It’s a tradition in the big leagues to honor your fans on the last day of the season. It’s usually called “fan appreciation day,” and attendees can expect a giveaway of some sort and an announcement over the loudspeakers.
It can be a depressing day to be honest, as most teams don’t make the playoffs and the last game of the season marks the end of summer, especially for those whose calendar year starts when “pitchers and catchers report.”
Well, that wasn’t the case in sunny San Francisco this year. The Giants took appreciation to another level Sunday, holding a full-blown “fan jubilation day,” with a dash of exultation thrown in for flavor. In the 162nd game of the season, with the National League West title on the line and the dreaded Dodgers hovering about, the Giants turned in a performance that will go down in team history, on so many levels, crushing the Padres 11-4.
In doing so, the Giants set a franchise record for victories — New York and San Francisco eras — by recording their 107th victory of the season. Starting pitcher Logan Webb turned in a truly remarkable performance, pitching seven wonderful innings and having a day at the plate, scoring three times including his first career home run. He looked like that big kid on your son’s little league team. He was just better than everyone on the field.
It was the team’s first division title since 2012. They held off a Dodgers team that never quit, forcing L.A. to play the very tough Cardinals in a one-game wild card matchup on Wednesday. The Giants proved all the haters wrong and finished out one of the greatest division races in baseball history. And guess what? They did it on Oct. 3 — the same date the New York Giants’ Bobby Thompson hit the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” to win the pennant exactly 70 years ago.
So, yeah. There was a lot of good mojo in the air at Oracle Park Sunday, and the fans couldn’t get enough.
“We had so many points over the course of the season for us to quit… and we never did. We battled back,” said manager Gabe Kapler in a postgame address to the crowd. He spoke of intangibles — toughness and grit and vision. “I thought we had a lot of talent. But I wasn’t sure. … I’m so grateful to each and every one of you and all of you who have supported us throughout the season. Thank you!”
The crowd went bonkers and the players drifted off the field in their spiffy new division champ T-shirts, heading for the Champagne showers and a very well-deserved few days off. For the fans, the dreamy strains of Tony Bennett singing about leaving his heart somewhere in this fantastic city soon filled the air and the celebration reached apex.
To be frank, it was a rollickin’ time throughout, starting with an early morning tailgate before the 12:05 start. Vendors and hawkers were doing brisk business on the Embarcadero and beyond, selling newly minted Kris Bryant jerseys, alongside the tried and true Posey and Crawford favorites. Jaunty white “captain” hats, like the skipper used to wear on Gilligan’s Island, have also become quite popular items, worn in honor of injured slugger Brandon Belt, who declared himself team captain in the middle of the stretch drive. It’s not a look for everyone, but some can pull it off. Use your judgment.
Out in McCovey Cove, the kayaks were stacking up and people were scooting around on every possible flotation device imaginable, including SUP boards and inflatable boats. It was such a balmy and lovely day in The City, I saw one guy swimming around in the murky waters of the channel. Here’s hoping he has some antibiotics at home.
Up in the cheap seats, where the good times always roll, I ran into Chris Hargarten and Antonia Lopez, hanging out with a large group of family and friends in the centerfield Cable Car. Both native San Franciscans, these folks have been suffering with Giants torture since the Candlestick days. They were but two of the 36,901 in attendance at Oracle Sunday.
“Man, I’m telling ya,” said Hargarten, 37. “I’ve been a fan all my life. This felt a lot like ‘93, going down to the last game. It brought back memories.”
That, of course, was the year the Giants won 103 games, yet missed the playoffs due to a last-game loss to the Dodgers. The Braves won 104 that year and San Francisco lost out. Many consider that year the greatest divisional race in history. This year could very well have it beat, although the existence of the wild card takes some of the sting out of coming in second place. Yes, we’re talking to you, L.A.
“This is just exhilarating,” said Lopez, who gave her age as “prime.” “This was the definition of torture, coming down the last game. But you could smell it in the air. … We knew today would be the day.”
“It’s like that wonderful soap opera we’ve all been waiting for.”
Indeed. As the Giants turn and your stomach churns. Get ready for more torture, starting Friday in the divisional playoffs. And remember, these are the days of our lives.