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10/04/09 9:07 PM EST
Sandoval seals season-ending win
Giants earn finale victory with solid pitching, defensive gems
By Chris Haft / MLB.com
SAN DIEGO -- When expressing gratitude and, some say, even praying, a simple "thank you" often is enough. That sentiment seemed to surround the Giants on Sunday as they concluded their resurgent 2009 season with a 4-3, 10-inning triumph over the San Diego Padres. Rich in pitching but mostly bereft of offense, the Giants finished 88-74, lifting the malaise of four consecutive losing seasons. Though they finished third in the National League West, the existence of the Wild Card kept them in postseason contention for 158 games, dozens more than most so-called experts envisioned. It was a stirring year, and for that, manager Bruce Bochy wanted to salute his players. So he assembled them in PETCO Park's visitors' clubhouse about an hour and a half before the first pitch and shared his thoughts. "I just told them I appreciated how hard they worked all year and how hard they played," Bochy said. "We've had a pretty good year. I wanted to thank them." So it was proper that the game's central figure was perhaps the most grateful Giant of all -- third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who broke a 3-3 tie by homering off Ryan Webb to open the 10th. Sandoval reinforced his emergence as an impact hitter with his 444-foot clout to center field, which was the seventh-longest home run in PETCO Park history. Sandoval's glittering statistical line features a .330 batting average (second in the NL), 25 home runs and 90 RBIs. It was a remarkable performance for a player in his first full Major League season who just turned 23. Sandoval himself understood just how singular he was. "I can't believe it," he said. "Every time I went to the ballpark or went home, I said, 'Thank you, God, for letting me play baseball today.'" Kevin Mitchell, the former Giants slugger who lives nearby, visited the clubhouse and called Sandoval's output a mere precursor to greater feats. "That's just to let 'em know, 'I'm coming,'" Mitchell said of Sandoval's season. Referring to his nickname and Sandoval's, Mitchell added, "From the Boogie Bear to the Panda bear. ... I love watching him." Sandoval was worth watching on defense in the seventh inning, as he snared David Eckstein's foul popup and tumbled head over heels into the Giants dugout. Aided by hitting instructor Hensley Meulens, Sandoval somehow landed on his feet, though he bumped his right calf on a bench. "There was a pretty good thump," Bochy said. "It was about a 4 or 5 on the Richter scale." Like Sandoval, other Giants contributed in ways that typified the season. The defense sparkled. Right fielder Andres Torres caught up with an Eckstein fly in the third inning, Aaron Rowand made a Willie Mays-style basket catch of Kevin Kouzmanoff's fourth-inning drive at the center-field fence and shortstop Juan Uribe started a slick ninth-inning double play. As always, the pitchers pitched in tremendously. Jonathan Sanchez, who no-hit the Padres on July 10, echoed that feat by allowing one hit through five innings. Randy Johnson, who thrived elsewhere for 21 seasons but distinguished hiself as a Giant by winning his 300th game on June 4, allowed an unearned run in an inning of relief. But the future Hall of Famer concluded his outing -- and perhaps his career -- with a flourish by striking out the formidable Adrian Gonzalez to strand Padres on second and third base. Jeremy Affeldt (2-2) worked two innings and finished with a 1.73 ERA, best among National League relievers. Brian Wilson ignored left fielder Eugenio Velez's inning-opening error to blank San Diego in the 10th and record his 38th save. It was a balanced effort, one which opponents have come to expect from San Francisco. The Giants already know that they must intensify their efforts to continue thriving. "Teams now are going to respect the Giants," Bochy said. "We're not going to sneak up on anybody. I think everybody sees the Giants now as a club you have to deal with." This is perfectly OK with Bochy. "That's what you want," he said. In other words, he's thankful for the challenge that awaits.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.