Down to the wire: Giants top Padres to win NL West

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A half-dozen Giants players gathered around general manager Brian Sabean, pinned him in a clubhouse corner and doused him in beer and champagne.

San Francisco has Sabean to thank for all the creative retooling he did to his roster throughout this season — some of it risky — to make the Giants a playoff team again.

Jonathan Sanchez pitched the Giants back into the postseason after a six-year absence and also provided a clutch hit, beating the San Diego Padres 3-0 on Sunday to win the NL West.

"I told myself, 'This is my last start and I'm going to win this game,'" Sanchez said.

Buster Posey homered and the Giants got it done — on their third try against the Padres this weekend — to capture their first division crown and playoff berth since 2003.

San Francisco will host the wild card-winning Atlanta Braves starting Thursday at AT&T Park, with ace Tim Lincecum well rested for Game 1. The Braves beat the Phillies 8-7 earlier in the day, extending manager Bobby Cox's farewell season.

Giants first baseman Aubrey Huff and second baseman Freddy Sanchez are a pair of playoff first-timers, 20 years in the majors between them.

"Words can't describe it," Freddy Sanchez said. "This is what I've played for ever since I was a little kid."

Two NL playoff races came down to Game No. 162.

San Diego missed a chance to force a Monday playoff with the Giants at Petco Park to decide the NL West winner. The loser of that game would have flown to Atlanta to determine the wild card had there been a three-way tie.

After mobbing each other on the mound, the Giants took a victory lap along the outfield warning track, slapping hands with fans leaning over the fence. Manager Bruce Bochy brought up the rear of the lap, repeatedly tipping his cap and waving.

"It's a group that coalesced into a team that wants to get there," Bochy said.

The pitching-rich Padres head home for a longer winter than they wanted knowing they blew quite an opportunity. San Diego led the division by 6½ games before a 10-game losing streak from Aug. 26 to Sept. 5.

But manager Bud Black's team had trouble scoring all season, and that was its undoing at the end. The Padres managed only four hits Sunday and were shut out for the 12th time.

"Anyone who goes through this has a good sense of what's going on," Black said. "Reality sets in and you know we didn't make it. But we still had a great season."

Sanchez (13-9) pitched into the sixth inning and gave up three hits while walking five. He contributed with his bat, too, hitting a triple off rookie Mat Latos (14-10) and scoring the game's first run in the third inning.

The Giants head back into the postseason a decidedly different team than when they last made it. Led by Barry Bonds, they lost in four games to Florida in the 2003 NL division series, a year after falling six outs shy of a World Series title and losing to the Angels in seven games.

"Versus the past, when we lived and died with one superstar player, there aren't any superstars on this team. There might be a couple rising stars," Sabean said. "Our organization is built on pitching. It's old-school baseball. We've been marching toward this for a while, including holding onto (Jonathan) Sanchez."

Nearly two months after he guaranteed a three-game sweep of the Padres only to see San Francisco drop two of three, the left-handed Sanchez was the Giants' most reliable pitcher down the stretch. He went 4-1 with a 1.03 ERA over his last seven outings — in July 2009, he threw a no-hitter against the visiting Padres.

Wilson finished it for his majors-best 48th save in 53 chances. He became the first Giants reliever since the save became an official statistic in 1969 to lead the majors. Wilson also matched Rod Beck for the San Francisco single-season record.

San Francisco's bullpen went its final six games and 24 innings without an earned run.

The Padres lost for only the second time in nine games at AT&T Park this season. They went 12-6 against the Giants overall, winning the first eight meetings.

"We beat them 12 of 18 and that means they played seven games better against the rest of the league," Gonzalez said. "They beat other teams and we didn't."