SAN FRANCISCO -- Those pesky Padres, the little team that could, finally couldn't on Sunday. They couldn't generate offense, couldn't sustain momentum from their two victories this weekend and, ultimately, couldn't extend their season by winning the kind of game that had become their trademark this season. To a man, though, the Padres made no apologies for themselves and generally held few regrets, even after their season ended with a 3-0 loss to the Giants in front of a sold-out crowd of 42,822 at AT&T Park who saw San Francisco celebrate its National League West title.
The Padres, accustomed all season to winning games like this, games won with pitching and defense, instead found themselves on the other end of the equation at the worst time in a cruel twist of irony. "Early in the year, we had a lot of those 1-0, 2-1 victories," said Padres second baseman David Eckstein. "That's who we are." Who these Padres were was a team that won 90 games and finished two victories short of the postseason, as Giants pitcher Jonathan Sanchez and five relievers held San Diego to four hits in the regular-season finale. "It's miserable. It stinks, but it's baseball," Padres right fielder Ryan Ludwick said. "We knew we had to win three games here. We won two. There's a bitter taste, knowing the season is over." The Padres went into Sunday's season finale against the Giants armed with hope after winning the first two games of this critical series and buoyed by the fact those wins got them smack dab into the myriad of postseason possibilities. In fact, only one scenario on Sunday had the Padres being eliminated by the end of the day: a victory by the Braves over the Phillies and the Giants victory. Every other option had the Padres surviving for at least one more day and a tiebreaker. But that worst-case scenario played out, as the Braves held off the Phillies and the Padres were shut out for the 12th time this season. This was a team that led the NL West almost the entire season and had a 6 1/2-game lead on the Giants on Aug. 25. None of them were prepared for this. "We thought we were a playoff team and we never listened to anyone who said we would finish last," Padres third baseman Chase Headley said. "To make it this close and then to not make it is tough." The Padres (90-72) knew they had their work cut out against Sanchez (13-9), who a year ago tossed a no-hitter against San Diego and has generally been a thorn in the Friars' collective sides with his fastball and nasty slider. Sanchez struck out five and allowed three hits but was gone after five innings because of five walks and the fact that manager Bruce Bochy, smartly, wasn't going to take any chance on a day that meant everything to both teams. The Padres got a leadoff single by Adrian Gonzalez in the sixth inning. Sanchez walked Ludwick, the last batter Sanchez would face. Yorvit Torrealba, who hit .320 this season with runners in scoring position, bounced a ball at third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who stepped on third base and threw to second for a double play. "I thought we had three shots to get some hits ... and with Yorvit, he's one of our most experienced hitters," Padres manager Bud Black said. "I thought that it was an opportunity for him to get a hit there." The Padres gave the ball to their 22-year-old ace, Mat Latos, on Sunday, a proposition they probably felt better about a month ago when Latos was 14-5 with a 2.21 ERA and was at least part of the conversation for the NL Cy Young Award. Latos entered Sunday's game having dropped his last four starts, the victim, his manager said, of poor pitch location more so than fatigue or a slip in velocity or the sharpness of his secondary pitches. Latos pitched well at time Sunday, though he was again hurt by a handful of pitches that were elevated in the strike zone. The Giants (92-70) got to Latos early, getting two hits in the first inning alone, though a double play saved him from more anxious moments. In the third inning, the Giants got a one-out triple by Sanchez. Two batters later, Freddy Sanchez knocked in a run, as he singled up the middle for a 1-0 lead. The next batter, Aubrey Huff, pounced on first-pitch fastball, hitting it to the gap in left-center field, a ball that just eluded the glove of a diving Chris Denorfia. That hit allowed Freddy Sanchez to score the second run of the game. "They scratched off a few runs off me, but they're a good hitting ballclub, that's why they're going to the postseason," Latos said. "I went out there and executed my pitches for the most part. I got ground-ball outs when I needed to, I battled when I needed to, and I feel like I pitched to my best ability." Latos (14-10) scattered three singles over his final three innings. He departed the game after allowing two singles in the sixth inning before getting Jose Guillen to ground out. All told, he allowed eight hits, two runs, no walks and four strikeouts over 82 pitches. "He threw the ball well and kept us in the game," Black said "... I was proud of the way that he bounced back after the last couple of games. He held up his end of the bargain." In the end, though, the Padres' offense, their Achilles' heel over the final five weeks, did not, though that didn't take the shine off what at least one veteran considered one of his best experiences in professional baseball. "This team was unbelievable," said San Diego outfielder Matt Stairs, who completed his 18th season in the Major Leagues and his first with the Padres. "The pitching and defense were amazing. If you think about it, we went the whole year without an MVP or Cy Young Award candidate. Not many teams do that."