SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Padres clinched the mild, mild NL West at .500, then partied like they were 1.000.
The Padres won the fourth division title in their 37-year history on Wednesday night, beating the San Francisco Giants 9-1 to return to the postseason for the first time since being swept by the New York Yankees in the 1998 World Series.
"There's not a greater feeling," said Bruce Bochy, who's managed the Padres to three division crowns in 10 seasons. "This team's been pushed. These guys responded. It's been a bumpy road, but I couldn't be prouder of these guys."
Trevor Hoffman, the only player who's been with the Padres continuously since 1998, pitched the ninth in a non-save situation. Hoffman earned saves when the Padres clinched in 1996 and '98.
When pinch-hitter Pedro Feliz hit a game-ending flyout to right field, the Padres mobbed their veteran closer.
"It's been seven long years," Hoffman said. "Take a look around -- I don't think anybody cares about our record. Regardless of what our record was, these guys played like it was playoff baseball. So hopefully we're gaining momentum."
The Padres drenched each other with champagne in the clubhouse. When that ran out, they used beer.
They carried the party to the fans, too. Ace Jake Peavy jumped onto the home dugout, sprayed fans with champagne and gave them high-fives. He was joined by Adam Eaton, and Hoffman sprayed fans from the top step of the dugout.
Now the Padres (79-79) need to win three of their last four games to finish above .500 for just the 11th time in their history. Since 1969, and excluding strike years, the 1973 New York Mets own the lowest winning percentage of a division champion by going 82-79 (.509) to win the NL East.
"It is strange to see a team play .500 and get into the playoffs, but in this division, they are the best team," Giants shortstop Omar Vizquel said. "They played the best baseball and were able to hold onto the lead."
San Diego's postseason drought included five straight losing seasons from 1999-2003 and an 87-75 finish last year, when the Padres were five games behind the wild-card winning Astros.
Winning the title in baseball's worst division was a drawn-out, painful process for the Padres. They went 22-6 in May to set a franchise record for wins in a month, and were 33-19 on May 31. They immediately began to struggle and are 46-60 since June 1.
Like their rivals, the Padres were affected by injuries. Regulars Khalil Greene, Ramon Hernandez, Dave Roberts and Loretta all spent time on the disabled list, as did starting pitchers Adam Eaton, Woody Williams and Astacio.
Their offense was inconsistent and lacked power. First baseman Phil Nevin slumped, was benched and then traded to Texas, and fellow slugger Ryan Klesko has struggled. Klesko leads the Padres with just 18 homers.
Astacio (4-2) left to a standing ovation after allowing Ray Durham's double and Edgardo Alfonzo's single to open the seventh. Pinch-hitter Lance Niekro hit a sacrifice fly off Rudy Seanez. Astacio struck out three and walked one in winning his fourth straight decision.
The right-hander was released by Texas on June 21 and signed by San Diego as a minor league free agent on June 30.
"They are a real good ballclub," Giants manager Felipe Alou said. "I believe their pitching is good enough to carry them."
Barry Bonds went 2-for-3, both singles.
Fittingly, the Padres beat injured San Francisco ace Jason Schmidt, who pitched in the last-gasp effort for the second-place Giants (74-84) despite being slowed most of September by a strained right groin.
Schmidt (12-7), who missed a start on Friday, lasted four innings, allowing four runs and six hits.
Johnson tripled leading off the second and scored on Loretta's sacrifice fly, and Greene scored on Joe Randa's sacrifice fly in the third. Giles tripled leading off the fifth and came in on Sweeney's sacrifice fly. Greene doubled in Johnson in the sixth.
- The clincher drew 33,992 at 42,500-seat Petco Park.
- Roberts, sidelined by a strained quadriceps, could be back Friday.
- Lance Armstrong, in town for an appearance with his Tour of Hope team, was given a Padres No. 7 jersey during a pregame ceremony in honor of his seven straight Tour de France victories.
- The Padres played 1,142 games between clinching the NL West flags in 1998 and 2005, going 528-614.