Panda's HRs help Giants trim magic number to 3

Panda's HRs help Giants trim magic number to 3

Panda's HRs help Giants trim magic number to 3
SAN FRANCISCO -- Sweeping the Colorado Rockies wasn't the Giants' primary accomplishment in their four-game series that ended with a 9-2 win on Thursday. Scoring against them was.

The Giants proved that they could sustain decent offense at AT&T Park, where they subdued Colorado for the fourth game in a row. The hitters' awakening bodes well for the Giants -- who, if the postseason began today, would play their opening pair of National League Division Series games at home.

Pablo Sandoval hastened San Francisco's progress at the plate by homering from both sides of the plate for the first time in his career, driving in four runs and combining with Buster Posey to hit back-to-back homers. Marco Scutaro rapped a pair of RBI singles and Posey (2-for-4) sustained his Most Valuable Player Award bid by hiking his batting average to .335 besides hitting his 23rd homer.

The outcome widened the Giants' lead over second-place Los Angeles in the NL West to 10 games and trimmed San Francisco's magic number for clinching the division to three, following the Dodgers' 4-1 loss to the Nationals on Thursday.

The Giants insisted that they're sprinting, not cruising, toward the finish line in the West race.

"We are happy but we're not satisfied," Sandoval said. "We're loose, we're having fun, but we have to keep fighting. It's not over yet."

Acknowledging San Francisco's commanding lead in the standings, Zito said, "You wouldn't know it from the vibe here in the clubhouse. We're fighting every day and that's something that I think is really admirable about this team. We've fought so hard, especially since we lost Melky [Cabrera]. We know we can't rest on our laurels."

Indeed, the Giants thrived as they should have against Colorado, which owns a Major League-worst 5.18 team ERA. The Giants hit .353 (49-for-139) in the series, including .319 (15-for-47) with runners in scoring position. Moreover, San Francisco averaged six runs per game, compared with 3.55 in 71 home dates before the series.

"Hopefully this is a great sign that we've come out of this and can score here," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.

"Their offense is very mindful of what they need to do," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "I don't think they come to the ballpark on any day and think they're going to need seven or eight runs to win. It puts them at ease, and know that if they go out there and put a few runs on the board, that with the starting pitching they have and the guys that they have down in their bullpen, they're a tough opponent for anybody they play against -- it's that simple."

Sandoval's emergence has gone hand-in-hand with team's success. The switch-hitter, who ended a 41-game homerless streak on Wednesday night, continued his power surge with a first-inning homer batting right-handed off lefty Jorge De La Rosa (0-1).

Highlighting a six-run, fourth-inning rally that broke a 2-2 tie, Sandoval batted left-handed against righty Edgmer Escalona and reached the right-field arcade for a three-run homer. As he did on Wednesday, Sandoval connected with an impossibly low pitch. "I got lucky again," he said. Moments later, Posey drove Escalona's 1-1 delivery into the left-field pavilion.

San Francisco recorded its first three-homer game at AT&T since June 13 against Houston. That achievement was overshadowed by Matt Cain's perfect game.

Bochy theorized that Sandoval felt calmer following the end of his homerless skid and healthier as more time has passed since his hamate bone surgery in early May. Whatever the sources of Sandoval's ascent might be, the Giants believe it's no fluke.

"What he did today is indicative of who he is," Zito said. "When he's healthy and feeling good, he's a guy who can threaten you out of the ballpark as well as out of the strike zone, and both sometimes."

Sandoval cited another reason for his improvement: The fans. "You want to do your best for them," he said. "Every single day, 41,000 [paid attendance]. We try to play hard for them."

Bochy assured that Sandoval wasn't being corny. "You look out there at the crowd, [feel] their enthusiasm, that's the adrenaline we run on," Bochy said.

Thursday's audience saluted Zito (13-8) with an ovation as he left the mound, having yielded two runs and 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings. The Giants lengthened their winning streak in Zito's starts to nine while he personally captured his fifth consecutive decision.

"They hit some good pitches today, so I had to battle a lot," he said. "But the boys played some good 'D,' so I was able to minimize [the scoring]."

The Giants' first four-game sweep of Colorado at home since July 17-20, 2003, gave them a 27-9 record against the Rockies since the start of last season, including 14-4 this year.

Following such a complete afternoon, Bochy felt no need to immerse himself further with the business at hand.

Asked if he planned on watching the Dodgers' game, he said, "No, I'm probably going to go to dinner, to be honest. I've seen enough baseball today."

Chris Haft is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.