SAN FRANCISCO – Sometimes you punch and fight your way through to the next round. Sometimes gravity just sucks you there.
The Giants needed a clutch performance to keep this NL Division Series from going back to Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and an anything-goes game at Nationals Park.
They got a bases-loaded walk. And an RBI ground out. A wild pitch plated a run. Another wild pitch – on an intentional ball four, of all things – came within inches of plating another.
The Giants might not tack their 3-2 victory Tuesday night onto the refrigerator door for long. But they will take it, all the way from Third and King to the Gateway Arch.
Ryan Vogelsong combined with four relievers to hold the Nationals to four hits, Hunter Pence bent the chain link in the No. 4 archway with a tremendous catch and the Giants survived to win Game 4 over the Nationals and advance to the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Santiago Casilla pitched around Bryce Harper in the ninth before getting Ramos to roll out, and the Giants remained undefeated in seven postseason series – plus a wild card knockout game – in the Bruce Bochy managerial era.
Starting pitching report
After his final regular-season start on Sept. 26, Vogelsong could not escape a sixth-inning jam against the Padres because of a broken-bat single and his lament was unsparing. “I just blew it,” he said.
He did not blow it this time. In five October starts, he never has.
Vogelsong used 11 days of rest, came out with a turbocharged fastball, and when his stuff lost some of its crackle in the fifth inning, he still found a way to make pitches.
Vogelsong hit 95 mph in the first inning – the first time he’s thrown that hard since October of 2012 – and began to mix his changeup and curve the second time through the order. He still had late life in the fourth, when he threw a 3-2 fastball that ran up and away to strike out Anthony Rendon, the Nats’ hottest hitter this postseason.
Ian Desmond broke up the no-hit bid with a single to start the fifth, though, and Harper stayed on an outside slider long enough to thread an RBI double down the third base line and cut the Giants’ lead to 2-1. Vogelsong got two contact outs and then got ahead 1-2 on pinch hitter Nate Schierholtz, but then missed with three consecutive pitches – a fastball, a curve and a changeup.
A mound visit followed from Dave Righetti, and with Yusmeiro Petit warming up in the bullpen, Vogelsong was allowed to face Denard Span. He got the leadoff man to roll over a 2-2 curveball to escape the inning and hang onto the lead.
Bruce Bochy stayed with Vogelsong for two more batters despite obviously declining stuff, and the Giants lucked out. Rendon hit a hard lineout to Pence, and then Werth, who had one hit all series, crushed a ball to the right field wall. Pence timed his jump, caught the ball as it was about to hit the pad and his back crashed into the chain link fence in the No. 4 archway.
Vogelsong raised his fist. Just like in Game 3 of the 2012 NLDS at Cincinnati, Pence supported Vogelsong with the play of the night. And there was no way Bochy was going to gamble any further.
Vogelsong held the Nationals to a run on two hits and two walks while striking out four in 5 1/3 innings. He threw 49 of 81 pitches for strikes. His career postseason ERA actually went up, to 1.20.
Javier Lopez retired Adam LaRoche to end the sixth and Bochy called upon Hunter Strickland to protect a 2-1 lead in the seventh.
Harper turned on a 3-1 fastball and stood in the box to track its flight as it stayed barely fair, splashing down between two watercraft in McCovey Cove. It was a tying shot, it was his third home run of the series, and he and Strickland exchanged some glares as he made his way around the bases.
But Strickland pitched around a single to escape the inning, and after the Giants went ahead in the bottom of the seventh on a wild pitch, Sergio Romo got three fly outs from Span, Rendon and Werth.
Casilla got two quick outs but pitched carefully while walking Harper on a 3-2 pitch. Wilson Ramos was a more appealing target, he grounded to Panik at second base, and the Giants raced onto the field.
At the plate
The Giants did not seize opportunities to score as much as they fell backwards into them.
A lineup that struggled all season against left-handed pitching put pressure on lefty Gio Gonzalez, collecting four hits the first time through the order. But they needed an error, a bunt single, a bases-loaded walk and an RBI ground out to take a 2-0 lead in the second inning.
Brandon Crawford hit a one-out single and Juan Perez followed with a topspin dribbler that had so much English that it took a pinball bounce off Gonzalez’s glove for an error. Vogelsong followed with a perfect bunt up the third base line, and for some reason, Anthony Rendon wasn’t crashing home on the play. Rendon and Gonzalez both held up in a fit of miscommunication, Vogelsong had himself a single and the bases were loaded.
Gregor Blanco walked to put the Giants ahead and Joe Panik put an 0-2 pitch in play, grounding out to first base as Perez scored.
The Giants had a chance to put the game away in the fifth inning against right-hander Tanner Roark when they loaded the bases with one out on two singles and a bad decision by LaRoche. The first baseman fielded Pence’s grounder and threw home when Blanco wasn’t running off of third base. Everyone was safe, but Pablo Sandoval popped up and Brandon Belt struck out against left-hander Jerry Blevins.
The Nationals just kept giving the Giants chances, though. With the score tied in the seventh, Panik and Posey hit consecutive one-out singles, and Aaron Barrett walked Hunter Pence on seven pitches to load the bases. Then he yanked a 1-1 pitch to Sandoval that splashed in the dirt and got past catcher Wilson Ramos’s backhanded stab.
Panik raced home with the go-ahead run, and the inning got weirder. The Nats decided to intentionally walk Sandoval with a 3-1 count, but Barrett floated his wide toss way over Ramos’s head and Posey tried to dash home.
Ramos recovered quickly and Barrett dropped a knee in front of the plate as he received the throw. Posey arrived almost simultaneously and was called out. A replay review did not change the call, and Rule 7.13 – the catcher collision rule, which also applies to pitchers covering the plate – did not come into play.
The No. 4 archway will forever be known for Pence’s daring.
The Giants didn’t immediately announce the attendance.
For the second time in three years, the Giants will play the St. Louis Cardinals for the NL pennant. It’s anticipated to be Madison Bumgarner vs. right-hander Adam Wainwright in Game 1 Saturday at Busch Stadium. First pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m. PDT.