SAN FRANCISCO -- It was a moment that had been building in Aubrey Huff's mind for nine seasons. It was the top of the ninth, and the Giants had a three-run lead and were only one out away from a postseason berth.

Standing in the middle of a loud, orange-clad AT&T Park crowd, the Giants first baseman looked up toward the sky and told himself to remain calm.

Then, Giants closer Brian Wilson fired a 97-mph fastball past San Diego's Will Venable, who swung and missed.

After nine long seasons, Huff was going to the playoffs.

"Nine years has been a killer and the mental grind has taken its toll over the years," Huff said. "Today, to get in this position, especially on the last day ... it had to be this torturous for me. It can't be easy."

Of course it can't, because over the course of his career, wins have been the hardest thing for Huff to come by. After spending 6 1/2 seasons with Tampa Bay in the early 2000s, Huff spent 2 1/2 seasons in Baltimore.

Each of those seasons, Huff never came close to sniffing the playoffs. In 2006 and 2009, he came close after midseason deals sent him to Houston and Detroit, respectively, but, as was the case throughout his career, he came up short.

Now, he's not only going to the playoffs, but also is one of the key members -- offensively, defensively and in the clubhouse -- of why it is happening. Pat Burrell, who played with Huff at the University of Miami, said when he was popping champagne, it wasn't only for himself, but also for Huff.

"Huffy and I go back a long time," Burrell said "A player as good as he is, to play as long as he has, to have never been given a chance to get in the postseason, I was just as happy for him as I was for me."

Six innings before Huff was trying to relax in the ninth, Freddy Sanchez had his welcome-to-the-playoffs moment.

Another hard-luck veteran who spent 5 1/2 losing seasons in Pittsburgh, Sanchez had the chance to give the Giants early momentum, something they had been lacking in the previous two games. With one out in the third, Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez tripled. After Andres Torres struck out, Freddy Sanchez singled up the middle to score the pitcher and give the Giants a 1-0 lead.

After rounding first base, Sanchez fist-bumped Giants first-base coach Roberto Kelly. On the very next pitch, Huff doubled to score Sanchez. The 32-year-old second baseman ran across home plate, began screaming in excitement and didn't stop until reaching the Giants dugout.

"I've never been here before and you can't put into words what this feels like," a champagne-soaked Sanchez said afterward. "I'm a real energetic guy, I get fired up, and when we were able to go up when Huffy was able to drive me in, I was excited."

A few hours later, the champagne was finally uncorked and sprayed, and the Giants partied like National League West champions. Huff and Sanchez, drenched in tears and surrounded by teammates and family members, basked in the glory of finally going to the postseason.

Huff and Sanchez, like all those Giants fans out there, know torture. Also like Giants fans, they'd gladly go through it all again for days like Sunday.

"I'm not complaining," Huff said. "Ten years I've missed the playoffs, all those years, and it was worth the wait. I'd do it all over again if I could."