The Giants' second consecutive one-run victory enabled them to trim the Rockies' lead in the National League Wild Card standings to three games.
Thus, it was a big night for the Giants, though they appeared destined for a grimmer fate. Jonathan Sanchez's strong seven-inning effort was about to be wasted, as the Giants were about to add to their sizable total of dismal offensive performances. The fifth-smallest paid audience in the ballpark's history, 27,645, was poised to go home grouchy after drizzling scattered-yet-audible booing upon Randy Winn, Aaron Rowand, Ryan Garko and Justin Miller.
Molina changed everything, despite being out of the lineup for the second game in a row with a tight right quadriceps muscle.
Having mustered three hits off Arizona starter Doug Davis, whose only lapse was Juan Uribe's seventh-inning homer, the Giants roused themselves with two outs and the bases empty in the eighth. Trailing, 3-1, they prolonged the eighth, as Edgar Renteria, who provided scintillating defense earlier, coaxed a walk from Davis on a 3-2 pitch. Winn, who incurred the crowd's wrath by popping up a bunt attempt in the sixth inning, blooped a single to right field.
In came right-hander Chad Qualls. Due up was Garko, who had never faced Qualls. So off the bench rose Molina, who happened to be 3-for-5 against the Arizona closer.
"You're probably going to laugh, but I didn't know that," Molina said.
Representing the potential go-ahead run, Molina knew the danger of going for a homer.
"My approach was just trying to hit the ball hard somewhere," he said. "I got lucky enough to get it up in the air. In that situation, you have to hope that he leaves something right down the middle of the plate or hangs a pitch and you take advantage of it."
That's precisely what happened with Qualls' 0-2 slider.
"It backed up over the middle of the plate, and he got the barrel on it," said Qualls (2-2).
Molina resembled a latter-day Mickey Mantle as he hobbled around the bases absorbing the fans' roaring that didn't subside until he answered their curtain call.
"The fans, believe it or not, are a big part of this," said Molina, who has hit three career pinch-hit homers. "They cheer you on and pump you up big time. I hope they understand that."
Molina might sit again when the Giants and D-backs conclude their series on Thursday.
"We're trying to be very careful with it," he said of his injury. "I'd rather take a couple more days off and feel good than just risk it and be out for three weeks if I do something else to it."
Molina wasn't the only Giants player to buoy the club. Miller (3-3), who allowed seven runs in two games during the nightmarish Colorado series, earned the decision with a scoreless eighth inning.
"I know what I'm capable of," said Miller, whose ERA rose from 1.83 to 2.96 in Denver. "Those two games weren't me."
Brandon Medders earned his first career save as he substituted for closer Brian Wilson, who threw 70 pitches in the previous two games. Making his 183rd Major League appearance, Medders refused to let his initial save opportunity overwhelm him.
"It's just another inning," he said. Nor did Medders get carried away by facing the D-backs, with whom he had spent his entire professional career until this season. "It's just another big league team. I didn't really think about that."
Sanchez worked seven innings and allowed all of Arizona's runs while surrendering six hits -- the most he has yielded in nine starts since throwing his July 10 no-hitter. But it was a strong outing overall for Sanchez, who struck out nine and kept the score close until Molina delivered.
"I hope it's a big lift," Molina said. "I hope everybody gets pumped up for tomorrow."