SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants went 30-42 after the All-Star break. They waited until the final four games of the second half to put together a four-game winning streak. The best team in baseball through 90 games did not clinch a postseason spot until 3:10 p.m. on the final day of the regular season.
It was ugly and bizarre and tense, but as champagne and Bud Light hit the walls of the clubhouse, the Giants did not seem to think much of the tortuous road.
“Who cares about the way?” Hunter Pence said, smiling. “Where we are is on the way to where we want to be. We want a chance to win the Wold Series, and we get that chance.”
The first step on the new path will be taken Monday, when the Giants fly to New York to start preparing for a Wednesday night showdown in New York. They have traversed this path before, winning the 2014 title as the second wild card team, and throughout an unimaginably bad half of baseball, players clung to a comforting thought. Find some way into the postseason, and then hand the ball back to Madison Bumgarner.
Two years and four days after he blanked the Pirates, Bumgarner will tangle with Noah Syndergaard and a Mets squad that made the postseason with an entire rotation on the disabled list. It won’t matter on Wednesday, but the Giants go in with the hottest five-man group around. Matt Moore, the No. 3 starter acquired on at the deadline, kept pace Sunday with eight dominating innings, leading the Giants to a 7-1 win they absolutely needed since the Cardinals were headed for a similar victory 2,000 miles away.
With the final win, the even-year darlings finished 87-75, a game ahead of St. Louis and thus a game clear of a Monday night tiebreaker at Busch Stadium. A team that once led the National League West by eight games ended up four back after a weekend sweep of the Dodgers. With a win Wednesday, the Giants will fly to Chicago to face the 103-win Cubs.
Those facts were also met with shrugs. Who cares about the way?
Moore smiled as he discussed the second-half slide, saying the adversity can potentially make the Giants a pretty dangerous team in October.
“Having 87 wins heading into the postseason, some of these teams have got 100, but we’re in the same place,” he said. “What happened the last eight months, it’s all behind us. We’ve been pitching great and putting up runs, and the two months I’ve been here, the defense has been extremely solid.”
The Giants are right to be confident. When it was absolutely needed, the first-half Giants reappeared. The pitching was dominant over the final week. The beleaguered bullpen found a new closer in the old closer, Sergio Romo. The lineup averaged 3.8 runs per game while losing 41 of the first 66 games out of the break, but then broke out for 38 runs during 5-1 run homestand. A group that couldn’t buy a big hit in August and most of September batted .315 with runners in scoring position over the final seven games of the season. The defense was there through good times and bad, with Conor Gillaspie showing off Sunday with a diving catch over a dugout railing and Denard Span making a diving catch in the ninth.
Manager Bruce Bochy sat in the front seat of the roller coaster. His decisions did not work out as often as in the past. But he insisted that this postseason berth is as special as the past ones.
“We had two different halves,” he said. “If we wouldn’t have gotten to the postseason, that would have been really hard to take. It was up to us to take care of business and these guys took care of business. We didn’t get help. We had to win out and they did it.”
Bochy has a long history of pulling the right motivational ploy out at the right time. Before Sunday’s game, he opted for silence. There was no big speech, no show of emotion.
“The way they’ve played (this week), I wanted to stay out of the way the last two days,” he said.
The weekend push started with Ty Blach’s surprise performance Saturday and carried over into the early innings Sunday. The Giants scored two runs off Kenta Maeda in the first and three more in the second. Moore gave up six runs and recorded just three outs at Dodger Stadium two weeks ago, but this day would be different.
“I came out a little bit too aggressive (last time),” he said. “The effort was kind of taking over, and the timing of things, I wasn’t being very efficient getting down the hill. This start, especially in the bullpen, I was really trying to stay back and stay within myself. I carried it into the game and as you get comfortable moving down the hill, you can start to speed it up.”
Moore was threatened just once, when the Dodgers put a run across and two runners on in the fourth. As Joc Pederson walked to the plate, Roberto Kelly signaled for Denard Span to back up in center field. Pederson blasted a deep fly to the track but Span hauled it in. The potential for a one-run game drifted away. In the dugout, Bochy committed to staying with Moore as long as he could.
The left-hander retired the final 12 batters he faced after the Pederson at-bat. He gave up just three total hits, striking out six. As team executives watched players celebrate later, general manager Bobby Evans smiled. He pulled the trigger seconds before the August 1 deadline, dealing popular third baseman Matt Duffy to Tampa Bay for Moore. It is the kind of move that defines an executive’s tenure if it goes wrong, but Evans was confident that this day would come.
“We felt he was a guy we could rely on,” he said.
The Giants now hope to see what Moore has in store for a postseason start. He is lined up to face the Cubs at some point, although players and coaches wouldn’t look that far ahead on Sunday. Bochy would go as far as naming the obvious: Johnny Cueto will start Game 1 of the NLDS if the Giants get there.
First, it’s Bumgarner’s turn. He was a spectator Sunday, the only marquee player ruled off-limits before a must-win game. After months of uninspiring baseball, Bumgarner liked what he saw from his spot on the dugout rail.
“If we play like we have been the last three games, we’re going to be tough to beat,” he said.