San Francisco Chronicle

Wild card down, West next

Subdued celebratio­n as playoffs clinched

- By John Shea

The Giants entered the 2021 season universall­y projected to finish no higher than third place, perhaps no better than .500, and certainly with no chance to make the playoffs.

Well, projection­s are nothing more than prediction­s or forecasts. They can seriously misfire.

The Giants stunned the baseball world by rolling over teams all season and on Monday night, they became the majors’ first team to clinch a playoff berth, thanks to a 9-1 whipping of the fading Padres before 21,078 at Oracle Park.

Officially putting to rest any thoughts that this team isn’t for real, the Giants celebrated en masse after Kervin Castro, six days after his majorleagu­e debut, struck out Ha-seong Kim for the final out.

The on-field celebratio­n was rather subdued. After all, the bigger prize is the division title, not a wild-card berth. Rather than piling on each other, players simply lined up for high fives and did their hugging in front of their dugout.

They tried on their new playoff gear, T-shirts and caps, and walked to the mound for a team picture as fans stood and captured the moment with their smartphone­s.

The Giants are 94-50 and a playoff team for the first time since 2016, and their latest victim was the team that was supposed to compete with the Dodgers for NL West supremacy. The Padres have dropped four straight, three at Dodger Stadium.

The bash was inevitable, not just because the Giants just don’t lose anymore — they’ve won a season-high eight in a row — but because they scored five runs in the first inning off Yu Darvish, making the party planning easier.

Naturally, the Giants slugged their way to victory with four home runs, including two in the initial rally. Tommy La Stella homered to open the inning, and Evan Longoria hit a three-run shot. In between, LaMonte Wade Jr. hit an RBI triple.

Typical Giants, who poured it on in the fourth with two more homers. Mike Yastrzemsk­i hit his 23rd to tie team leader Brandon Belt, the selfprocla­imed team captain who didn’t think kindly of sharing the leaderboar­d and homered minutes later, his 24th.

The four homers gave the Giants a league-leading 217, fourth most in franchise history, and the record of 235 (set in 2001) is in reach with 18 games left. The 2000 team hit 226, and the 1947 team 221.

The latest power display — the Giants’ 14th four-homer game of the season — overshadow­ed another well-orchestrat­ed bullpen game as the Giants continue to succeed despite a rotation of just three starters.

Dominic Leone was the opener, needing only 18 pitches to get through two innings, and five relievers followed. Only Jarlín García surrendere­d a run when Trent Grisham and Fernando Tatis Jr. hit consecutiv­e doubles in the third.

Though few outside the clubhouse believed in the Giants before the season — Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projection­s had the Giants winning 75 games, which they reached Aug. 13 — their stated goal was to play well enough to be in position in September to win the NL West.

In fact, Buster Posey said so himself the day before the season opener.

“I don’t think that there’s anybody in here thinking there’s no chance to compete for the division late in the year,” Posey said March 31, “and that’s definitely the goal.”

It wasn’t about the wild card, either.

“Competing to win the division,” Posey said. “I don’t think I’d be a very good teammate or competitor if I said otherwise.”

It was fitting the Giants clinched on the Padres’ watch. That almost always seems to be the way it goes. Not only did the Giants clinch a playoff spot against their San Diego brethren, they also could clinch the division versus the Padres — the teams play nine more times including the final three weeks.

Of the Giants’ eight division titles, six were clinched with wins over the Padres — 1971, 1987, 1997, 2003, 2010 and 2012 — and one of the other two division clinchings, in 1989, came when the Giants waited around their clubhouse until the Padres fell to the Reds, then celebrated.

 ?? Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle ?? The Giants pour out of the dugout at Oracle Park after beating San Diego 9-1 to clinch at least a wild-card spot, but their quest for the NL West title continues.
Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle The Giants pour out of the dugout at Oracle Park after beating San Diego 9-1 to clinch at least a wild-card spot, but their quest for the NL West title continues.
 ?? Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle ?? Catcher Curt Casali greets erstwhile Giants captain Brandon Belt with a “C” gesture after the first baseman hit a two-run home run in the fourth inning against the Padres at Oracle Park.
Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle Catcher Curt Casali greets erstwhile Giants captain Brandon Belt with a “C” gesture after the first baseman hit a two-run home run in the fourth inning against the Padres at Oracle Park.

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