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The San Francisco Giants Take First Place in the West By Force

When it finally happened, when after a long, tough 2010 season the Giants finally clawed and fought their way into first place in the National League West, there was a brief clubhouse celebration. Then it was back to business. The beach had been taken, now it was time to move inland and secure the objectives that will win the war: a first place finish in the West, the National League Pennant, and on to the 2010 World Series.

Absolutely nothing has been handed to this gritty team all year. As the season started, the team survived a haunting lack of offense reminiscent of the past five losing seasons; they survived several high paid starters who crashed and burned along the way; the front office was literally forced to trade their starting catcher and grudgingly bring up a rookie to handle perhaps the best starting rotation in baseball; and after losing the only two lefties in their bullpen to month-long injuries at mid-season, the worst news of the year hit last week when they lost their star lead-off hitter and center fielder.

But Manager Bruce Bochy’s crafty player juggling, the front office going out and picking up several bats and a left handed reliever, and the amazing offensive performances of Aubrey Huff, Buster Posey, Juan Uribe, and Andres Torres have brought this team to the top of a very large mountain.

The September 16, 2010 10-2 win over the appropriately loathed Los Angeles Dodgers was a moment to savor in the maelstrom still to come. LA starter Ted Lilly, a rare beam of light in the nightmare of the Dodgers’ catastrophic 2010 campaign, lost for only the third time in nine LA starts. It was also Lilly’s shortest outing of the season: he only lasted 3 1/3 innings, coughing up six earned runs. Giants first baseman Aubrey Huff and catcher Buster Posey went back to back HRs in the third inning, the 7th time Giant hitters have doubled up home runs in 2010.

But with the Giants, as always, it all comes back to pitching. A brilliant start for Jonathan Sanchez, who gave up one earned run in seven innings and hit double-digit strikeouts for the seventh time in his short career and the fourth time this season. SF relievers Santiago Casilla and Chris Ray mopped up the final two innings without allowing a hit, walk or run.

20080925_colliding_planetsAnd we can’t close this great moment without mention of the end of days currently being experienced by the San Diego Padres.

The San Diegos initially surprised me by dominating the National League for most of the year, and they surprised me again when they hit a brick wall that looked suspiciously like a ten game losing streak. But the tough times continue for the Friars at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium, where yesterday the Pads chalked up their 10th straight defeat in St. Louis, going back to 2007.

Thursday’s game was also the third shutout tossed against San Diego in the last 18 games, a frustrating follow-up to their three game series with Colorado earlier this week, in which Padre hitters put up 19 runs and 34 hits. Manager Bud Black now has his hands full righting his team and, amazingly, chasing the San Francisco Giants.

And doesn’t that sound sweet.

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