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Giants beat Nationals 3-2 in Game 4 and advance to NLCS ... with help from wild pitch

The Giants entered Tuesday's NLDS Game 4 looking finish off the Nationals at home and avoid a return trip to Washington.

The Nationals, however, owned the pitching advantage on paper in this game, with Gio Gonzalez (4-1, 2.36 ERA in his last seven regular season starts) taking on Ryan Vogelsong, who scuffled through September with a 5.53 ERA. If the Nationals could force a Game 5, they would have Jordan Zimmermann or Stephen Strasburg waiting in the wings. 

The Highlights
The atmosphere was electric at a jam-packed AT&T Park, Giants fans hoping to will their team to the NLCS. 

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The Giants opened the scoring in the second inning with help from some Nationals miscues. Gonzalez could not handle a comebacker off the bat of Juan Perez, putting runners at first and second. The following batter, Vogelsong, laid down a bunt between Gonzalez and third baseman Anthony Rendon and neither could field it, loading the bases. Gonzalez walked Gregor Blanco on four pitches and Joe Panik added an RBI groundout to give the Giants an early 2-0 advantage.

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Vogelsong mostly kept the Nationals off the board, allowing two hits and one run in 5 2/3 innings.

That one run came off the bat of Bryce Harper, who laced this double down the line to make it a 2-1 game. 

Vogelsong got some help with this remarkable catch by Hunter Pence, which robbed Jayson Werth of extra bases in the sixth.

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The Nationals, however, would not go quietly. Harper came up again and while this game-tying blast into McCovey Cove was a lot of things, quiet was not one of them.

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Harper was not holding back on those high fives either.

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With the bases loaded in the seventh, Nationals rookie Aaron Barrett skipped his 2-1 offering to Pablo Sandoval in the dirt for a wild pitch, allowing Panik to score and giving the Giants a 3-2 lead. 

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Barrett was ordered to issue an intentional walk to the next batter but sailed the following pitch to the backstop. Wilson Ramos was able to make a quick recovery and throw to Barrett covering home plate, just beating the sliding Buster Posey. 

Maybe they drew this play up in Spring Training?

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The Giants called on closer Santiago Casilla in the ninth inning and he retired the first two batters with ease before Harper worked a walk. Casilla forced Ramos to ground out to second base and the celebration started in San Francisco

The Game Changer

Despite three players having multiple-hit games, all the Giants runs came without a hit driving them in. The Giants' winning run may have been the hardest for Nationals fans to stomach.

Washington ace Stephen Strasburg and relievers Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen never made it into the game, all three sitting on the sidelines when Barrett's wild pitch let Panik score. 

Other Key Players/Plays

The Nationals struggled to find offense outside of Harper, who had an impressive series.

Outside of Harper, Ramos and Ian Desmond, who combined to hit 4-for-11 with a walk at the heart of the order in Game 4, the rest of the Nationals team went 0-for-20 with two walks. You're not going to be able to score many runs when no one is on base.     

And credit must be given to the Giants relievers. After Vogelsong exited with two outs in the sixth, the group combined for 3 1/3 innings of work, giving up only two hits and one run. 

What's Next
Feel like you've seen this movie before? The Cardinals and the Giants will meet again in the National League Championship Series in a rematch from 2012. For the fifth straight season (Giants 2010 and '12, Cardinals '11 and '13) one of these teams will represent the NL in the World Series. Game 1 begins Saturday night in St. Louis at 8 pm EST. 

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