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SF@SD: Pence launches a two-run blast for the lead

SAN DIEGO -- Scoring five runs in Sunday's final two innings to secure a 7-5 victory over the San Diego Padres gave the Giants some reassurance.

That's something they shouldn't need with the National League West title in hand. But any team would rather charge than lurch into the postseason, and the Giants came perilously close a rare road series defeat before Hunter Pence's two-run, ninth-inning homer broke a 5-5 tie.

But issues linger for the Giants as Saturday's Division Series opener against either Cincinnati or Washington awaits them.

Tim Lincecum, who leaked the word that he'll be included in the postseason starting rotation, yielded three homers in six innings Sunday as San Diego grabbed a 5-2 lead. This served as a jarring reminder that the Giants' vaunted staff isn't as formidable as it was when it led the team to its 2010 World Series triumph.

Matt Cain is the only starter who has displayed the consistency required to propel a team deep into the postseason. Entering his assignment in Monday night's series opener at Los Angeles, Cain has allowed two runs or fewer in each of his last four outings. He also has won his last six decisions while recording a 2.18 ERA in a nine-start span.

Lincecum's second-half improvement (3-10, 6.42 before the All-Star break; 7-5, 3.83 afterward) didn't mask his erratic performance overall. Moreover, he has allowed 11 earned runs in 10 innings spanning his last two starts.

Madison Bumgarner failed to last six innings in each of his previous two starts, surrendering six earned runs and nine hits while amassing just 9 2/3 innings.

Barry Zito and the Giants have thrived together, given the team's 10-game winning streak in his appearances. But though Zito's personally 6-0 in that stretch, his corresponding ERA is an ordinary 4.02.

Ryan Vogelsong ended his seven-start slump, during which he posted a 10.31 ERA, by allowing one earned run in 12 innings over back-to-back starts. The caveat: Both times he defeated the fourth-place Padres, against whom the Giants finished 12-6 this year. Either Zito or Vogelsong will be reassigned to the bullpen for the Division Series.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy insisted that he wasn't worried about his starters, who dominated their 2010 postseason opponents while compiling a 2.47 ERA in 15 games.

"They find a way to raise their level of play," Bochy said. "That's what you're going to need."

For much of Sunday's game, the Giants did not resemble a postseason-bound team. Brandon Belt spoiled a potentially fruitful fourth inning when he failed to break from third base on Joaquin Arias' single to right field. Apparently believing that the ball would be caught, Belt tagged up and was apprehended at home plate by Chris Denorfia's one-hop throw.

San Francisco gave the Padres a fifth-inning run as Everth Cabrera stole third base and proceeded home on catcher Hector Sanchez's accompanying throwing error, a wild toss into left field.

These gaffes perpetuated a spate of mistakes by the Giants, who committed three errors in the series' first two games. "We need to tighten up," Bochy said before Sunday's game.

At least the Giants adhered to another pregame remark Bochy made. "I don't think anybody's dropping their guard," he said.

San Francisco proved that with its winning surge. The Giants rallied for a pair of eighth-inning runs on Belt's RBI single and Brandon Crawford's sacrifice fly. They added three in the ninth against Padres closer Huston Street, who endured his first blown save opportunity of the season after converting his 23 previous chances. Street retired a batter before surrendering Xavier Nady's pinch-hit homer that tied the score.

The Giants kept applying pressure as Francisco Peguero's wicked one-hopper off Cabrera's glove at shortstop went for a single. Up came Pence, who bashed a 1-1 pitch over the center-field barrier. It was the 24th homer of the season and second in two games for Pence, who has 45 RBIs in 56 games as a Giant. Sergio Romo worked an uneventful ninth inning to collect his 13th save and preserve the decision for Shane Loux, who won his first Major League game since May 5, 2009 as a member of the Angels.

Since losing two of three games July 6-8 at Pittsburgh, the Giants have won 10 road series and split one.

Nady was saluted by Lincecum, who emerged from the clubhouse to yell something encouraging at the slugger while he conducted a postgame interview by the dugout. "There's competitiveness in everyone to win," Nady said.

Pence shares that outlook, as everyone around him knows by now.

"I'm pushing to get better, pushing to go strong into the playoffs," Pence said. "You can't relax or change your mindset. My mindset is to get better and get ready and go into the playoffs focused."

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