SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants spent six months stunning their fans and even themselves with the depths of their collapse. On the final day of the season, they provided one last surprise.
Pablo Sandoval, an impossible choice on opening day, ended the year with a walk-off homer that gave the Giants a 5-4 win over the Padres and clinched a 64-98 season. The blast set off a celebration the plate that morphed into a ceremony for an emotional Matt Cain, who thanked the organization, the fans, his family and many others as he broke down a day after his final big league appearance. A few minutes later, Cain stood in the corner of the clubhouse with a smile on his face.
“It’s good for all of us,” he said of the walk-off. “It’s a good way to go out for the entire team.”
It was also a good reminder of how much work there is to be done. For all the excitement Sandoval brought Sunday — and on nights when he took Max Scherzer and Kenley Jansen deep — he hit just .225 in 160 at-bats after returning home. He entered Sunday with a .622 OPS, which was almost exactly the same as the .623 figure that had the Red Sox give up on him with $50 million left on his deal.
Sandoval will surely be back next spring, and it’s likely he’ll get a chance to compete for an everyday job at third base. But what are the Giants getting? What are they getting with any of their veterans? That’s the question the front office will have to answer, and the work started right away. General manager Bobby Evans and team president Larry Baer descended on Bruce Bochy’s office in the minutes after the final out.
As they sit in those meetings, the men can point to highlights for any player. Just about every Giant has a story like Sandoval’s. Take Hunter Pence, for example. He brought energy throughout the year and ended his season with a diving catch in right field. He also finished with a .701 OPS, the lowest mark of his career. Or take Johnny Cueto, Sunday’s starter. Bochy credited him with working through a day where he didn’t have his best stuff. But Cueto finished with a 4.52 ERA and 1.45 WHIP. The stories go on and on.
“We have some work to do, there’s no sugar-coating this,” Bochy said. “You lose 98 games, you’ve got a lot of things to fix. Forget the injuries. You look at the numbers on both sides and we’ve got to get better, especially in our division. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ll be relentless, all of us. We talked to the players. We know what’s ahead of us.”
The key word in that statement, which Bochy echoed in comments to the fans after the game, is “division.” Only a tiebreaker kept the Giants from taking the No. 1 pick from the Detroit Tigers, and they finished a distant last place in the National League West. They were 40 games out of first, 23 out of a wild card spot, and seven behind the Padres, who actively tried to tank this season away.
There is nothing in the numbers — pitching, hitting or defense — that points to this as a team that had bad luck, and Bochy knows it. He is believed to want massive changes to this roster, but the Giants will have to get creative. Most of this team will be back, and this season, that group wasn’t competitive.
As players packed up and said goodbye, Buster Posey — one of the few Giants to have a good year — told his teammates to look in the mirror.
“We need to spend some time thinking about what it is specifically for us to help the Giants win more baseball games and get back to where we all want to be,” he said. “We’re all confident and we know how much ability is in this clubhouse, but at the same time, we’ve got to execute on the field. All of us as players have to play better next year.”