Everybody's saying: 'How are the Giants doing it? How are the Giants winning games?' We just really believe in each other. We play together. —Gregor Blanco
SAN FRANCISCO — A wild pitch, a wide throw and an 18-inning marathon.
These playoff-tested Giants keep finding wacky ways to win in another special October.
An errant throw by reliever Randy Choate on a bunt allowed Brandon Crawford to score the winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning, lifting San Francisco over the St. Louis Cardinals 5-4 on Tuesday for a 2-1 lead in the NL Championship Series.
"Everybody's saying: 'How are the Giants doing it? How are the Giants winning games?'" said Gregor Blanco, who laid down the sacrifice. "We just really believe in each other. We play together."
Crawford drew an eight-pitch walk from Choate to begin the inning, ending a stretch of 16 straight Giants retired since Tim Hudson's two-out single in the fourth. After failing on two sacrifice attempts, Juan Perez singled to bring up Blanco.
Blanco fouled off a bunt try, too, but then pushed one to the third-base side of the mound and the left-handed Choate's side-arm throw sailed past lunging second baseman Kolten Wong, who was covering first base.
"We had trouble getting the bunt down," Crawford said. "So I was happy he got it down. He put it in a great spot and made those guys make a play, and fortunately (we) saw the throw go wide."
Randal Grichuk tied it with a solo homer in the seventh that chased Hudson.
Game 4 in the best-of-seven series is Wednesday night, with Ryan Vogelsong pitching for the Giants against fellow righty Shelby Miller.
Choate blamed himself. He has done pitcher fielding practice for decades.
"He did exactly what I wanted him to do," the pitcher said. "It was easy. It was right there and I blew it. The ball just sailed on me."
This walkoff win came 12 years to the day after Kenny Lofton's single in the ninth inning ended the 2002 NLCS against the Cardinals and sent the Giants to the World Series. It also came on a day Hall of Famer Willie McCovey surprised players with his return to the ballpark after a long stint in the hospital nursing an infection.
"Is this a rule we can't hit a home run?" a relieved manager Bruce Bochy joked, sitting back in his office chair.
In the Division Series clincher only a week earlier against Washington, Joe Panik scored the go-ahead run in a 3-2 win on Aaron Barrett's bases-loaded wild pitch. That came after winning Game 2 2-1 in 18 innings.
The Giants also scored the tying run in the ninth inning Sunday on a wild pitch, a 5-4 loss in Game 2 of the NLCS.
"We play interesting baseball, especially late in games," said Jeremy Affeldt, who pitched 1 2-3 innings in relief of Hudson.
Playing without injured catcher Yadier Molina, the Cardinals had their chances. They squandered Wong's double in the second before he delivered a wind-aided, two-run triple in the fourth.
Javier Lopez got the first two outs of the 10th before Jon Jay's single, just the third hit by a left-handed batter against Lopez since he joined San Francisco in 2010. Two of those are by Jay this series.
Sergio Romo entered and retired Matt Holliday on a full-count grounder to third that Pablo Sandoval snared and fired to first.
"We don't do anything easy," Bochy said. "We might have got a little lucky there with Perez when he couldn't get a bunt down and he gets a base hit. But Blanco laid down a beauty."
A.J. Pierzynski went hitless in four at-bats starting as Molina nursed a strained left oblique. St. Louis returned to AT&T Park in the postseason for the first time since losing Games 6 and 7 of the 2012 NLCS, which it had led 3-1.
Journeyman Travis Ishikawa hit a three-run double in the first to stake Hudson to a 4-0 lead in the right-hander's first postseason start beyond the division series in a 16-year career.
Hunter Pence's RBI double off John Lackey got things started in the first, the first time the Giants scored in the initial inning this postseason. Buster Posey and Sandoval hit consecutive two-out singles and Ishikawa followed an intentional walk to Brandon Belt to load the bases with his double.
The four runs were the Giants' most in the first inning in the postseason since scoring six against Joe Wood of the Red Sox in Game 7 of eight in the 1912 World Series.
Cardinals: Miller, making his second career postseason start and fifth appearance, faced the Giants twice in relief during the '12 NLCS, losses in Games 2 and 6 at AT&T Park.
Giants: Vogelsong has a 1.19 postseason ERA, and the Giants have won all five of his starts. He started the Division Series clincher against the Nationals, allowing one run in 5 2-3 innings.
Hudson hit Lackey with a pitch on his left elbow in the fifth, making Lackey the first pitcher to be hit by pitch in the postseason since Steve Carlton was plunked by Tommy John in the 1977 NLCS.