Giants clinch playoff spot, still eying NL West title

Giants clinch playoff spot, still eying NL West title

Courtesy of the San Francisco Giants

SAN FRANCISCO — Gabe Kapler has only been with the Giants less than two seasons but he's done something that the legendary John McGraw and every other skipper that preceded him had not accomplished.

Kapler clinched a playoff spot faster than any other manager in the 138 year history of the franchise after the Giants pummeled the Padres, 9-1 on Monday night.

And yet, there's absolutely nothing for the orange and black to commemorate because even though they have the best record in baseball, they failed to gain any ground on those pesky Dodgers who are still within striking distance of the division lead.

"We have to continue to go out there and do what we've been doing," said Giants third baseman Evan Longoria who wore a big pair of ski goggles resting on his head and wearing a black t-shirt soaked from champagne with the slogan 'Built For October'.

"I mean we know the Dodgers aren't just going to cave (in). You know that's a championship caliber team. We've been seeing it all year. I think it's good we don't have to play them anymore for the rest of the regular season but we've got a lot of work left to do."

Giants fans are reminded of 1993, the year that team won an astounding 103 games and yet failed to qualify for the postseason. That magical season was the last one before the advent of the wild card format. The Braves won 104 games and claimed the National League West while the Giants, led by rookie manager Dusty Baker, had to watch the playoffs on TV when they should have been playing October baseball.

This year, it's a similar scenario because the Giants didn't come all this way just to qualify for the Wild Card. You don't win 94 games so you can play in a must-win situation. Plus, to clinch a postseason spot so early can be a curse. The 1954 Cleveland Indians were an amazing 111-43. But they faced a New York Giants squad that swept them in four games highlighted by arguably the greatest catch in a World Series by Willie Mays in Game 1.

So it's a good thing that the Giants can't rest on their laurels and know that come Tuesday night, it's back to the grind and try to extend their season high win streak to nine games.

Monday's contest was decided in the opening frame. Padres starter Yu Darvish just didn't have it. His pitches looked hittable from the press box as he was lobbing hanging sliders and fastballs. Tommy La Stella did his best Rickey Henderson imitation as he hit a leadoff homer 414 feet to center field.

LaMont Wade Jr. followed with an RBI triple and Longoria capped it off with a three-run homer to give San Francisco a five run first inning. They added on with three more in the fourth as Mike Yastrzemski homered to center and "Captain" Brandon Belt with a big fly to the arcade in right.

Still, the win is very satisfying because it marks the return to the postseason for the Giants and they haven't been to the playoffs since 2016.

"When you go to the playoffs a lot when you're younger it's easy to take for granted but after the past five years or so this is something that we won't take for granted again," Belt said. "We're going to enjoy it right now but we've got more to do."

What was an oddity because of COVID rules still being imposed due to the delta and other problematic variants is the total absence of in person postgame interviews. Normally, the media would be allowed clubhouse access and it'd be a chaotic jubilant scene in the confines of the locker room with champagne and beer being sprayed everywhere and likely the pungent smell of cigars as well.

One complaint about being "in the trenches" is that reporters would get their notebooks and recorders wet but at the same time, it's their job to report on what they see. When that access is taken away, it's just weird to ask the players to describe their celebration as opposed to being able to witness it first hand. I really hadn't noticed not being in the clubhouse until this game. You might not get a great interview from a distracted player who is disheveled but you do get the raw emotion. That's what you want to convey to the fans as a member of the media.

The Giants' had to televise their celebration differently as well. Aside from the cameras allowed into the clubhouse to showcase the festivities, interviews were conducted outside the clubhouse. In years past, Mike Krukow would have been front and center in the clubhouse but he and Duane Kuiper were in separate booths with guests on camera.

Complaints aside, life goes on and so must the Giants. The Dodgers beat the Diamondbacks, 5-1 so San Francisco's lead in the National League West remains 2.5 games with 18 to play. There's more games to be won but Yastrzemski says they should savor this victory.

"We're just going to enjoy this right now. We'll worry about keeping on winning baseball games tomorrow but this is a special moment. This is a group that has worked for this for a really long time. The most selfless group of guys that I've played with and it's been a lot of fun to be a part of it. I couldn't have dreamed for this to have happened any better way."

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