"It's still early August, but we want to be right there and not let ourselves get too far behind," said Giants starter Barry Zito, who matched a season high by striking out 10 in seven innings.
The Giants triumphed despite collecting only four hits -- including none in the ninth inning, when a pair of Braves errors helped them tie the score, and zero in the 11th, when Pat Burrell's bases-loaded sacrifice fly broke the 2-2 deadlock. San Francisco has scored three runs or fewer in five of its last six games, yet is 4-2 in that span.
Brian Wilson followed Burrell's feat by pitching a perfect 11th to record his 32nd save in 35 chances. He also handed the Braves a rare defeat at Turner Field, where they're 37-15.
Wilson flung his final pitch at 12:32 a.m. local time, due to showers that delayed the game's start for 90 minutes and the contest's three-hour, 12-minute duration. So Wilson exaggerated only slightly when he said, "There's no messing around at 12:45. It was time to get the game over with."
The Giants began that process as right-hander Peter Moylan, the Braves' third reliever, walked Aubrey Huff and Buster Posey to open the 11th. After Juan Uribe's grounder to second base forced out Posey and advanced Huff to third, Moylan fell behind Pablo Sandoval 2-0 before issuing an intentional walk.
Burrell, 2-for-2 with two walks, lifted a 2-1 pitch to left field, enabling Huff to score.
"He was the one guy who had some good at-bats," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Burrell.
"With a sinkerballer like [Moylan], you try to get something in the air," Burrell said. "I wasn't trying to hit a home run or even get a hit -- just hit the ball in the outfield. I knew with my speed or lack thereof, I was trying to hit it in the air or it's a double play."
The Giants trailed, 2-1, entering the ninth inning, when a pair of Atlanta errors helped them pull even. Braves closer Billy Wagner, who blew his sixth save opportunity in 32 attempts, hit Huff with the inning's first pitch. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez ranged to his right to field Posey's subsequent grounder and threw low and wide to second base, leaving both runners safe.
Huff advanced to third as Uribe flied out to right and scored as third baseman Chipper Jones mishandled Sandoval's grounder for a two-base error. With Huff charging home, Jones tried to short-hop the ball but missed it.
Though Jones appeared to have plenty of time to throw out Huff had he made the play, Bochy viewed matters differently.
"It would have been close," he said. "It was a really difficult play. Chipper had to backhand it and Huff got a good jump."
Burrell drew an intentional walk to load the bases and set up Travis Ishikawa's inning-ending double-play grounder. Replacing Ishikawa, a left-handed hitter, against the left-handed Wagner wasn't an option. Right-handed-batting Edgar Renteria, the Giants' best alternative under the circumstances, strained his left biceps while pinch-hitting against Wagner on Thursday and had trouble swinging.
Oddly, before contributing to Atlanta's downfall in the ninth, Gonzalez and Jones appeared to pave the way for a Braves triumph by homering for two of the four hits Zito surrendered. Gonzalez tied the score in the fifth inning before Jones put the Braves ahead in the sixth.
Zito nevertheless delivered another impressive performance as the Giants improved to 14-9 in his starts. He has launched his usual second-half surge, posting a 2.02 ERA in five outings since the All-Star break.
"He had two, maybe three balls hit hard off him and two of them went out of the park," Braves left fielder Matt Diaz said. "He doesn't have the stuff that he used to have with his velocity and the bite of his curveball. But he mixes his pitches unbelievably."
Until the Giants executed their hitless late-inning wizardry, they appeared bound for an outcome mirroring Thursday's series opener, in which Tim Lincecum allowed two home runs and little else in a 3-2 loss. After mustering a first-inning run off Braves starter Tommy Hanson, San Francisco moved only two runners into scoring position in the next seven innings.
"We're struggling offensively and they're pitching great," Bochy said.
But since the Giants continued to lead a charmed life, that didn't matter.