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Giants still chasing division title, but first clinch matters

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SAN FRANCISCO -- The last World Series run in San Francisco started with an uncertain celebration.

The Giants clinched a playoff spot before they took the field for their 159th game of the 2014 season. A Milwaukee Brewers loss earlier in the afternoon wrapped up their role as a Wild Card team, and as players digested the news, some weren't sure whether they should pop champagne if they lost that night. The team had dropped five of six, but Hunter Pence bounced around the clubhouse before the game -- which the Giants ended up winning -- and insisted that every step of the journey needed to include a clubhouse party.

"It's the carrot in front of the horse," Pence said that afternoon. "In spring training and the offseason you put that seed in (your minds), like we're (going to be) pouring champagne on each other. That's the draw. That's why it's there. I think the more you can enjoy accomplishments and make the best of it, the better. It's a tremendous accomplishment (for) everybody in here to make the playoffs."

The Giants were doing it every other year back then, but there's been a dry spell since 2016, one that included a 98-loss season and an overhaul of the front office, coaching staff and most of the roster. The October drought is about to end, though, and the Giants find themselves in a peculiar spot. 

They are one win from clinching at least a spot in the Wild Card Game, and the odds are good that, whether it happens Monday or Tuesday or at some point later this week, they will be the first MLB team to punch a ticket to October. It is a remarkable accomplishment, particularly when you consider the fact that nobody saw this coming. 

 

At the same time, clinching a postseason spot was never the goal in the clubhouse. When the Giants met in spring training, their first goal for the season was to win the National League West. No matter what happens Monday, that battle with the Los Angeles Dodgers likely will go to the season's final week. 

So, do the Giants celebrate when their first magic number gets to zero? They plan to do so.

"It's definitely an accomplishment to make the playoffs," Brandon Crawford said Monday. "That's not our ultimate goal -- we want to finish out the regular season winning the division and we definitely still have our eye on that -- but making the postseason is a good accomplishment for this team. We're going to celebrate that also."

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The Giants were prepared to do it over the weekend in Chicago, and they have champagne on ice at Oracle Park and shirts ready for whenever the first clinch happens. It won't be the raucous party that the home clubhouse has seen in the past, but manager Gabe Kapler said he wouldn't put any restrictions on his players, either. 

"I want to encourage our players to be themselves and I want to encourage our staff to be themselves. Everybody celebrates a little bit differently," Kapler said. "There are some who want to have every opportunity to kind of blow off some steam and celebrate and reflect, and there are others who prefer to take every step as one in the process and I respect both ways."

It should come as no surprise that Kapler certainly sounded Monday like someone who still is very much embracing the process, but this will be a milestone moment for him. Kapler won a World Series ring as a player with the Red Sox, but he has yet to taste postseason baseball as a manager. His Phillies were basically a .500 team for two seasons, leading to his dismissal, and the Giants missed the expanded postseason by one game last year. 

Kapler has been laser-focused on "one game at a time" this season, not even letting games against the Dodgers be viewed as more important than any others. He said he would allow the moment to dictate how he reacts to the Giants clinching a playoff spot. 

"I don't feel the need to plan anything like that personally," he said. "It's just not my style."

Kapler and his players know this is just the first step, regardless of how much steam they might blow off. They entered this homestand against the San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves with a 2 1/2 game lead over the Dodgers, who watched Max Scherzer flirt with a perfect game on Sunday and got Clayton Kershaw back Monday. They're not going anywhere. The Giants don't plan to, either. 

 

"We're not going to take the foot off the gas," reliever Tyler Rogers said Sunday. "It's 'win the division.' That's our mindset."

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