The defeat was an ominous one for the Giants. Since Division Series play began in 1995, teams in both leagues have gained a split on the road 11 times in the first two games. Eight of those clubs advanced to the League Championship Series.
The Giants were six outs from taking a 2-0 series lead when their unraveling accelerated. With closer Brian Wilson on the mound, they yielded three eighth-inning runs that erased their 4-1 lead. After Buster Posey grounded into a double play with the bases loaded and one out to end the 10th inning, Ankiel's one-out drive into McCovey Cove off Ramon Ramirez quickly followed.
Having prided themselves on their ability to overcome adversity during their surge to the NL West title, the Giants must summon that perseverance in earnest by Sunday's Game 3 in Atlanta.
"This team's been resilient all year," first baseman Aubrey Huff said. "We've lost a lot of tough games like this all year long and came back and got them the next day."
But, Huff added, the Giants also must find a way to sustain offense. After Pat Burrell electrified the sellout crowd at AT&T Park with a three-run homer in the first inning, San Francisco's offense mostly shut down. In the final nine innings, the Giants moved four runners into scoring position and delivered none of them.
"We needed to shut them down but missed our opportunities with less than two outs and runners in scoring position," Huff said. "We're not a team that's going to keep hitting three-run homers. Obviously, that was a big home run early, and it's like we put it in cruise control. If we get a couple more [runs], there's a good chance they fold. But we let them hang around."
The Giants, who led 4-0 after two innings, could have put away Atlanta in their half of the 10th. Not only did pinch-hitter Edgar Renteria start the inning with a deft bunt single, but the Braves also lost closer Billy Wagner, who left the game with an oblique injury. But after hitting Freddy Sanchez in the right hand and walking Huff to load the bases, Braves right-hander Kyle Farnsworth coaxed Posey's harmless grounder to third base.
Sanchez remained in the game but underwent X-rays afterward. Results were not immediately available.
Asked how his team can rebound from such a disappointing loss, manager Bruce Bochy said, "You have to. That's how you do it, because it's part of the game."
The Giants maintained control for most of the evening. Starter Matt Cain sustained Tim Lincecum's Game 1 brilliance for five innings before Burrell's fielding error enabled Atlanta to muster an unearned run. That ended San Francisco's postseason scoreless-innings streak at 14.
Cain appeared destined to be rewarded for his 6 2/3-inning effort with a victory in his postseason debut. Then Atlanta took advantage of a defensive lapse and the rustiness of San Francisco's relievers, who hadn't pitched since Sunday's division-clinching victory.
After Derrek Lee and Brian McCann singled off Sergio Romo to open the eighth, Bochy summoned Wilson, who led the NL this year with 10 saves of at least 1 1/3 innings. But Wilson never converted a two-inning attempt, and he wouldn't succeed in this one.
Melky Cabrera tapped a slow grounder to third baseman Pablo Sandoval, whose throw pulled Huff off the bag as Lee scored. Brooks Conrad's sacrifice bunt advanced the runners, who scored on Alex Gonzalez's double to left field on an 0-1 fastball.
To that point, Gonzalez was 0-for-6 in the series.
"I saw that he was struggling with the heater in the first game and the better part of [Friday's] game, so I'm going to throw it by him," Wilson said. "That's my best pitch. He got a good piece of it."
The Giants received an immediate scare when Sandoval and Posey collided in pursuit of Jason Heyward's foul popup in the first inning. Each called for the ball and neither backed off, resulting in chest-to-chest contact that knocked both players sprawling and silenced the fearful crowd. Posey happened to catch the ball and somehow held on. Members of the Giants' athletic training staff quickly tended to both players, who remained in the game.