bottom of the inning.
And there was the best kind of curtain when Hunter Pence, the Giants’ new $90 million man, lashed a bases-loaded, walk-off single to finish with 99 RBIs and give the Giants a 7-6 victory, a 76-86 record and a share of third place in the NL West.
“We have what no other team in baseball has,” manager Bruce Bochy told the crowd. “It’s not even close. … And I promise you we will work hard this offseason to bring a championship back here."
Starting pitching report
Gullermo Moscoso was charged with five runs in 4.1 innings, but three of them scored after he handed over the baseball. Jedd Gyorko’s grand slam came off right-hander Jake Dunning.
This is the environment the Giants have created here in San Francisco. This is the devotion that Barry Zito has earned.
In a grand bit of theater no doubt scripted by Bochy and Padres manager Bud Black, Zito entered with two outs in the eighth inning for what is surely his final appearance as a Giant. He faced Mark Kotsay, his old A’s teammate and friend, who was making his final big league plate appearance.
Zito threw four pitches: cutter, curve, curve, fastball. Taken, taken, tapped foul and then one sweet swing and a miss on 84 mph perfectly placed off the plate.
He took a deep breath before facing Kotsay, who already announced his retirement and needed a hit to boost his average over .200 for the season. And yes, after those rainbow pitches, 84 mph never looked so firm.
Zito waved to the crowd but didn’t descend more than two dugout steps before a crowd of his teammates pushed him back onto the field to meet the standing ovation. He clasped his glove over his heart and waved as the applause washed over him.
It was the moment that he had been denied in his return to the rotation last Wednesday, when he pitched five innings and got a victory but was lifted for a pinch hitter and was not happy about it.
It was a moment the fans wanted as plainly as he did.
Zito got more than a curtain call. He brought down the house.
At the plate
Brandon Belt ended up leading the Giants with 39 doubles after hitting a pair of them Sunday. He drove in runs in the first and fifth innings, and he scored on Pablo Sandoval’s single in the third.
Pence, just hours after signing his $90 million contract, strode to the plate with the bases loaded in the seventh and coincidentally needed four RBIs to finish with 100. The crowd seemed pleased enough with a two-run single that cut the Padres’ lead to 6-5.
Then Peguero hit his tying shot in the ninth off Padres closer Huston Street. Tony Abreu singled, advanced on a wild pitch and took third on a passed ball. Two walks, one intentional loaded the bases for Pence.
Make it 99.
It was the Giants’ 12th walkoff victory. They had been 5-69 when trailing after eight innings.
There was tragedy mixed in with heraldry in this season finale, though. Blanco barely was able to make it off the field and could put no weight on his knee after colliding with Angel Pagan in left-center field. It happened on Will Venable’s triple with two outs in the ninth.
There is never a good time for an injury like that. The last inning of the last game of the season seemed especially cruel.
Blanco received a standing ovation of his own as he braced his weight on the shoulders of two trainers.
Oddly enough, by winning, the Giants guaranteed themselves the 14th overall draft pick next June – one pick behind of the Padres. If the Giants had lost, they would have picked 13th.
The Giants announced 41,495 paid. They sold out the season, officially, for the third consecutive year. Their total attendance of 3,369,106 was their “lowest” since they drew 3,037,443 in 2010. They’ve drawn 3 million fans in 12 of 14 seasons since opening AT&T/Pacific Bell Park in 2000.
Golf. Cruising the Mediterranean. Elk hunting. Needlework. And for Zito, catching a tasty wave.