© 2009 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
SAN FRANCISCO -- With terrible swiftness Thursday night, the mood surrounding the Giants went from soaring to sickening.
Though they received their usual paucity of offense, the Giants did everything they had to do to defeat the Chicago Cubs and revive their hopes for securing the National League Wild Card postseason berth -- except finish the task at hand.
Needing one strike to conclude a stirring victory for the Giants, closer Brian Wilson yielded Jeff Baker's two-run homer that lifted the Cubs to a 3-2 triumph.
Given Wild Card-leading Colorado's 5-4 loss to San Diego, the Giants would have trimmed their deficit to three games behind the Rockies (86-67). Instead, San Francisco (82-71) remained four games back with nine to play and fell into a third-place tie with Florida in the Wild Card standings, a half-game behind Atlanta (82-70).
"Even going into tonight, we were in a tough spot," Giants starter Brad Penny said. "If you look at the numbers, tonight was huge for us. Unfortunately, we didn't get it done. Mathematically, we're still not out of it -- if we win nine in a row and hope [the Rockies] lose."
Penny was a central figure in the Giants' briefly enchanted evening. He limited the Cubs to a single run in eight innings.
The right-hander appeared destined for his fourth victory in five outings as a member of the Giants with the support of John Bowker, who drove in both San Francisco runs off Cubs starter Ryan Dempster with a fourth-inning double and a seventh-inning, tiebreaking homer.
"I see the ball out of his hand pretty well," said Bowker, who's 4-for-8 in his brief Major League career against Dempster. "He has a good split-finger [fastball] I was having trouble with. He got a couple of pitches up that I was able to handle."
Bowker was starting partly because Randy Winn had struggled against Dempster (2-for-22 lifetime) and Nate Schierholtz was stricken by food poisoning. Bowker's presence, along with his deeds, gave the Giants a charmed look.
Soon, they were cursed.
In came Wilson (5-6), who had converted his eight previous save opportunities, to protect the 2-1 lead. He walked Derrek Lee on a full-count pitch but recovered by retiring Micah Hoffpauir and Mike Fontenot on popups. But with the Giants believers in the paid crowd of 31,603 standing and yelling in happy anticipation, Baker planted Wilson's 2-2 fastball in the left-field seats.
Wilson left the Giants' clubhouse before reporters gained access to it. Asked where Wilson wanted to throw the fateful pitch to Baker, catcher Eli Whiteside replied, "Obviously, not where it was. Further inside, I guess."
Second-guessers might revel in declaring that Giants manager Bruce Bochy should have stuck with Penny, who had thrown 94 pitches. But Penny himself defended the call for Wilson.
"Nine times out of 10 he saves that game," Penny said. "I'd give the ball to him in the ninth anytime he wanted it. He's an outstanding closer. There's not many better than him."
Penny added that he would have been facing Chicago's 3-4-5 hitters for the fourth time, implying that familiarity could have bred disaster.
"And you've got a guy in the bullpen who's fresh and throws 100 [mph]. To me, it's a no-brainer. Every manager in the game would go to his closer right there, especially in a one-run game."
Bochy anticipated the Penny-or-Wilson question before it was asked.
"We had the right guy there," Bochy said. "I'll never have a problem with the job he's done. We wouldn't be here without him."
True enough. Entering Thursday, the Giants owned a 73-1 record when leading after eight innings, due largely to Wilson. You could almost hear the hard swallowing as that changed to 73-2.