DENVER -- The most important games on the Giants schedule are still to come.
The most dangerous games were the three they just survived.
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That's not to say that the Giants have won anything yet. It's just to say that this was the weekend they could have lost a whole season.
They survived Coors Field. They survived the Rockies. They survived CarGo and Tulo, who seem to come to the plate every single inning, the same way it once seemed that Barry Bonds batted every inning for the Giants, the same way it seems that Albert Pujols bats every inning for the Cardinals.
"Oh my gosh," rookie catcher Buster Posey said, after Sunday's 4-2 win. "I think I dread every time they come up."
Sure enough, there they were in the ninth inning Sunday, with the Giants and Matt Cain holding dearly to the two-run lead that would send them home in first place, to await the final six games of the season. There they were, Carlos Gonzalez (the league's leading hitter) and Troy Tulowitzki (perhaps the league's leading clutch hitter), standing between a weekend that the Giants remember fondly and one that they would hope not to regret.
|The Giants keep sizzling Troy Tulowitzki in check when it matters most Sunday. (AP)|
Gonzalez reached base with a one-out single, bringing Tulowitzki to the plate as the tying run. The Rockies shortstop had already delivered the game-tying hit and the game-winning hit Saturday night, and he's the first major-leaguer with 15 homers and 40 RBI in September since Babe Ruth.
"We had the right guy on the mound," manager Bruce Bochy said.
That would be Cain, who has pitched in Tim Lincecum's shadow for the last three years, but has actually out-pitched the two-time Cy Young winner for most of this year. And while he didn't match Lincecum's eight-inning, two-hit effort of Friday night, in some ways Cain bettered it with a three-hit complete game Sunday.
He had a perfect game through four, ended when he bounced a throw to first base. He had a no-hitter through 7 1/3, ended when Jay Payton beat out a hit on a roller to shortstop (and a better defender than Juan Uribe no doubt would have turned it into an out).
He had a shutout through 7 2/3, until Melvin Mora sent a ball into the trees in center field. And Gonzalez and Tulowitzki were 0 for 6 against him, until that Gonzalez single in the ninth.
Cain made his pitch (a slider that Tulowitzki popped up), just as he basically made his pitches all day. Then he froze Jason Giambi with a 1-2 curveball, and the Giants had their win.
They had their two wins in three games at Coors Field, their first series win in Colorado since May 2008. Cain didn't pitch a perfect game, but the Giants had basically a perfect day, with the Braves and Padres both losing.
They go home in first place, half a game ahead of the Padres in the National League West, with a one-game cushion over the Braves should they need to get into the playoffs via the wild card.
The Rockies, now 4½ games behind the Giants (and four games behind in the wild-card race) with seven games on their schedule, are basically done.
The Giants put the Rockies behind them. They put Coors Field behind them.
"This is as tough a park to win in as any park in baseball," Bochy said. "To get two wins, you take it."
They take it, and they move on to the most important week of baseball that most of these players have ever faced.
The Giants haven't been in the playoffs since 2003, long enough ago that no one who played then is still on the team. Of the nine guys who started for the Giants on Sunday, only Pat Burrell (with the 2008 Phillies), Jose Guillen (with the 2003 A's) and Uribe (with the 2005 and 2008 White Sox) have been to the postseason.
Bochy talked this weekend about how well his young players have handled the pennant race, and it's true that the Giants seem focused without seeming nervous.
"I'm very impressed," Bochy said. "They're into it. They're enjoying it. They're having fun with it."
And, just as importantly, they're performing at their best in it.
Lincecum is having a great month. Cain had a 20-inning scoreless streak before he allowed Mora's home run. And Posey, the 23-year-old rookie who didn't take over the full-time job behind the plate until the Giants traded Bengie Molina at midseason, has six home runs and 12 RBI this month while continuing to earn the respect of his pitchers.
"I think I shook him off once, and I almost kicked myself for it," Cain said.
Of course, the way Cain was throwing Sunday, calling pitches for him wasn't all that difficult.
"If I wanted the ball down, it was down," Posey said. "If I wanted it up, it was up. That's fun."
It turned out to be a fun weekend for the Giants, despite the mess with the juiced balls and the Rockies' comeback win Saturday night.
They came to Coors Field with a half-game lead in the division. They left Coors Field with a half-game lead in the division.
They survived the most dangerous part of the schedule.
And now it's on to the most important part.