Needing three straight wins to keep their season alive, San Francisco scored four unearned runs in the top of the fourth, giving starter Barry Zito all the support he'd need.
Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval led off with the first two hits of the game against Cardinals starter Lance Lynn. But after Buster Posey struck out and Hunter Pence bounced back to the mound, it seemed more than possible that the Giants' recent woes with runners in scoring position -- 5-for-26 (.192) in the previous three games -- could haunt them once again.
And then it happened.
Instead of taking the safe out at first, Lynn turned and fired to second in an attempt to get at least the lead runner and possibly even a double play. Except that shortstop Pete Kozma -- playing Pence deep and to pull -- was still several feet from the bag when Lynn let go of the ball. And the throw was a sinker, hitting the base and then bouncing into the outfield.
Scutaro scored. Sandoval went to third. Pence reached on the fielder's choice. Before order was restored, the Giants were well on their way to living to play one more day.
"Fortunately for us, we caught a break," Pence said.
Lynn defended his decision.
"I'm trying to get two to get out of the inning," he explained. "I turned to throw it and I just threw it in the ground. It was a bad play. I make a good throw there and I'm out of the inning. It was just one of those times where I short-armed it a little bit."
The play was reminiscent of an error by Reds third baseman Scott Rolen in Game 5 of the NLDS that helped the Giants win the first of three straight they needed to come back and eliminate the Reds. San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy was asked if he thought there were any similarities and if this could once again become a turning point.
"Hopefully," Bochy said. "We got a break on that throw. You take that. In this game, it's always good to get a break, but what's important is you need to take advantage of it. And we did."
Lynn had a chance to limit the damage. After his error, he got Brandon Belt to pop up for the second out of the inning. But he walked Gregor Blanco to load the bases and gave up a two-run single to Brandon Crawford -- leading to Zito's big moment at the plate.
After a swinging strike, Zito bunted Lynn's next pitch toward third, beating it out easily as Blanco scored.
"I knew I didn't have much of a chance of hitting off Lynn," Zito said. "But I saw a situation where I could possibly get one down and get another run in, so I tried it."
It was pointed out that, according to a web site that tracks such things, Zito had never before bunted for a hit. The pitcher said he believed that.
"I'm known for my Arabian horse gallop as [reliever Brian Wilson] calls it," Zito said. "Just not that fast. To bunt for a hit, you've got to be perfect, and fortunately it was there."
Said Bochy: "I've seen him try a couple of times, but not quite a bunt like that. He couldn't have put it in a better spot. He's not real fast, but he laid down a perfect bunt and really surprised a lot of people -- including us."
Joked catcher Buster Posey: "Barry's sneak attack bunt was really big. I haven't seen that before. He was showing the wheels off."
Small ball came up big for the Giants. Which is why there will be another game on Sunday night at AT&T Park.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.