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SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants rarely have done anything simply this year. Why should reaching the postseason be different?
They entered this weekend's showdown series against the San Diego Padres needing one victory to clinch the National League West title. That climactic triumph continued to elude San Francisco, which lost, 4-2, before another disappointed packed house Saturday at AT&T Park.
Sunday's regular-season finale offers the Giants a final opportunity to capture the West and reach the postseason in fuss-free fashion. If they win, they're in. But other possibilities exist now that the Padres have pulled even with Atlanta in the NL Wild Card standings:
San Francisco, San Diego and Atlanta would finish in a three-way tie Sunday at 91-71 if the Padres complete their three-game series sweep and Atlanta wins. In that event, the Giants and Padres would have a one-game playoff in San Diego on Monday for the West title. The loser would visit Atlanta in a Wild Card playoff game on Tuesday.
In short, the Giants could play three games in three cities over three days.
If the Phillies sweep the Braves and the Padres sweep the Giants, San Diego would secure the West championship and San Francisco would win the Wild Card. That's because the Padres have won the first tiebreaker from the Giants by clinching the season series with a 12-5 advantage after Saturday.
If the Giants win and the Braves lose, San Diego would visit Atlanta for a Wild Card playoff game Monday. But the Padres would be eliminated if they lose and the Braves win.
So if the Braves lose their finale, which is likely to end before the San Francisco-San Diego game due to time-zone differences, both the Giants and Padres could end up prancing into their respective clubhouses, feeling triumphant or at least eager.
The Giants insisted that they're focused on winning Sunday and nothing else.
"This is obviously the biggest game of the season for us," right-hander Sergio Romo said. " ... We don't want to go back to San Diego. The only time we want to go back to San Diego now is if we're both in the playoffs. Realistically, we don't look past tomorrow."
"I don't even really want to think about it," catcher Buster Posey said with a laugh when asked if he had contemplated the variety of scenarios.
But left-hander Barry Zito pointed out that viewing Sunday as season's be-all and end-all invites undue pressure. "You can't look at it as six months of baseball coming down to one game," Zito said. "You just can't put that on your back."
Regarding Sunday's game, manager Bruce Bochy said, "It's the one you want to win. Both sides want to win. Have
to? I don't know. We're in a situation where we do have a little margin of error, but we certainly would like to win."
The Giants will send Jonathan Sanchez (12-9) against Padres ace Mat Latos (14-9) on Sunday.
Bochy also tried to maintain perspective: "You have to know the situation. If you go back six weeks, we were six games out. We're a game up with [one] to go. That's a pretty good situation."
The Giants faced a pretty bad situation almost immediately for the second consecutive game. They trailed, 4-0, after four innings, as Zito (9-14) lasted one batter into the fourth.
Zito labored through a 33-pitch first inning while generating a pair of runs for San Diego. He issued back-to-back walks on full-count pitches to Yorvit Torrealba and Scott Hairston with the bases loaded and two outs.
"What we wanted to do with Zito was get his pitch count up," Padres second baseman David Eckstein said. "And since his breaking pitches are so good, we knew that we had to make him throw strikes."
Third baseman Pablo Sandoval's throwing error, a wild throw to second base after he dived to field Hairston's one-hop smash, helped the Padres add a third-inning run. That 3-0 lead proved to be sufficient, because Giants hitters entered the state of suspended animation that San Diego's pitching typically forces upon them.
The Giants, who have scored three or fewer runs in 13 of 17 games against San Diego this season, hit only two balls out of the infield against right-hander Tim Stauffer (6-5) through the first six innings. The lone hit Stauffer allowed in that span was Mike Fontenot's first-inning dribbler off his glove.
Stauffer lapsed with one out in the seventh, when Juan Uribe lofted his career-high 24th home run into the left-field seats. Facing Padres closer Heath Bell in the ninth, the Giants brought the potential winning run to the plate as Pat Burrell doubled, Uribe blooped a double and Sandoval hit an RBI single. But pinch-hitter Jose Guillen grounded into a game-ending double play.
"Maybe we were putting too much pressure on ourselves early on and not chipping away," outfielder Cody Ross said. "It seems like we're waiting until the last couple of innings to try to get something going. You can't do that with these guys. They have a really good pitching staff, and when they score, we have to answer. We're not doing that right now."
But Sunday's another day.
"We still like our chances," the irrepressible Romo said. "We're solid. Watch out, because we want it, too."