SAN FRANCISCO -- Since everything in the Giants' realm must now be viewed through the prism of the upcoming postseason, the most significant development of Sunday's 6-4 loss to the San Diego Padres might have been pinch-hitter Aubrey Huff's ninth-inning leadoff single, which missed clearing the right-field wall by just a few feet.The ball caromed so hard off the barrier that the ponderous Huff couldn't reach second base. But that wasn't the point. Huff's authoritative contact was enough to command attention. Huff has five hits in his last nine pinch-hit at-bats. When manager Bruce Bochy decides whom to keep on the postseason roster, he and his staff will linger over Huff's name. "You have to like his at-bats," Bochy said. "It's so valuable for a club to have that good a left-handed pinch-hitter. ... That's something we'll have to think hard about." Otherwise, from the Giants' perspective, the game had all the intensity of a split-squad Spring Training exhibition in Arizona. But the sunny afternoon still meant something to the AT&T Park crowd. This year, Fan Appreciation Day worked in reverse. Spectators showed up to salute the Giants for clinching the National League West title a day earlier. Patrons freely cheered the patchwork collection of players who started the series finale, in which San Diego avoided a three-game sweep and ended the Giants' six-game winning streak. Fans bellowed even louder when Bochy used a flurry of regulars in the final two innings, mostly to pinch-hit.
"I had a pretty good bench to work with," said Bochy, who ultimately installed Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey, Angel Pagan, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence.Though center fielder Gregor Blanco and second baseman Ryan Theriot were Sunday's only two starters who didn't spend part or all of this season with Triple-A Fresno, the lineup received a warm ovation upon taking the field before the first inning. When Tim Lincecum's stand-in, right-hander Yusmeiro Petit, worked the count to two strikes, many fans yelled in anticipation, as they would do for any other Giants pitcher seeking a strikeout. Petit prompted more spirited cheering when he left the game with two outs in the fifth inning. Xavier Nady, who could make the postseason roster as a right-handed-batting alternative in left field, drew hearty cheers for his fourth-inning RBI double. Two batters later, rookie Francisco Peguero elicited a standing ovation when he beat out a dribbler to shortstop for his first Major League hit. "I feel great that the fans felt that way for me," Peguero said through an interpreter. "It motivated me to keep going on."
In fact, Peguero singled again in the seventh inning, lashing a sharp line drive to left field this time.Peguero, 24, has an outside chance to compete for an outfield vacancy next spring, should one arise. Efforts such as Sunday's could give him a head start.
"Maybe it's a little too early for that," he said. "But I'll try my best to get the opportunity."Petit yielded two runs and seven hits -- an admirable performance, since he hadn't pitched competitively for three weeks.
"I felt a little lost in the first inning, but I was able to do the job," said Petit, who was suddenly told Saturday night that he would pitch after the Giants clinched the division and decided to extend Lincecum's between-starts rest.On a more meaningful level, Petit felt grateful to be starting his first Major League game since Sept. 6, 2009, at Colorado as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks. "Those were three long years for me," Petit said. "But I always had the confidence to make it back." Petit also spoke through an interpreter. But he didn't need one when he was asked if he'd like to return to the Giants next year.
"Yeah," he responded, comprehending and answering the question perfectly.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.