"This is awesome," said right-hander Matt Cain, who joined the Giants late in the 2005 season and is the team's senior member in terms of continuous service. "We've been coming into Spring Training every year, trying to get this done and prepare for the season. We came in with a great vibe this year -- with everybody working together, staying together, loving each other, and we just played ball well. We didn't worry when we got down at times and we just went ahead and played."
San Francisco will begin the best-of-five Division Series at home Thursday against the Atlanta Braves, whose 8-7 victory earlier Sunday over Philadelphia was noticed by both the Giants and Padres. Had San Diego won this game, the Giants, Padres and Braves would have owned 91-71 records. In that event, the Giants and Padres would have played a tiebreaker game Monday for the division title at PETCO Park, with the loser proceeding to a Wild Card showdown Tuesday at Atlanta.
All that became moot as the Giants, who lost the first two games of this series, finally secured the victory they needed against the second-place Padres to clinch the division.
The Giants weren't considering any alternatives. After San Francisco lost its second straight game Saturday to the Padres, manager Bruce Bochy told players not to bring packed bags to the ballpark the next day.
"We burned the bridges," said Bochy, who discussed the matter with general manager Brian Sabean before delivering his orders. "Brian and I talked. We said, 'Let's take care of tomorrow.'"
The effort began with Sanchez (13-9), who lasted only two batters into the sixth inning but was nevertheless effective. The left-hander, who struck out five and allowed just three hits, occasionally courted trouble but held the Padres hitless in five at-bats with runners in scoring position.
"I felt pretty good," said Sanchez, who's 4-1 with a 1.03 ERA in his last seven starts. "I walked a couple of guys, but I wasn't going to leave anything in the middle. I knew it was going to be a close game."
Sanchez also contributed mightily as the Giants scored a pair of third-inning runs off San Diego starter Mat Latos (14-10) to grab their first lead of the series.
A .125 hitter, Sanchez pulled into third base standing up after drilling the first pitch he saw from Latos to the right-center-field wall. Andres Torres struck out, but Freddy Sanchez prolonged the inning and scored Jonathan Sanchez by singling to center on an 0-1 pitch. Aubrey Huff sliced a double to right field, delivering Freddy Sanchez.
Buster Posey, San Francisco's Rookie of the Year candidate, christened the Giants' eighth by homering off Luke Gregerson.
But the Giants weathered plenty of tension.
Jonathan Sanchez yielded Adrian Gonzalez's single and walked Ryan Ludwick to open the sixth, ending his afternoon. But reliever Santiago Casilla coaxed Yorvit Torrealba's double-play grounder that was hit directly to third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who smoothly scooped up the ball, stepped on third base and threw to second to erase the lead runners.
With two outs in the seventh, Chris Denorfia singled and David Eckstein hit a comebacker that rolled under Casilla's glove for an error. Ramon Ramirez relieved Casilla and recorded one of the game's biggest outs by fanning Miguel Tejada with a full count. Tejada fouled off three two-strike pitches before Ramirez flung a split-finger fastball past him.
That typified the recent deeds of San Francisco's bullpen, which has fashioned an 0.90 ERA since Sept. 1.
"The bullpen's pretty special," left-hander Barry Zito said. "It's given Bochy the opportunity to let the starters go six innings, at times five innings, and know that he can go six-seven-eight-nine with the bullpen. That's pretty rare. Sometimes you have a good closer and a good setup guy, but we have about three or four setup guys and an outstanding closer."
One of those setup guys, Sergio Romo, retired the final two batters in the eighth inning and bellowed in exultation while returning to the dugout.
"At that moment, I kept thinking, 'Three outs away!'" Romo said.
That was the cue for Brian Wilson, who avoided drama by breezing through a perfect ninth. The AT&T Park audience, which needed only minor provocation all afternoon to wave orange rally rags, stood and twirled its towels as Wilson began staring down Will Venable with two outs.
Three strikes later, Wilson had his 48th save, tying Rod Beck's 1993 club record, and the Giants sealed their seventh NL West title and eighth postseason berth since divisional play began in 1969.
"It's an honor to be in the same category as that guy," Wilson said.
The time was 4:10 p.m. PT when Venable swung at strike three. The date was Oct. 3, a notable one for the franchise. It's when Bobby Thomson hit his "Shot Heard 'Round the World" in 1951. It's when the Giants rallied past the Dodgers in the 1962 playoff finale. It's the date when Joe Morgan's three-run homer eliminated the Dodgers from postseason contention in 1982, and when Los Angeles returned the favor against the Giants 11 years later.
Now, these Giants have written their own history.