Giants' win over D-backs is bittersweet
Penny dominant, but San Francisco out of playoff chase
SAN FRANCISCO -- Even as they finally were eliminated from postseason consideration, the Giants continued performing like the team that put a scare into the National League through much of the season.The Giants' third consecutive victory, a 4-1 decision over the Arizona D-backs, was negated by Colorado's 10-6 triumph over Milwaukee. That left San Francisco trailing Wild Card-leading Colorado by five games with four to play, and there isn't a team yet that has altered such mathematics in its favor. Brad Penny hiked his record as a Giant to 4-1 with his first complete game since Aug. 14, 2005, and San Francisco improved to 12-5 this season against Arizona entering Thursday's AT&T Park finale for 2009. Yet the record that mattered most was the Giants' 13-14 mark in September -- their only losing finish in any month this season.
"This is a month where you need to play your best baseball, and there were times that it did get away from us," manager Bruce Bochy said.
The lapse proved critical, since the Giants began the month tied with Colorado atop the Wild Card standings.While the Rockies cruised through an 18-9 September, the Giants struggled. Their .245 September batting average was their lowest for any month except July. Their 3.78 ERA was their highest since April (3.90). San Francisco also posted a crushing 3-6 record in one-run games during September, which prompts insomnia-inducing thoughts of "what if" if dwelled upon excessively. "I think if you look at some of the games, they could have gone either way," Bochy said. "We were missing a timely hit in a lot of those games. With all that said, being honest, I don't think consistently we did the same job we did in previous months with the bats." Referring to a four-game stretch from Sept. 19-22 when Penny, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain lost while combining to allow 19 runs in nine innings, Bochy added, "This was really the first month the rotation tripped. They had one tough time around. They've been so consistent all year. That [kind of slump is] going to happen and it happened this month." Though the Giants' elimination began to appear inevitable for about a week, the reality still bore some impact. "It was a hard-fought season," Bochy said. "We knew in the last few days it was a real long shot, but there was still hope." Perspective must be maintained, since only the wildest optimists would have believed before the season started that the Giants would stave off elimination for 158 games. "For that, we feel pretty good," Bochy said. "[But] disappointed that we didn't take it a little further." Said Penny, who opened the season with Boston, "If you had asked me at the first of the year where this team would finish, I probably would have said last in the division." Many key Giants, such as Lincecum, Cain, Brian Wilson and Pablo Sandoval, experienced their first pressure-packed September. That should help them weather similar tests in the future. "This month, I'm sure has been a great learning experience for everybody, especially the young players and pitchers," Bochy said. "We did what you wanted to do, and that's play meaningful games." Penny and Eli Whiteside gave this game its meaning for the Giants. Whiteside went 3-for-3, establishing a personal best, and drove in three runs. The backup catcher began his outburst with a bases-loaded, two-run single, the biggest hit in a three-run third inning against Arizona starter Kevin Mulvey (0-3). Whiteside then delivered his second home run of the season in the fourth inning on a drive that struck the left-field foul pole. Referring to Bengie Molina's 4-for-5, four-RBI extravaganza on Tuesday, Whiteside jokingly said, "In the first inning, I asked Bengie if he left any hits in the catching spot. He said he left a couple in there. He didn't lie to me." Whiteside provided ample support for Penny, who limited the D-backs to six hits and retired 16 of the final 17 batters he faced.
"His fastballs were up, but his sliders and splits were down and we chased them all over," Arizona right fielder Justin Upton said.Penny faltered only in the fourth, when his throwing error on Eric Byrnes' swinging bunt between the pitcher's mound and third base enabled Gerardo Parra to score an unearned run. "He's done even more than we expected," Bochy said. Just like the rest of the Giants.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.