SAN DIEGO — It's been 16 summers, most of them long ones, all of them cold ones. When the San Francisco Giants finally got to success' front door Monday night, no way were they just stepping through like everybody else.
The Giants clinched their first National League West Division title since 1971 Monday night against the San Diego Padres on an mist-clearing, two-strike, home run in the eighth inning. By a relief pitcher .
Don Robinson took Lance McCullers 375 feet deep to left-center field to give the Giants a 5-4 victory in front of 31,068 at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
Robinson homered, walked into a few high-fives, then retired six of the final seven Padres, including John Kruk on a 330-foot fly ball that Jeffrey Leonard caught at the left-field wall to end the game with Tony Gwynn on second base.
Robinson leaped off the mound, Will Clark did a leaping jumping jack off first base, and the field became a tight mass of hugging Giants surrounded by several hundred partying fans who dodged the swings and karate chops of outmanned security.
"That was the guy I wanted on the mound," Craig said of Robinson. "The Padres battled us tooth and nail, but we fought the whole way. I started out laughing and now I've got the pennant."
That's 16 years for the Giants, 10 of losing more than they won, six seasons of fifth place or worse. Amid the stickiness of the five cases of Domaine Chandon champagne was the nostalgic irony that, last time the Giants cinched a division championship, it was right here, on the final day of the 1971 season, when Juan Marichal defeated Dave Roberts, 5-1.
This is the third West Division clinching in San Diego in six years. Atlanta did it in 1982, the Padres did it in 1984, and now the Giants.
The Giants become only the fourth club since 1900 to finish first in a full-season schedule just two years after losing 100 or more games (they were 62-100 in 1985). No big deal? The last club to do this was the 1969 New York Mets, and they were considered amazin'.
This also marked the end of the big leagues' most furious pennant run. On Aug. 7, the Giants were 53-55 and in third place in the West, five games behind the Cincinnati Reds. Since then they have gone 33-15, gained 12 games on Cincinnati Reds, who have finally disappeared from view.
And discount the fact that Robinson is certainly no home run slouch. Spanning 10 years, in 426 career at-bats, he has seven homers. This season, Gwynn has that many in 578 at-bats.
Monday was also appropriately wild because the Giants got into a position to win by tying a major league record for good timing. They had two pinch-hit homers, from Leonard and Chili Davis, equaling a mark held by many teams.
And that isn't even the amazing part. How about this: it was career homer No. 100 for both players. Davis made his big league debut four years later (1981) than Leonard (1977). Figure it out.
The right-handed hitting Davis, who may not even be used in the playoffs against right-handed pitching, has five homers and eight runs batted in over his last 10 games. He homered to lead off the fifth and give the Giants a 4-3 lead.
Leonard's fourth-inning homer came two batters after Jose Uribe singled and was moved to second on a two-strike bunt by Dave Dravecky. Destined? In four appearances since missing nearly a month with a right hamstring strain, Leonard has two homers.
The Padres, trailing, 4-3, tied it up in the seventh on one of their best turns at bat of the year.
With one out against reliever Don Robinson, Carmelo Martinez leaned out and poked an 0-and-2 waste pitch to left field for a single. Four pitches later, pinch-runner Stanley Jefferson stole second. One out later, Benito Santiago's fly ball fell between center fielder Leonard and left fielder Davis, rolling to the wall for a triple, scoring Jefferson.
Not bad for the Giants, considering the way the day started.
Padres visiting clubhouse man Bob Doty, fuming over a possible clinching because, "The champagne will get into the carpet and it will stink for the rest of the season," nonetheless took the usual precautions. He covered all the lockers with plastic bags to protect them from a soaking and devised a post-game menu of chicken.
"When the Braves cinched here in 1982, we had spaghetti, and they painted the walls with it," Doty said. "Not this time."
But then things got bad. At 5:35 p.m., in a game televised over the DiamondVision screen in center field, Cincinnati's Barry Larkin hit a three-run homer that would eventually defeat Atlanta, 6-5.
The Giants, busy with calisthenics, stopped and stared and then were silent. They would have to win this on their own.
And so they did.