SAN FRANCISCO -- The whole show is down to one week, two teams and 1 1/2 games. The San Francisco Giants get the very real sense that losing a game would be disastrous, so they evidently have made an executive decision prohibiting it.
They have won nine of their past 10, they have two 20-game winners, and their MVP candidate is doing an unmistakable impression of an MVP lock. Still, the only thing that matters is winning today so they can win again tomorrow.
Bill Swift joined John Burkett in the exalted heights of the 20-game winners yesterday, and he did it with another clean, almost antiseptic performance. Swift was efficient to a fault in the Giants' 5-2 win over the San Diego Padres, who really don't need that kind of torture.
The Atlanta Braves won, of course. In fact, the Braves' 7-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies was staring down at the Giants from the early innings yesterday. It didn't matter, though, because this is all part of the master plan.
"We've got seven to go, and I don't see any reason why we can't win all seven," Giants manager Dusty Baker said. "This is what we wanted to do. We wanted to pick up a game when the Braves played Montreal, which we did. We wanted to pick up another game when they played Philadelphia, which we did. You pick up the script from there."
The Giants have the stage to themselves today, while the Braves go home and think about the flimsy nature of a 1 1/2 -game lead. At least that's what the Giants hope they do.
"I think they know we're playing good," Swift said. "I'm sure they're watching."
As Baker said: "We've just got to play every day as if it's the last day."
In some ways, it is. Every day is both the first day and the last day. Alpha, omega and whatever comes in between.
"We can't afford to lose," Swift said. "We need to win and put the pressure on them."
The tender of the pressure valve appears to be Barry Bonds, who is out of control again.
He had a two-run homer in the fourth inning, when Padres starter Doug Brocail thought a hanging breaking ball would be just the ticket. Bonds took seven baby steps toward first before getting on with the completion of his 44th homer.
He had three RBI, and the numbers for the past 10 games look like this: .429 (15-for-35), four homers, 11 RBI, a .943 slugging percentage. For the season: .342, 44 homers, 114 RBI, 122 runs scored.
"You talk about MVPs down the stretch, and Barry's showing he's the MVP of the league," Baker said, dismissing the Lenny Dykstra contingent.
Swift is 20-8 with an ERA (2.87) that has fallen at a screaming pace, and he has one start remaining. He and Burkett are the team's first dual 20-game winners since 1966, when Gaylord Perry and Juan Marichal did it.
Swift gave up a run in the first inning, then settled in and got rid of the Padres as quickly as humanly possible for the next seven innings.
In fact, maybe too quickly. It was the conclusion of Fan Appreciation Weekend at Candlestick Park, and Swift didn't give them enough time to be appreciated. By the time Rod Beck came in to pitch the ninth, they were giving away gifts at a furious pace, with free dinners and weekend getaways and crock pots flying across the message board.
"It's important that John [Burkett] and I came back to pitch well," Swift said. "It's going to be a big race down the stretch, and it's good we're both back on track."
Swift is pitching with three days of rest, after 225 innings, and still he's getting stronger. There used to be no end to the questions about his arm, and now he has completely reversed the aging process.
On the serious side, Swift had one regret: His father, Herb, died during this past off-season.
"I wish my dad had been around to see it," he said. "The only thing that bothers me is to have this kind of year and not have him around. It would be nice to call him right now."