Giants take down Nationals to return to NLCS

Joe Panik scored the go-ahead run in the seventh inning on Aaron Barrett’s bases-loaded wild pitch, and the San Francisco Giants beat the Washington Nationals 3-2 Tuesday night to return to the NL Championship Series. The wild-card Giants won 3-1 in the best-of-five Division Series by also scoring on a walk and a groundout. Hunter Pence turned in a defensive gem in right field that helped to hold the Nationals at bay.

Joe Panik scored the go-ahead run in the seventh inning on Aaron Barrett’s bases-loaded wild pitch, and the San Francisco Giants beat the Washington Nationals 3-2 Tuesday night to return to the NL Championship Series.

The wild-card Giants won 3-1 in the best-of-five Division Series by also scoring on a walk and a groundout. Hunter Pence turned in a defensive gem in right field that helped to hold the Nationals at bay.

Santiago Casilla put the potential tying run aboard in the ninth on a two-out walk to Bryce Harper, then retired Wilson Ramos on a grounder to end it. Casilla was mobbed on the mound as fireworks shot off from the centre-field scoreboard.

San Francisco travels to St. Louis for Game 1 on Saturday. It’s a rematch of the 2012 NLCS, when the Giants rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Cardinals on the way to their second World Series championship in three years.

Harper splashed a tying home run into McCovey Cove in the seventh, but Washington’s season ended with a third straight one-run defeat, including that excruciating 2-1 loss in 18 innings Saturday in Game 2.

The Nationals never got on track offensively, lacking the power that carried them to an NL East title and the best record in the league at 96-66.

After his wild pitch snapped a 2-all tie, Barrett got set to intentionally walk Pablo Sandoval. But the right-hander sailed a toss way over the head of Ramos, who quickly retrieved the ball near the backstop. Ramos threw to Barrett covering the plate, where he tagged out a sliding Buster Posey. The call was upheld after a replay review of 1 minute, 57 seconds, denying San Francisco an insurance run.

Just like a night earlier when Giants ace Madison Bumgarner’s one miscue cost his team the game, Barrett blew it this time.

San Francisco hit consecutive one-out singles against Barrett in the seventh, and then Pence walked to load the bases for Sandoval.

Pence produced the play of the night when he slammed his back into an archway on the right-field wall to rob Jayson Werth of extra bases in the sixth. Fans enjoying the game from the outside portwalk witnessed the catch from just behind Pence and broke into frenzied cheers.

The very next inning, Pence could only watch as Harper hit a towering drive over the right-field arcade and between two boats among a large group of kayakers in the cove. It was the 104th splash homer at 15-year-old AT&T Park and third in the post-season.

Rick Ankiel did it for the Braves in the 2010 NLDS.

Hunter Strickland, the rookie reliever who gave up Harper’s solo home run to the third deck in the seventh inning of Game 1 and then later said he would challenge the slugger again if given the chance, got his opportunity in the seventh and paid for it.

Still, Strickland did enough to earn his first post-season victory. Sergio Romo pitched a perfect eighth and Casilla closed it out before the celebration began.

Harper crushed a 3-1 pitch from Strickland, then appeared to give the pitcher a look as he rounded the bases before shouting out toward the field from the dugout.

San Francisco fans cheered when the rival Dodgers were eliminated by St. Louis at Busch Stadium earlier Tuesday, putting the Cardinals in their fourth straight NLCS. They went crazy once their Giants clinched another chance to play for the pennant, and the city is counting on the Giants’ every-other-year trend of winning it all. San Francisco won the World Series in 2010 and again 2012.

Washington rookie manager Matt Williams, groomed in the Giants’ system as a player, and his stunned players head home to the nation’s capital after a much quicker exit than they envisioned.

Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong didn’t allow a hit until Ian Desmond’s leadoff single in the fifth, the Nationals’ second baserunner. Harper followed with a sharp double down the left-field line to put Washington on the board.

Winless in September, Vogelsong returned to his top post-season form. Pitching for the first time since Sept. 26 after going 0-4 in five September outings, Vogelsong allowed two hits in 5 2-3 solid innings.

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