After beating the San Diego Padres 9-3 to close the regular season Sunday, the Giants gathered on the infield to salute the fans at AT&T Park. Right fielder Hunter Pence took a microphone and, during a short speech, led the crowd in a stadium-wide rendition of the “Yes!” celebration the Giants performed in their dugout after home runs earlier this summer.
Pence then asked: “Do you want to see another game at home?” To which some 40,000 voices responded: “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
For that to happen, the Giants must go on the road and beat one of baseball’s hottest teams in a one-game, do-or-die scenario. The Pittsburgh Pirates lost their season finale and will host the Giants in the National League wild-card game Wednesday night.
The Giants will send 18-game winner Madison Bumgarner to the mound and likely will face Pirates right-hander Edinson Volquez, who has done his best pitching late this year. Volquez had a 2.20 ERA after the All-Star break and in five September starts went 2-0 with a 1.08 ERA.
Despite losing their final two games, the Pirates finished the season winning 17 of 23. They tied with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Washington Nationals – who host the winner of the wild-card game in the Division Series beginning Friday – for the league’s best home record at 51-30.
“I watched the wild-card game (in Pittsburgh) last year, and I’m looking forward to it,” Giants catcher Buster Posey said. “It’s going to probably be one of the better atmospheres that we get to play in. And I think we all look forward to the challenge.”
Neither team is new to elimination scenarios. The Giants have played six win-or-go-home games in the 2012 postseason and won them all en route to the World Series title. The Pirates hosted Cincinnati in last year’s wild-card game and won 6-2.
While Bumgarner did not start any of those six elimination games in 2012, Bochy said before Sunday’s game the decision to start the left-hander in Pittsburgh was not difficult. He indicated afterward that Jake Peavy, who posted a 1.35 ERA in his final nine starts, will pitch the NLDS opener in Washington if the Giants make it.
“I think the way we look at those two, we could’ve gone either way there,” Bochy said. “But Bum’s our guy. The last few years, he’s just done such a good job for us, so I don’t think there was any question who was going to pitch (Wednesday).”
With that set, rookie right-hander Chris Heston started in Bumgarner’s stead Sunday and allowed three runs in four innings in his major-league debut. The Giants took a 5-3 lead in the fourth on Adam Duvall’s pinch-hit solo home run. But Heston, who gave up four consecutive singles to start the game before settling down, did not return in the fifth for a shot at the win.
“I hated taking him out in the fourth with the lead, but with him not getting a lot of work, I didn’t want to overtax him,” Bochy said.
The move gave Bochy a chance to get several relievers – including Tim Lincecum, who pitched two scoreless innings and earned his second win in relief this week – some work on a day most of the Giants’ regulars started but exited early.
Posey played after resting the past two days because of back tightness and, on the first pitch he saw from Padres starter Robbie Erlin, hit a two-run home run to left in the first inning. It was Posey’s 22nd home run, and he finished the regular season with a team-leading .311 average and 89 RBIs.
“He told me he wanted to play, and I was honestly a little concerned if he was healthy,” Bochy said. “But he showed it with that first swing.”
The Giants padded their lead with a four-run seventh inning that included Gary Brown collecting his first major-league RBI with a one-out single and Joaquin Arias’ two-run double. In the ninth, Bochy summoned his son Brett to record the final three outs, which the right-hander did on two strikeouts and a lineout.
With an 88-74 record – a 12-win improvement over last year – the Giants will fly east today and play Wednesday for a chance to extend their season – and play at AT&T Park at least one more time.
“Two good teams going at it, playing in their park, where they’ve really done a good job; we’re facing a tough pitcher,” Bochy said. “I expect to see a great ballgame and we’ll do all we can to get back here.”