As the second-half losses mounted and their playoff outlook became more tenuous, the Giants maintained that they liked their position. Entering the season’s final day, they needed simply to win to secure a wild-card berth.
A Cardinals loss also would have worked, but Giants manager Bruce Bochy wanted his team to “take care of business.” And the Giants did, sprinting to an early lead and riding Matt Moore’s dominant start to a 7-1 win over the Dodgers and their fourth postseason trip in seven years.
The Giants will now fly to New York to face the Mets in the National League wild-card game Wednesday. It will be Madison Bumgarner versus Noah Syndergaard for the right to play the Chicago Cubs in the division series beginning Friday.
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“When they needed to answer the bell, they did,” Bochy said afterward in his office as the Giants sprayed champagne in the clubhouse. “That’s why I’m so proud of them, how they did it. We didn’t get help. We had to win, and they did.”
The Giants went 30-42 in the second half, going from having the majors’ best record at the All-Star break to fighting for a wild-card spot down the stretch. In a way reminiscent of recent even years, the Giants played better when the stakes were higher, winning eight of their last 12 games and sweeping the Dodgers on the final weekend.
Last time the Giants played a wild-card game in 2014, Bumgarner also started and threw a four-hit shutout in an 8-0 win over the Pirates. The Giants went on to win the World Series, as they did in 2010 and 2012. To get there again, they’ll have to go through last year’s N.L. representative in the World Series and a pitcher in Syndergaard who shut them out for eight innings Aug. 21.
“We wanted this bad,” said closer Sergio Romo, who recorded the last out Sunday. “And now we get a chance to dance. And we like our chances once we get in. We respect every team, but we’re competitive, and we know it.”
The Dodgers had already clinched the N.L. West and removed starters early all series to prepare for their playoff run. But the Giants came in just a game ahead of the Cardinals for the second wild-card spot, and adding to the weighty atmosphere at AT&T Park was the farewell of legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, who called the final games of his 67-year career.
Giants fans got the best of both worlds Sunday. They serenaded Scully with applause at the start of the game and between innings, and they watched their team celebrate on the field at the end.
After Romo got Rob Segedin to fly out to end the game, the Giants ran out of the dugout into a somewhat restrained celebration behind the mound. Pitcher Jake Peavy then spoke to the crowd, saying: “This season hasn’t been what we wanted and thought it would be.
“That being said, we’re in.”
The Giants started playing shortly before the Cardinals on Sunday, and before a pitch was thrown in St. Louis they had already seized a 2-0 lead. Denard Span hit a leadoff single off of Kenta Maeda, Brandon Belt doubled, and Buster Posey lined a single to right field to score both runners.
Span delivered again in the second with a two-run triple and scored on another single by Posey, who recorded his 80th RBI. That handed a 5-0 lead to Moore, the left-hander acquired at the trade deadline from Tampa Bay for popular third baseman Matt Duffy. In his biggest moment as a Giant, Moore had one of his best outings of the season.
Moore allowed three hits in eight innings and one run that scored in the fourth when the Dodgers pieced together three singles. Joc Pederson followed with a towering fly ball to center that died just short of the warning track, where Span caught it to end the inning.
That began a stretch of Moore retiring his final 13 hitters, getting Josh Reddick to ground out on his 107th pitch to end the eighth. Moore covered first base on the play and walked back to the dugout slowly with a crowd announced at 41,445 giving him a standing ovation.
“That was a big game for him,” Bumgarner said. “Glad to see him go out there and compete like he did. That was a big performance by him today.”
Moore got help from third baseman Conor Gillaspie, who went over the railing into the camera well by the Giants’ dugout to catch a foul ball in the third inning. Right fielder Hunter Pence called it “one of the best catches I’ve ever seen a third baseman make. A big play in a big moment, and it inspires you for sure.”
Gillaspie, a key contributor the final week filling in for the injured Eduardo Nunez, also doubled and scored on Span’s triple in the second. Span later singled in the eighth and scored on a single by Pence, who came around on Brandon Crawford’s flare to center.
Span, who did not start the first two games of the series against lefties, capped his day with a tumbling catch in the ninth to rob Corey Seager of extra bases. He later said he “woke up (Sunday) morning just locked in,” and upon reporting to AT&T Park found a Giants clubhouse feeling the same way.
“There was nothing that needed to be said,” Span said. “We all knew what we needed to do … It’s been an up-and-down season, but we pulled together these last couple weeks. It didn’t look good, but we’re in.”
After Span’s catch, Romo struck out Yasiel Puig – to the crowd’s delight – and retired Segedin on a fly ball to Angel Pagan to secure the Giants’ 87th win. As it turns out, they needed every last one to return to the postseason.
“I think it potentially could make us a pretty dangerous team to deal with,” Moore said. “Having 87 wins heading to the postseason – some of these teams got 100, but we’re in the same place. What happened the last eight months, it’s all behind us.”