Giants, Braves clinch last berths

DAVE POLLARD, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:14 PM ET

The muddy National League playoff picture finally cleared up Sunday after the last regular-season pitch was thrown.

The San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves are going to the post-season, the San Diego Padres are going home.

The Giants clinched the NL West with a 3-0 win over the Padres Sunday evening, just hours after the Braves sewed up the NL wild card with an 8-7 decision over the NL East-champion Philadelphia Phillies in Atlanta.

The Phillies and Central Division pennant winners, the Cincinnati Reds, had already clinched playoff berths but everything else was completely up in the air heading into Sunday's games.

And it could have gotten chaotic. Or, at least, taken a couple of days longer to decide the final participants.

If the Braves and Padres had both won their regular-season finales, two playoff games would have been needed to sort everything out.

Instead, the Padres made everything easy by bowing out meekly -- San Diego managed just four hits off six San Francisco pitchers -- and the Giants moved into the post-season for the first time in six years. Brian Wilson's strikeout of Will Venable to end the game got the party started.

"We nailed it," Giants outfielder Pat Burrell said. "It was looking like it was heading the wrong way. Our guys toughed it out."

The Braves, meanwhile, jumped out to an 8-2 lead but watched as the Phillies clawed back into the game. Philly scored three times in the eighth before Billy Wagner struck out the side to send the Braves to the playoffs for the first time since 2005.

"We just never quit," Wagner told the Atlanta Jopurnal-Constitution. "Every time it looks like we're going down and we shouldn't be where we're at, it seems that we fight back and find a way and just continue to battle.

"You look at who we've got on that team, there's not a lot of people that are going to go, 'Oh, they can compete with some of these teams.' But we've done it all year long. We've proven that we deserve to be in the playoffs."

In the American League, there was a different kind of drama.

The four playoff teams had already been confirmed -- Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers had playoff berths in hand -- but the AL East champ wasn't determined until the Yankees lost to the hatred Boston Red Sox 8-4 Sunday afternoon, giving the pennant to the Rays for the second time in the last three years and dropping the defending World Series champs into the wild card spot.

What it all means for the playoff picture is this:

In the ALDS, Texas will play Tampa and New York will take on Minnesota. Both series get under way Wednesday. The Rays and Twins will have hold-field advantage in the best-of-five series.

Philadelphia will host the Reds in the first two games of the NLDS starting Wednesday. It is just the second time the two teams have met in the playoffs.

In the other NL series, Francisco will stay at home to play the Braves in their first two games, beginning Thursday.


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