By Matthew T.F. Harrington
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – With a playoff berth in hand, the San Francisco Giants wrapped game 162 up with an offensive display sure to comfort fans heading into a do-or-die contest. The Giants wrapped 13 hits in a 9-3 victory over the San Diego Padres Sunday Afternoon at AT&T Park.
Buster Posey and pinch-hitter Adam Duvall each homered for San Francisco (87-74), while seven different Giants knocked in a run. The Padres (77-85) received RBIs from Cory Spangenberg, Seth Smith and Yasmani Grandal.
“Ultimately, I think the guys who have been through this know this,” said Posey “It’s going to come down to pitching well and playing good defense. I think we have the offense that can get hot and carry that hotness, sustain that hotness for a few weeks.”
Before the Giants even took the field for the regular season finale against the San Diego Padres, they knew their playoff fate. With a Pittsburgh Pirates 4-1 loss in Cincinnati earlier in the day, the Giants will head to the Steel City for Wednesday’s one-game Wild Card playoff. The Pirates opened the day one game back of the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League Central crown.
“That’s a good club,” said Giants Manager Bruce Bochy of Wednesday’s foe. “They really have been firing this month, almost winning their division. It’s going to be a tough game.”
For San Francisco, Rookie pitcher Chris Heston made his first Major League start after two relief appearances this season. In his 2014 Triple-A Fresno campaign Heston went 12-9 with a 3.38 earned run average, the second lowest mark in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. He was twice named a MiLB Organizational All-Star for the Giants and this year lead all PCL starters in innings pitched (173) and starts (28).
The 2009 San Francisco 12th round draft pick opened the game precariously, allowing four-straight hits to the Padres before finally recording his first out on a Seth Smith sacrifice fly. The 26-year-old retired the next two batters, including inducing an inning-ending grounder up the middle that he deflected to a diving shortstop Brandon Crawford. Crawford flipped the ball out of his glove to second basemen Joe Panik to end the inning with the Giants only trailing 2-0.
“He threw the ball very well,” said Posey of his batterymate. “I think there were some nerves to start with but he settled in for innings two, three and four.”
“There were some nerves to be out there for start one,” admitted Heston. “But once I threw strike one, it settled down. A lot happened pretty quickly. Crawford made a crazy good play to get me out of it. It was pretty fun.”
The deficit would be short-lived following a Buster Posey’s 22nd home run of the year off Padres starter Robbie Erlin. Posey tied the game after taking a belt-high fastball to left-center, scoring Gregor Blanco for the backstop’s 88th and 89th RBIs of the season. Posey underwent an MRI Friday to check on damage to his balky bat.
“(Buster) told me in the morning he wanted to play,” said Bochy. “I was a little concerned that he was healthy, but he showed me with his swing. We were planning to give him a couple at-bats, but Buster felt fine in them all. It seemed encouraging that he’s over his issue.”
The Giants cracked open the game in the bottom of the second inning, scoring four runs to chase the eventual losing pitcher Erlin (4-5, 4.99 ERA) from the game. San Francisco loaded the bases with no outs for Heston. He struck out looking for the first out, but leadoff man Blanco lofted a sacrifice fly to center and Panik singled down the line at first for a 4-2 lead. Padres manager Bud Black went to his bullpen, calling on Tim Stauffer to replace Erlin after his 1 1/3 innings of work and four runs allowed. Stauffer struck out Posey to end the second.
The Friars fired back with a run of their own off Heston in the top of the third after a Yasmani Grandal RBI single. It’d be the last run the Padres would score off Heston in his four innings of work. He’d be lifted for pinch-hitter Adam Duvall in the bottom of the fourth. Duvall took a 91 mile per hour Stauffer offering deep for his third home run of the season.
Heston failed to qualify for his first career win despite exiting the game with a 5-3 lead, missing the five-inning cutoff. He walked a pair of struck out a pair in his outing, but the honors instead went to Tim Lincecum (12-9, 4.74). “The Freak” pitched a pair of scoreless innings in the fifth and sixth, surrendering a lone hit, to vulture the win.
“I thought Heston did a good job,” said Bochy. “He’s pitched a lot. It’s not an easy job taking him out in the fourth with the lead but with him not getting a lot of work we didn’t want to overtax him. Timmy came in and got another win so he’s excited about that. It was a well-played game.”
San Francisco put the game out of reach with a three-run eighth inning following an run-scoring hits by birthday boy Gary Brown, Joaquin Arias and pinch-hitter Matt Duffy. Arias’ hit, a double off reliever Nick Vincent, plated two runs. Erik Cordier and Brett Bochy pitched a scoreless inning apiece to close out the win for the Black and Orange on Fan Appreciation Day.
“It’s very special for him to be out there,” said the elder Bochy on utilizing his son for the final three outs. “It’s a moment I won’t forget. I told the kids ‘hey, you’ve got the end here’ because we weren’t going to use (Santiago) Casilla, (Hunter) Strickland or (Sergio) Romo.”
“It was a very proud moment for me,” he added. “This is one line-up card I’ll save.”
What the fans would truly appreciate is a third Giants World Series title in six years. With that in mind Bochy has already announced his scheduled starter for Wednesday’s playoff contest. 2014 all-star Madison Bumgarner takes his 18-10 record and 2.98 ERA to the bump against the Bucs in an attempt to advance the Giants to the Division Series and a date with the NL wins leaders, the Washington Nationals.
“Madison was our Opening Day starter,” said Bochy. “He made the All-star team. This is the way you hope it will pan out.”
Pittsburgh won the season series 4-2. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has hinted that Edison Volquez (3.04 ERA) will get the nod after his 13-win season.
“It’s going to be one of the better atmospheres that we get to play in,” said Posey “We all look forward to the challenge”
“We’re playing in their park where they’ve really done a good job,” added Bochy. “We’re facing a tough pitcher. I expect to see a great ballgame. We’ll do all we can to get back here.”