Schmidt pitches Giants to division clincher


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- The San Francisco Giants have been the best
in the West since March 31 -- and now they're headed for October.

Jason Schmidt had 11 strikeouts in his 16th win, and Andres
Galarraga and Marquis Grissom each hit a two-run homer as the
Giants beat the San Diego Padres 8-3 Wednesday night to clinch the
NL West title and their third playoff berth in four seasons.

By taking first place on opening day and never letting go, the
defending NL champions became just the ninth wire-to-wire winner of
a division or pennant in baseball history.

"I'm happy that we get another shot at going all the way,"
said Barry Bonds, who silently pointed to the sky after the final
out. "I'm not surprised that we're here. We won because we have a
good team, but there's still more games to win to get where we want
to go."

The Giants' win coupled with the Los Angeles Dodgers' 2-0 loss
to Arizona gave San Francisco an insurmountable 13-game division
lead with less than two weeks to play -- including seven games
against the rival Dodgers.

The Giants have been ahead by at least 8½ games since mid-July,
but that didn't prevent a spirited celebration in the clubhouse.

"We knew we were going to be pretty good, but to do what we did
is amazing," general manager Brian Sabean said after getting a
champagne soaking. "We've proved to baseball we know what we're
doing, and we've overcome a huge number of obstacles along the way.
This is the sweet part, but we'll go right back to work."

After the final out, the players slapped high-fives as they
normally would following a victory. The team then displayed the
ninth inning of Los Angeles' game on the video board in center
field, and the crowd began chanting "Beat L.A.! Beat L.A.!"

Most of the players leaned on the dugout railing and watched the
Dodgers' game. When it ended, the Giants thrust their hands in the
air and joined in a huge group hug near the dugout steps.

In the clubhouse, players doused each other with champagne and
beer to celebrate the earliest playoff clinch in franchise history.
The festivities became increasingly raucous, with several players
apparently competing to douse everyone giving postgame interviews.

After a rocky beginning, Schmidt (16-5) mowed down the Padres
while getting his career-best 200th strikeout of the season. The
San Francisco ace allowed seven hits over seven innings in his
fourth straight victory.

"You know this is just the first step," Schmidt said. "We
know we can go further. We just have to show it."

The Giants have lost just seven of their 34 home games since the
All-Star break, and a chilled, non-sellout crowd enthusiastically
roared with each of Schmidt's strikeouts and his teammates' hits.

Mark Loretta homered for the Padres, who blew an early three-run
lead while losing their sixth straight. The Giants beat San Diego
for the 14th time in 18 meetings.

San Diego took a quick 3-0 lead on Loretta's first-inning homer,
followed by a two-run second featuring triples by Brian Buchanan
and Ramon Vazquez. Schmidt needed half the game to find his groove,
throwing two wild pitches and allowing four extra-base hits in the
first four innings.

Schmidt fanned rookie pitcher Mike Bynum to end the fourth for
his 200th strikeout. He threw 80 of his 103 pitches for strikes,
getting all 11 strikeouts in his final five innings.

The Giants rallied back on Galarraga's 397th career homer in the
second, followed by Grissom's two-run shot in the third.

Bynum (0-3) was chased after allowing back-to-back singles in
the fifth. Rich Aurilia followed with an RBI single -- and Bonds hit
two fearsome foul balls deep into McCovey Cove before driving in
another run with a ground single.

"That's a tough team to beat for a lot of reasons," Loretta
said. "They have very good pitching, starters and relievers, and
that lineup is dangerous, particularly with Barry being on base all
the time."

Bynum allowed seven hits and six runs in 4 2/3 innings,
remaining winless in three starts this season.

Galarraga, who desperately wants to reach 400 homers before
retiring, has been playing more than J.T. Snow at first base down
the stretch for San Francisco. The Big Cat's homer was his first
since Aug. 29.

Jose Cruz Jr. also drove in two runs for the Giants.

"It's really amazing to me that we had so many guys miss time
this season, and we never fell out of first place," Aurilia said.
"It really shows that our bench guys carried us all year. It's a
tremendous bench, and a tremendous team."

Game notes
The Giants shared first place for just six days all season.
The last three wire-to-wire division winners -- Baltimore in 1997,
Cleveland in 1998 and Seattle in 2001 -- failed to reach the World
Series, however. ... Padres C Humberto Quintero, recalled from
Double-A Mobile earlier in the month, drove in a run and picked
Grissom off first base in the first inning. ... Schmidt had his
13th career 10-strikeout game. He is the first San Francisco
pitcher to have 200 strikeouts in a season since John Montefusco
had 215 in 1975. Schmidt had 196 strikeouts last season.