By Christopher Haft
Special to The Examiner
The Giants have won 106 games and spent more than five months in first place.
They’ve completed 1,436 innings, amassing 1,345 hits while scoring 792 runs. Despite all that, the ultimate result of their season will come down to Game No. 162 Sunday, when they’ll take on the Padres and try to clinch the National League West division title.
Logan Webb will take the mound for the Giants, hoping to nail the final spike in the Dodgers’ bid to win the division. The arch-rivals have waged an epic battle down the stretch, winning day after day to keep things close. If the Giants win Sunday, it doesn’t matter what Los Angeles does. They’ll be division champs.
On Saturday, the Giants lost 3-2 to the Padres in 10 innings, wasting a masterful start from Kevin Gausman, who gave up just one run in seven innings. The Dodgers, who would’ve clinched it for the Giants if they lost Saturday night, beat up on the Brewers, 8-3, forcing a Sunday for the ages.
Now it’s on the next Giants starter to make it happen.
“He’s pretty good,” said third baseman Evan Longoria, of Webb, after Saturday’s loss. “Really, all of our starters have been so good, I would not give one guy more credit than the others. … I think we all feel pretty confident going into a game that’s a must-win having him on the mound.”
San Francisco had assured itself a spot in the postseason more than two weeks ago but has had to fend off the surging Dodgers to win the West. If the Giants win Sunday, it will propel them into the Division Series and enable them to avoid the risk of a quick elimination by dodging a one-game Wild Card playoff. If they close it out Sunday, that best-of-five showdown is scheduled to begin Friday against the survivor of the Wild Card matchup.
The team’s next win will be San Francisco’s 107th, eclipsing the 1904 New York Giants’ single-season franchise record.
“Obviously we wanted to win the game and not have to rely on somebody else,” said Longoria. “But it’s kind of the story of the season.
“I think, overall, the group was disappointed after the game today feeling like we had some opportunities to win,” he said. “But obviously the Dodgers are a good team, too. … I think right now the focus turns to tomorrow and doing what we’ve done the whole year—trying to erase the day before and win the next game.”
If they win Sunday, the Giants would also end the Dodgers’ streak of eight consecutive division titles. That stretch began the year after San Francisco last won the NL West in 2012.
Gausman is the Giants’ ace starter and he’s expected to lead the team’s postseason pitching rotation. He stifled the Padres on six hits through seven innings while yielding just one run Saturday. Austin Slater’s pinch-hit homer, San Francisco’s Major League-record-breaking 18th of the season, led off the Giants’ half of the sixth inning against Padres left-hander Ross Detwiler and broke a 1-1 tie.
The Padres staged a second-and-third, none-out threat in the eighth inning and ultimately pulled even on Manny Machado’s sacrifice fly.
The Padres then pulled ahead in the top of the 10th, and San Francisco wasn’t able to answer.
San Francisco opened the scoring Saturday, fittingly enough, after Most Valuable Player candidate Brandon Crawford doubled to lead off the second inning. He came home on Kris Bryant’s single.
But in the end, the story line will come to a head on Sunday.
In a vast understatement, manager Gabe Kapler put it thus: “We’re expecting to play a meaningful game tomorrow.”
Christopher Haft is a longtime baseball scribe who covers the Giants for The Examiner.