Giants first to punch postseason ticket

September 14th, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO -- They weren’t expected to be here, let alone be the first team in the Majors to clinch a playoff spot. And yet, the Giants continued their remarkable season on Monday night by reaching the first milepost on what they hope will be a long road through October.

With a 9-1 win over the Padres at Oracle Park, the Giants extended their winning streak to a season-high eight games and secured their first postseason berth since 2016. It marked the earliest the Giants have clinched a playoff spot, by calendar date, in franchise history, and the first time they’ve been the first team to punch their ticket to October since 1987, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

At 94-50, the best record in the Majors, the Giants are guaranteed of at least a spot in the National League Wild Card Game, but they have their eyes set on a bigger prize, namely their first division title since 2012. To accomplish that goal, they’ll have to hold off the Dodgers, who remain 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Giants in the NL West with 18 games left to go.

“We’re definitely happy that we’re going to the playoffs, there’s no doubt about that,” Brandon Belt said. “But we want to win the division. This is the first step, but we didn’t come here just to make it in. We came here to win the whole thing, so that’s what we’re looking forward to.”

After rookie Kervin Castro struck out Ha-Seong Kim for the final out, the Giants streamed out onto the field and lined up for their usual handshake line, though many players came prepared for the ensuing celebration, donning “Built for October” T-shirts and sporting goggles while posing for a team photo on top of the mound. The real party started when the Giants returned to the clubhouse, where they popped champagne and allowed themselves to revel in the moment.

While there remains work to be done, the Giants will allow themselves to celebrate this accomplishment, especially since they were viewed as postseason long shots entering the season. San Francisco fell only one win shy of a playoff berth last year, but its postseason drought seemed likely to extend to 2021 following an offseason in which the Dodgers and Padres both made big moves to fortify their already talented rosters.

To their credit, the Giants never counted themselves out. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and general manager Scott Harris focused on making incremental moves to improve their organizational depth, building a competitive roster filled with resurgent veterans (Posey, Crawford), underrated acquisitions (LaMonte Wade Jr., Mike Yastrzemski) and shrewd free-agent additions (Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani).

In the end, the whole proved greater than the sum of its parts, with manager Gabe Kapler and the Giants’ coaching staff providing the necessary support and guidance to get the most out of each player on any given night. Along the way, San Francisco evolved from curiosity to dark horse to downright pacesetter. The Giants were the first to 70 wins, the first to 80 wins, the first to 90 wins, and now, the first to clinch. 

“I think there was a pretty strong belief that Farhan and Scott and Kap, they have a really good track record of building good teams that know how to win and make the postseason,” Evan Longoria said. “The belief was there, but sometimes you’ve got to go out and prove it. I think early in the season, there were some question marks, maybe from within the clubhouse and from the outside, especially. But as we went out and performed, there was no doubt that this group was talented and we had as good a chance as anybody.”

In many ways, Monday's victory showcased the superior depth that has keyed the Giants' success this year. With starters Johnny Cueto and Alex Wood on the injured list, the Giants were forced to stage their fourth bullpen game this month. Their six relievers -- Dominic Leone, Jarlín García, Zack Littell, José Álvarez, Camilo Doval and Castro -- combined to hold the Padres to seven hits over nine innings.

The Giants’ bats, meanwhile, torched five-time All-Star Yu Darvish for eight runs over four innings. Tommy La Stella and Longoria homered to highlight a five-run first inning, and Yastrzemski and Belt, the self-appointed team captain, went deep in the fourth to put the game firmly out of reach for the Padres. It was the 14th game in which the Giants have hit at least four homers this season, the most in the NL. San Francisco now ranks second in the Majors with 217 home runs, behind only the Blue Jays (232).

The even-year magic that resulted in three World Series titles in 2010, '12 and '14 may have dissipated with the arrival of a new decade, but the 2021 Giants might have the makings of something special, too. 

“If you could dream up a team to get to go through the grind of a big league season with, this one is going to be pretty close to being it,” Posey said.