The Giants never should have allowed the outcome to hang in the balance that long. But they committed two fielding errors -- left fielder Fred Lewis' misplayed fly ball in the second inning and shortstop Juan Uribe's sinking throw that skipped past first baseman Travis Ishikawa in the fourth -- that each generated an unearned run.
San Francisco pitchers issued a season-high nine walks, including James Loney's bases-loaded free pass from Brandon Medders that put Los Angeles ahead, 3-2, in the seventh.
The Giants also went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, squandering chances to hand Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley his first defeat.
"When you don't execute, you're not going to win a lot of games," said Giants utility man Rich Aurilia, who coaxed a bases-loaded walk from Jonathan Broxton in the eighth inning to forge the evening's final tie. "That was one we felt like we could have won, but we let it slip away."
The Dodgers had the luxury of having Broxton, their closer, available to pitch. The same couldn't be said for the Giants, who were forced to rest Brian Wilson following appearances in the previous three days.
"We were strapped tonight," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "We knew it going into the game."
Moreover, Bochy was leery of using left-hander Jeremy Affeldt, who has pitched in a team-high 11 games. Howry (0-2) was the most logical choice for the ninth, particularly with right-handed batters Ramirez and Russell Martin due up to begin the inning.
"We felt like Howry could give us a little bit more. Affeldt has been throwing quite a bit," said Bochy, adding that he intended to use Howry for a second inning if the game proceeded into the 10th.
But Howry, who had blanked opponents in his previous six outings, couldn't sustain his stinginess.
"I missed location a few times, and when I did, they didn't miss them," Howry said. "... These guys are here for a reason. If you throw the ball down the middle, they hit it. You make good pitches, you get outs."
The Giants immediately established that theirs would be a flawed performance. Randy Winn walked with one out in the first inning and sped home on Pablo Sandoval's double to the left-center-field wall. But Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal apprehended Winn at the plate with a strong, accurate relay. Winn appeared to beat the throw. But Martin artfully used his left foot to block Winn's attempt to sweep the plate with his left hand as he slid headfirst.
One inning later, Aaron Rowand and Ishikawa singled with nobody out, but Uribe's double-play grounder killed that rally.
Then came the sixth, when Ishikawa tried to score from first base on Uribe's one-out double to the center-field wall. Ishikawa already had rounded third when Furcal took Kemp's relay in short left field. But with the specter of the first inning still looming, third-base coach Tim Flannery reversed course and halted Ishikawa.
The Giants chased Billingsley in the eighth and loaded the bases with one out. But Uribe, facing Broxton, grounded into a force at home before Aurilia's walk enabled the Giants to avoid coming away empty-handed. Broxton recovered by striking out pinch-hitter Eugenio Velez to set up the ninth.
"We had our chances, but we worked against a good pitcher," Bochy said, referring to Billingsley. "He's not 4-0 for nothing. The defense and the situational hitting have to be a big part of our game, and we didn't execute tonight."