SAN FRANCISCO -- Strap on your safety belts for Sunday's final day of the baseball season. It doesn't matter if you're a fan of the Padres, Giants or Braves. All you have to be is a baseball fan. "Playing a game on the last day of the baseball season that means something -- it doesn't get any better than this," Padres vice chairman and CEO Jeff Moorad said on Saturday after his club held off the Giants, 4-2, at AT&T Park to cause all this tumult. No, it doesn't. Sunday will be historic no matter what happens. The Phillies play the Braves at Atlanta in a stellar pitching matchup of Cole Hamels against Tim Hudson. Hours later, Jonathan Sanchez will be on the mound in San Francisco against Padres whiz kid Mat Latos.
Two playoff spots will be decided on the final day of the season or beyond -- the National League West title and the Wild Card berth. The combinations are dizzying now that the Padres trail the Giants by just a game in the NL West and are tied with the Braves for the Wild Card. The Padres came into the series trailing the Giants by three games and the Braves by two with only three left to play. "A lot has happened in two days," Padres manager Bud Black said. "I know I feel a lot better now than I did on Friday afternoon." No matter what happens under any of the four remaining scenarios, the Giants can't be eliminated on Sunday even if they lose Game 3 of the series at home to the Padres. The Giants trailed the Padres by 6 1/2 games as late as Aug. 25 and enjoyed a 9 1/2-game turnaround before the Padres suddenly revived in the past two days. "We've gone through our ups and downs," rookie catcher Buster Posey said. "We've been battling all year and we've just got to come out and get the job done on Sunday. It feels the same as it has felt for the past month. We've got to win a game. It has felt like that since Sept. 1." The Padres can live to die another day in three of the four scenarios, going home only if they lose to the Giants and the Braves defeat the Phillies. Ditto for the Braves, whose season will end only if they lose and the Padres win on what could be the last day of Bobby Cox's 29-year managerial career. If the Braves win and the Padres win, the Giants play a one-game tiebreaker on Monday in San Diego for the West title. The loser travels to Atlanta for an unprecedented Game 164 to determine the Wild Card winner on Tuesday. If the Giants win and the Braves win, the Giants take the West and the Braves win the Wild Card. The two will then meet in a best-of-five NL Division Series that opens in San Francisco on Thursday. If the Padres win and the Braves lose, the Padres win the West by virtue of their head-to-head record against the Giants, who would take the Wild Card. The Giants would open their NLDS against the Phillies in Philadelphia on Wednesday and the Padres would host the Reds on Thursday. If both the Padres and Braves lose, the Giants win the West and the Padres play a tiebreaker for the Wild Card against the Braves in Atlanta on Monday. Now, take a breath. After the Padres jumped out to a 4-0 lead early in Saturday's game against Barry Zito and again held off the Giants, Black didn't even want to consider the various and somewhat complex possibilities. "You can get stretched out if you start thinking about all the scenarios," Black said. "The easiest thing for me, our coaching staff and our players is to concentrate on the single game. But this is great stuff. It's great for the game of baseball. You can't beat this feeling as it has been going on, the whole ride all year for this group of players. It's been one of the best years I've been around to witness the effect this has had on our team." There were 42,653 Giants partisans in the ballpark on Saturday, many of whom grew surly with the umpires as the game transpired. Giants manager Bruce Bochy was ejected for arguing a called third strike on Posey that ended the sixth inning. That's how taut emotions are growing. On Bobby Cox Day at Turner Field, the Braves were thrashed, 7-0, losing for the second consecutive day to the NL East-winning Phillies. With a 1:35 p.m. ET start on Sunday in Atlanta, the Padres will be well aware of what the Braves are doing when they take the field in San Francisco at 4:05 p.m. ET. But the Padres still have to take care of business. "We've had Game 7 for the last two days now," Padres closer Heath Bell said after he recorded his 47th save on Saturday to tie the Giants' Brian Wilson for the Major League lead. "Sunday's going to be another Game 7. We're going to put it all on the line and give everything we have, not leave anything for Monday." All this is not for the faint of heart, but if you're a baseball fan, you have to love it. Moorad certainly does. In only his second year as head of a group that already has purchased a minority share of the Padres, Moorad was so delighted with the possibilities he shot off an e-mail saying so to a close friend, who also has a stake in the action: Ed Rendell, the governor of Pennsylvania. Moorad is certain of one aspect of this crazy race: If the Phillies win on Sunday, at the least the Padres will be playing again on Monday.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.