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September 29, 2013
Giants walk off in season finale, finish tied for third in West

SAN FRANCISCO -- Anyone who looks back at the Giants' 2013 season finale in future years will see that the defending champion Giants beat the San Diego Padres, 7-6, with two runs in the bottom of the ninth to cinch a decidedly pedestrian third-place tie between the two teams in the National League West.

To view it that way will be to miss a lot.

The final two innings of the Giants' final game this season, on a hazy-then-crystal-clear afternoon at AT&T Park, packed in about as many turns and as much drama as a capacity crowd could have hoped for on Fan Appreciation Day. It's Sept. 29, and the Giants are going home. But they're leaving on a high note and one last wave of walk-off adrenaline.

"It was a great way to finish," manager Bruce Bochy said. "Felt like a playoff game out there.

"I think these guys really wanted a piece of third place."

That's not where the Giants pictured themselves finishing in their second title defense in three years. But injuries and a lack of depth helped scuttle any ideas of another playoff run long ago. On Aug. 29 they were 59-74, in last place and 19 games under .500. They went 16-11 in September to achieve the third-place tie with the Padres that shortstop Brandon Crawford termed, at least, "respectable."

"It's better than fourth or fifth," Crawford said. "Obviously it wasn't our goal at the start of the year. But like I said, it's better than fourth or fifth."

* It resulted from the Giants' 12th walk-off win of the season, and Bochy said afterward: "You couldn't have written the story better today with everything that happened."

The ending had Hunter Pence, who earlier in the day signed a five-year contract that will keep him in a Giants uniform through 2018, stepping up in a 6-6 game in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded against Padres closer Huston Street. The count went full, of course, before Pence lofted a high fastball into center, vacated with the Padres opting to play five infielders for a potential force play at home, for the game-winning single.

Pence had batted earlier in the game with the bases loaded and lined a two-run single to left that made it a 6-5 game. He finishes the year with 99 RBIs -- 32 of which came this month, the most by any Giant in September in the San Francisco era. Jeff Kent held the previous record with 31 in 1998.

After his game-winner, Pence's first walk-off hit as a Giant, the Giants rushed the field and surrounded Pence. The team then remained on the field and addressed the crowd, with Bochy and catcher Buster Posey vowing to work to ensure what happened this year does not happen again in 2014. Later, Pence said the Giants' final month, capped by their comeback from a 6-2 deficit Sunday, was a step in the right direction.

"One of our big goals when we were in the bad hole we were in and things were going bad was to dig deeper and find a way to get momentum going into this offseason," said Pence. "And I think we did that."

* Pence said he thought Sunday's game included "one of the best moments of the year," and he wasn't talking about the walk-off. With two outs in the eighth, Bochy summoned Barry Zito to face former Oakland A's teammate Mark Kotsay in what likely was Zito's final appearance in seven seasons with the Giants.

Bochy said he planned to have Zito, who made his final start last Wednesday but did not get a chance for a curtain call, pitch in one of the final two games this weekend. Sending him out to face Kotsay, who intends to retire after this season, seemed fitting.

"Really a fun deal there to have those two go at it," Bochy said.

Zito received loud ovations both times he went down to the bullpen to warm up, and as he entered to face Kotsay.

"That was surreal," Zito said. "I mean, that was more adrenaline than the World Series."

Zito got ahead of Kotsay 0-2, saw Kotsay foul off a two-strike curveball, then got Kotsay to swing through an 84 mph fastball on the outside corner.

"84-sneaky fastball," Zito said.

As he left the mound, the fans rose to their feet and applauded. When Zito reached the dugout, his teammates wouldn't let him in, pushing him back to the grass in foul ground to soak it in.

"That was so special," Zito said. "This game is all about, what do your peers think of you? Obviously with the external component, there's always going to be a view kind of outside of the lion's den looking in. But when your peers respect you in that manner -- there's nothing that's more validating as a player."

Zito doffed his cap and placed his hands over his heart, acknowledging the crowd that began to chant "Bar-ry!" Zito's relationship with the fans over the years has been well-documented and tumultuous. At least on this day, they were intent on appreciating the pitcher whose October performances last year helped the Giants win their second World Series in three seasons.

Zito also addressed the crowd after the game and said: "I feel like we're all a big family here. ... Every time I set foot in San Francisco I'm going to feel like a brother to you all."

Pence, watching from right field as Zito entered to face Kotsay, said the left-hander "was like a different animal in that at-bat. ... When he came out it was powerful. He got the out and gave us a chance to come back and get it close and find a way to win."

Zito, who has said he doesn't know what free agency will hold for him that but pitching is "still in my heart," said Sunday was the first time he could remember in his 14-year career entering a game in the middle of an inning, with the task of retiring a left-hander.

"I was telling the boys when I got to the dugout," Zito said, "you better watch out. I'm making a name for myself as a lefty specialist."

* The Giants tied the game in the ninth when Francisco Peguero hit his first major-league home run off Street leading off the inning. Peguero had entered in the top of the ninth for Gregor Blanco, who was injured when he collided with Angel Pagan in left-center field as both chased after Will Venable's triple into the gap.

Pagan dove and appeared to roll into Blanco's right leg. Blanco had to be helped off the field by two trainers. The Giants said Blanco has a right ankle sprain on which X-rays came back negative, and Blanco will undergo an MRI on Monday.

* Crawford also left the game in the fifth after feeling discomfort in his right oblique muscle on a swing. Crawford said he "kind of tweaked it" during his first at-bat, but thought he'd be OK to hit again.

"First swing my second at-bat I kind of felt it pull or tighten up or something," he said. Ehire Adrianza replaced him at shortstop in the top of the fifth.

Crawford will have an MRI on Tuesday. After going hitless in two at-bats Sunday, he finished the season with a .248 batting average -- identical to his average last season. Still, Crawford said: "Even though the average is the same as last year I think I was a lot better hitter this year."

Crawford hit .272 in the first half of the season with 24 extra-base hits and 30 RBIs, but just .209 after the All-Star Break with 12 extra base-hits and 13 RBIs. He said sprained fingers on his right hand suffered in June likely contributed to his second-half numbers by causing him to fall into some "bad habits" compensating at the plate.

"I'm going to work over the offseason to get back to where I was early on," Crawford said. "I kind of lost that for a couple weeks and started doing things I wasn't before."

* First baseman Brandon Belt, meanwhile, concluded his season with a second half that he will certainly want to carry over into the spring. Belt went 2-for-3 on Sunday with a pair of RBI doubles. He hit .309 after the break with 40 RBIs in 73 games (65 starts) and finished the season with 39 doubles.

Much of his success came in August (.350 average) and September (.341), after he made a couple adjustments to his swing that he seemed to benefit from almost instantly. Belt finishes the year with a .289 average, 17 homers, 67 RBIs and 60 extra-base hits, second only on the team in the latter category to Pence (67).

* The Giants announced a crowd of 41,495 on Sunday, making it their 246th consecutive regular-season sellout at home. The Giants sold out the season and had a total attendance of 3,369,106 -- the fourth consecutive year they have eclipsed 3 million.

Among that number on Sunday was Bryan Stow, the Giants fan beaten in a confrontation outside Dodger Stadium on 2011. Stow was shown on the video board in the middle of the second inning, received a long ovation, and seemed to be mouthing "No way!" as the camera remained on him.

"What a feel-good story to have him here," Bochy said. "Looks like he's doing pretty good. We all were excited to see him here."

It bears mentioning that, even for what in the grand scheme of things was a meaningless game, Sunday's crowd was involved from the start. It was most apparent during moments with Zito, but they also reacted loudly to a pinch-hit appearance by Angel Pagan and the entrance in the ninth of Sergio Romo, who couldn't get a save but ended up being the winning pitcher of record when the Giants rallied in the ninth.

Bochy, in summation, said Sunday was: "Really a great day, a chance for us to thank our fans, because they have been unbelievable. Just a nice way to finish the season after some ups and downs."

* After one final up, it's into the offseason and 2014. With Pence returning, the Giants' focus now turns to Tim Lincecum, to whose representatives assistant general manager Bobby Evans said Sunday the Giants have already reached out. Javier Lopez also is a target to be retained.

General manager Brian Sabean said in his end-of-season news conference Friday that he believes the "window with the group at hand has closed." That said, the Giants will bring back much of their core in 2014 -- Buster Posey, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Angel Pagan, Brandons Belt and Crawford, Pablo Sandoval and now Pence. The questions will be with how the Giants fill in the roles and the roster spots around them and whether they can avoid the pitfalls of 2013 -- injuries, slumps, lack of performance.

Sunday, though, the Giants spent time after their walk-off win cleaning out lockers and disbanding for the winter. This blog will continue to follow the A's and keep up with any offseason news, but for now, thanks for following along this season.

-- Matt Kawahara

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About Bay Area Baseball

Matt KawaharaMatt Kawahara was born in Sacramento and attended McClatchy High School and UC Berkeley, where he wrote for the independent student paper The Daily Californian. He graduated from Cal in 2010 and started at The Sacramento Bee as a summer intern. He joined The Bee’s sports staff in fall 2011.
Phone: (916) 321-1015.
On Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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