Giants top Nationals 3-2, return to NLCS vs. Cards

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Giants top Nationals 3-2, return to NLCS vs. Cards
San Francisco Giants Hunter Pence singles in the first inning against the Washington Nationals during Game 4 of baseball's NL Division Series in San Francisco, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 07: Hunter Pence #8 of the San Francisco Giants catches a ball hit by Jayson Werth #28 of the Washington Nationals for an out in the sixth inning during Game Four of the National League Division Series at AT&T Park on October 7, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
San Francisco Giants pitcher Ryan Vogelsong delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Washington Nationals during Game 4 of baseball's NL Division Series in San Francisco, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Ezra Shaw, Pool)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 07: Buster Posey #28 of the San Francisco Giants is out at home plate by Aaron Barrett #30 of the Washington Nationals in the seventh inning during Game Four of the National League Division Series at AT&T Park on October 7, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 07: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals hits a solo home run in the seventh inning against the San Francisco Giants during Game Four of the National League Division Series at AT&T Park on October 7, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 07: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals watches his solo home run in the seventh inning against the San Francisco Giants during Game Four of the National League Division Series at AT&T Park on October 7, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 07: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals celebrates his solo home run in the seventh inning against the San Francisco Giants during Game Four of the National League Division Series at AT&T Park on October 7, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 07: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals celebrates as he rounds the bases on his solo home run in the seventh inning against the San Francisco Giants during Game Four of the National League Division Series at AT&T Park on October 7, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 07: Sergio Romo #54 of the San Francisco Giants pitches in the eighth inning against the Washington Nationals during Game Four of the National League Division Series at AT&T Park on October 7, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 07: Sergio Romo #54 of the San Francisco Giants pitches in the eighth inning against the Washington Nationals during Game Four of the National League Division Series at AT&T Park on October 7, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 07: Buster Posey #28 of the San Francisco Giants ihts a single in the seventh inning against the Washington Nationals during Game Four of the National League Division Series at AT&T Park on October 7, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 07: Buster Posey #28 of the San Francisco Giants ihts a single in the seventh inning against the Washington Nationals during Game Four of the National League Division Series at AT&T Park on October 7, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 07: Buster Posey #28 of the San Francisco Giants ihts a single in the seventh inning against the Washington Nationals during Game Four of the National League Division Series at AT&T Park on October 7, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 07: Buster Posey #28 of the San Francisco Giants is out at home plate by Aaron Barrett #30 of the Washington Nationals in the seventh inning during Game Four of the National League Division Series at AT&T Park on October 7, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 07: Pablo Sandoval #48 of the San Francisco Giants looks on as Wilson Ramos #40 of the Washington Nationals tries to recover a wild pitch that scored Joe Panik #12 of the San Francisco Giants in the seventh inning during Game Four of the National League Division Series at AT&T Park on October 7, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 07: Hunter Pence #8 of the San Francisco Giants catches a ball hit by Jayson Werth #28 of the Washington Nationals for an out in the sixth inning during Game Four of the National League Division Series at AT&T Park on October 7, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Fans mark San Francisco Giants pitcher Ryan Vogelsong fourth strike out of the game in the fourth inning against the Washington Nationals during Game 4 of baseball's NL Division Series in San Francisco, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
San Francisco Giants Gregor Blanco cheers after he was walked to score a run in the second inning during Game 4 of baseball's NL Division Series against the Washington Nationals in San Francisco, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
San Francisco Giants' Pablo Sandoval stands in the on deck circle during the third inning of Game 4 of baseball's NL Division Series against the Washington Nationals in San Francisco, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
A full moon rises in the third inning during Game 4 of baseball's NL Division Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Washington Nationals in San Francisco, Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- 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 center-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 postseason.

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 postseason 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.

Pinch-hitter Nate Schierholtz walked two outs later and Vogelsong received a mound visit from pitching coach Dave Righetti before retiring Denard Span.

Winless in September, Vogelsong returned to his top postseason 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.

The 37-year-old journeyman has not allowed more than one earned run in five postseason starts, winning Games 2 and 6 of the 2012 NLCS and Game 3 in a World Series sweep of the Tigers.

Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez found several ways to hurt his own cause in the second. The Giants loaded the bases after Brandon Crawford's one-out single before Gonzalez misplayed Juan Perez's slow dribbler for an error. Vogelsong beat out a bunt single that went untouched and then Blanco drew a four-pitch walk to force home the first run.

Sandoval's 14-game postseason hitting streak was snapped with an 0-for-3 night.
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