SAN FRANCISCO -- Wednesday gave the Giants and their fans this year's final opportunity to express their mutual admiration.The season-long celebration of the cherished World Series title that San Francisco captured last season didn't end in a successful defense. Though the Giants finished 86-76 while posting their third consecutive winning season, they're also the first reigning champion not to reach the postseason since the 2007 St. Louis Cardinals. But disappointment didn't emerge from the Giants' 6-3 loss to the Rockies that concluded the 2011 campaign. Rather, the afternoon's theme was one of reciprocal tribute, including fond farewells to individuals who proved essential to the franchise's first championship since 1954. Before the top of the seventh inning began, Bill Neukom, the Giants' managing general partner and chief executive officer, was honored in a video tribute. Immediately afterward, Pat Burrell, the left fielder whose baseball future is in doubt, received a standing ovation upon leaving the game. Shortly after the game ended, manager Bruce Bochy and his players returned to the field to thank the fans who generated sellouts at all 81 home games at AT&T Park this year. Right-hander Matt Cain addressed the sun-baked crowd before Bochy took the microphone to salute the Giants' faithful for their "continued and unwavering support." Bochy said later, "We wanted to show our appreciation to them. Even though our season didn't go quite like we had hoped, they were always there through the tough times. We're fortunate to have this type of fan support, energy and enthusiasm. It means a lot to all of us." The day certainly meant a lot to Burrell, who became a fan favorite last year with his clutch home runs and reputation for clubhouse leadership. A strained right foot limited Burrell to 92 games, a .230 batting average and seven home runs this season. He'll turn 35 in October and is hardly assured of receiving another Major League offer. But he lobbied Bochy for one more afternoon in the sun, literally. Afterward, he expressed appreciation for his two-year tenure with San Francisco. "It's nice," said Burrell, a graduate of Bellarmine Prep in nearby San Jose. "My folks got a chance to see all that, and the fans here treated me incredibly. The coaching staff is as good as it can possibly get, in my opinion. I cherished my time here. And hey, if that's it, it's it." To allow the crowd to shower one more ovation upon Burrell, Bochy sent him to left field for the seventh inning before Brandon Belt trotted out to replace him. As the cheering persisted, right-hander Guillermo Mota, the Giants' pitcher at the time, stepped off the mound and enabled Burrell to respond to the curtain call. First baseman Aubrey Huff, Burrell's close friend since they attended the University of Miami together, read his buddy's emotions. "I was hoping they wouldn't send him out there and bring him back," Huff said. "I ran down and got my glasses really quick, so when Belt came out there, I saw [Burrell] halfway. ... I knew by the time he got into the dugout, you saw the tears coming down." Burrell acknowledged his overflow of emotion. "That's always a tough one," he said. "When I went out to left field and I saw Belt start running in, that's when it started. It's tough to stop at that point. For me, it was a great moment. I really appreciate the opportunity to play this game that we all have -- for me, for a long time. It was special." With 13 players eligible for salary arbitration and eight potential free agents, general manager Brian Sabean faces a considerable challenge in trying to maintain the Giants' status as postseason contenders.
"I'm just really glad I'm not the GM and the one having to make the moves and whatnot," said right-hander Sergio Romo, who's among the arbitration-eligible players. "We do look forward to next year, and we do look forward to competing for that NL West title."The situation regarding one of the free agents, left-hander Javier Lopez, reflects the balancing act Sabean must perform. On one hand, Lopez professed his love for San Francisco and the Giants. "It's a great place to play, a great place to pitch, the fans are wonderful and the staff is great," he said. But Lopez, who said that he already has spoken to Giants officials, indicated that the club might address the contracts of arbitration-eligible players such as Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong, Santiago Casilla and Romo before turning their attention to him. "It's going to be a wait-and-see type of process," Lopez said. "... I'm just going to sit back and enjoy my time." But while Lopez is doing that, another team could swoop in with an irresistible offer. The importance of maintaining the club's solid pitching was reinforced in the game against the Rockies. Rookie left-hander Eric Surkamp (2-2) allowed four runs and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings, suggesting that trade rumors involving left-hander Jonathan Sanchez might be premature. Though the bullpen performed capably, the two runs it yielded seemed monumental, given the relievers' usual effectiveness. But as the Giants scattered for the offseason, the business of baseball could wait for another day. Mark DeRosa, whose two-run single in the sixth inning temporarily narrowed Colorado's lead to 4-3, recognized this.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.