Sometimes, it can be pure torture to be a fan of San Francisco sports. At other times, it can be pure euphoria.
Sunday brought a little bit of both.
In what can be described as a roller-coaster of emotions for San Francisco sports fans, the 49ers lost a heartbreaker against the Atlanta Falcons, 16-14, in the Georgia Dome. Later in the day, however, the Giants beat their NL West rival San Diego Padres, 3-0, to win the division title, and clinch their first playoff berth since 2003.
It all started on Sunday morning, with the 49ers, at 0-3, facing the Falcons, at 2-1, on the road. It was an important game for the Niners, for the sole reason that they needed a win. Much like in Week 2 when San Francisco faced off against the Saints on Monday Night Football, no one really gave the Niners a chance to keep it close against a Falcons team that beat those same Saints the week before.
Despite the odds and the expectations, the 49ers bolted to a 14-0 lead, with a TD strike to TE Vernon Davis, and an amazing blocked punt recovery in the end zone by SS Taylor Mays. All the while, the Falcons couldn’t get their offense together, failing to score until the second quarter. The 49ers held Atlanta to two field goals up until the final two minutes of the game, clinging to a slim 14-13 lead. When CB Nate Clements picked off Atlanta QB Matt Ryan at midfield with 1:31 left, it seemed that San Francisco was about to pull off a major upset to get their first win of the season … until Clements was stripped by WR Roddy White as he made a mad dash for the end zone. Atlanta recovered at the 7-yard line, and proceeded to march down the field, K Matt Bryant hitting the game-winning field goal with 3 seconds left. The hearts of many San Francisco sports fans were broken, witnessing a last-second defeat for the second time in three weeks.
While most optimistic fans could hang their hats on taking the Falcons, contenders in the NFC, down to the wire, holding the lead for the entire game (until the final 3 seconds, of course), things still looked bleak for the 49ers. The offense never threatened to score after their first touchdown – again, the only other score coming off a brilliant special-teams play by Mays – outgained in total yards by the Falcons offense, 357-262. That means that, after an 88-yard opening drive to score their first touchdown, the stagnant 49ers offense gained a mere 174 yards the rest of the game. Not to mention the three fumbles and two interceptions the offense committed, and that final gaffe by Clements (why he didn’t fall to the ground after the INT is beyond me), there isn’t much hope for the preseason division favorite to get to .500, let alone win the NFC West.
But, as depressing as the 49ers loss was at the Georgia Dome, elation was about to erupt 2,500 miles away, at AT&T Park.
Having lost their first two games against division rival San Diego, the San Francisco Giants needed to win the last game of the regular season on Sunday, not only to win the NL West for the first time since 2003, but to avoid a one-game tiebreaker with San Diego the following day. SP Jonathan Sanchez attempted to do what Matt Cain and Barry Zito failed to do: keep the Padres offense in check – at least enough to win. And, after the 49ers’ loss in Atlanta, San Francisco sports fans could have used some good news.
Sanchez – an up-and-down pitcher for the entire season, most known for the no-hitter he pitched in 2009 – threw a brilliant 5.0 innings of 3-hit ball, allowing zero runs. He even added to his own cause at the plate, hitting a game-changing triple in the 3rd inning. 2B Freddie Sanchez had an RBI single to bring in Jonathan Sanchez, igniting the crowd to a 1-0 lead. A double by 1B Aubrey Huff knocked in Freddie Sanchez later in the inning, making the score 2-0. Later, C Buster Posey boomed a 385-foot home run, padding their lead for the bullpen.
The AT&T Park crowd was on its feet in the final inning, as closer and “bearded wonder” Brian Wilson came in for the save. After getting PH Luis Durango and 3B Chase Headley to ground out, CF Will Venable pinch hit for P Mat Latos, representing the Padres’ last chance. Wilson gunned him down swinging on 5 pitches, clinching the Giants’ NL West championship.
The Giants, despite their troubles against the rival Padres, have played themselves into the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons with strong, consistent pitching and the steadiest offense they have had in years. Led by a rejuvenated Aubrey Huff, who led the team in all offensive categories, the Giants have found hitting in the likes of Rookie of the Year candidate Buster Posey, a resurgent “Kung Fu Panda” Pablo Sandoval, and timely-hitting CF Andres Torres.
The pitching staff has also found its bearings, including struggling Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum. In the month of September, the pitching staff went 18-8, allowing a staggering 1.78 ERA. Many analysts have said that the Giants pitching staff, consisting of Lincecum, Matt Cain, Barry Zito, Jonathan Sanchez and Brian Bumgarner, is possibly the most fearsome staff to face in the league, besides that of the defending NL Champion Philadelphia Phillies. Closer Brian Wilson, notorious lately for his recent nearly-insane interview with Jim Rome, thick beard grown for the Giants’ playoff run, and wicked fastball, leads the major leagues with 48 saves.
As Venable whiffed at Wilson’s last pitch, the stadium exploded in thunderous cheers. The population of San Francisco sports fans, having experienced a huge letdown not 4 hours before, was in jubilation. The champagne flowed in the Giants’ clubhouse, and the celebrations lasted well into the evening in San Francisco.
While the 49ers wallow with an 0-4 record and little answers on offense, the Giants prepare for a date with the Braves on Thursday.
Such is the juxtaposition of being a San Francisco sports fan.