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SF wins on Juan swing; Philly KO'd, looking

SF wins on Juan swing; Philly KO'd, looking

PHILADELPHIA -- The San Francisco Giants hoisted themselves onto baseball's biggest stage Saturday night with what could have been their most dynamic performance of the season.

Their 3-2 triumph over the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series was beyond extraordinary. It was a tour de force encompassing virtually every element that sustained the Giants this year. No wonder Giants general manager Brian Sabean called it an "extreme game."

The franchise that's synonymous with the home run, from Bobby Thomson to Willie Mays to Barry Bonds, secured its fourth pennant since moving West in 1958 on Juan Uribe's stunning opposite-field homer that broke a 2-2 tie with two outs in the eighth inning.

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Giants closer Brian Wilson ended the three-hour, 41-minute showdown by slipping a 3-2 cut fastball past a gazing Ryan Howard to strand baserunners on first and second.

In between, the Giants' bullpen compensated for starter Jonathan Sanchez's two-inning stint by providing the dominance normally associated with the team's starting rotation -- partly because members of that rotation contributed. Led by Jeremy Affeldt and assisted by Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum, five relievers blanked Philadelphia on five hits through the final seven innings while marooning nine baserunners.

"That's how our team works. It's a new hero every night," said outfielder Cody Ross, who was named Most Valuable Player of the NLCS for batting .350 with a .950 slugging percentage. "Tonight it was Affeldt and Uribe."

Senior Circuit stars
Most World Series appearances by a National League club
Rank Team WS wins WS trips
1. Giants 5 18
Dodgers 6 18
3. Cardinals 10 17
4. Cubs 2 10
5. Reds 5 9
Braves 3 9
7. Phillies 2 7
Pirates 5 7

The result was yet another one-run game, the seventh San Francisco has played in 10 contests this postseason. This should have been expected from the team that led the Major Leagues in games decided by three runs or fewer.

By capturing the NLCS four games to two, the Giants will open the World Series against the American League champion Texas Rangers on Wednesday at AT&T Park. Considered underdogs against the two-time reigning NL champion Phillies, the Giants probably will be assigned the same status against the hard-hitting Rangers.

But by winning their first pennant since 2002, the Giants earned the opportunity to end the Majors' third-longest World Series drought. They haven't captured the Fall Classic since 1954, when their home was New York's Polo Grounds.

"When you come this far, you have a chance to win," Wilson said. "We like our odds, even though not many do. We're the real deal. We just won the pennant. It's time to start believing."

"I know America probably wanted to see the Yankees and Phillies, but we've got the Giants and the Rangers," San Francisco first baseman Aubrey Huff said. "It'll be an exciting Series."

If there's any carryover from this game, Huff will be accurate.

The 2-2 deadlock had endured since the third inning, when Huff's RBI single and Philadelphia third baseman Placido Polanco's throwing error helped pull the Giants even. The Phillies scored twice five batters into the game off Sanchez, who admitted, "I didn't have it today."

By contrast, Phillies right-hander Ryan Madson, who had gone unscored upon in his previous four NLCS appearances, appeared bound to finish his second shutout inning after entering the game in the seventh. Then Uribe poked the first pitch he saw from Madson, a cutter, into the first row of the right-field seats.

Been a long time
Most seasons without World Series win
Team Last Years
Cubs 1908 102
Indians 1948 62
Giants 1954 56
Rangers Never 49
Astros Never 49

It was Uribe's first postseason homer since Game 1 of the AL Division Series in 2005, when he played for the eventual world champion White Sox. Uribe said that this round-tripper eclipsed any hit he has ever collected.

"It's a big one, like me," he said, raising himself on his tiptoes.

Armed with the lead, the Giants turned to Lincecum, their two-time Cy Young Award winner, in the bottom of the eighth. Pitching from the stretch position, as if he were a full-time reliever, Lincecum struck out Jayson Werth but surrendered singles to Shane Victorino and Raul Ibanez.

That prompted Giants manager Bruce Bochy to summon Wilson, a bona fide closer. Carlos Ruiz connected solidly with a 1-1 pitch, but lined it directly to Huff, who threw to second base to double off Victorino.

"I've never squeezed the ball harder and never lobbed the ball softer to second base," Huff said.

The game's intensity level might have deepened the crack in the Liberty Bell. Both benches and bullpens emptied in the third inning after Sanchez buried a pitch in Chase Utley's back. Utley responded by flipping the ball toward Sanchez, leading to a war of words. No punches were thrown, and Sanchez, who had been performing erratically, was removed from the game immediately. But the overflow of emotions demonstrated the fierce resolve smoldering within each team.

"I call it two teams who really want it bad," said left-hander Javier Lopez, who pitched a scoreless seventh. "Utley's one of the best players in the game. He wants it as bad as anybody else and he showed it there."

Utley was diplomatic later.

"The Giants have a good team," he said. "They played well, and I think they're going to represent the National League very well."

The Phillies almost spared Utley from making his concession speech. With one out in the ninth, Wilson walked Jimmy Rollins. Polanco's grounder to third base forced Rollins at second but was hit too softly for the Giants to turn a double play. Utley walked, and the tension deepened with the count to Howard.

Then Wilson fired the full-count pitch knee-high. Howard barely moved his bat from his shoulder as umpire Tom Hallion signaled strike three. The Giants cavorted for more than five minutes on the field before taking their celebration into the clubhouse, where champagne and beer flowed freely, mostly on players' heads. One of the richest scenes featured Uribe and managing general partner Bill Neukom dumping booze on each other, screaming and laughing.

"Any time you take down the champs, it's a good feeling," Affeldt said. "They say to be the best you have to beat the best. And we did in this series."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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