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Walk-off? SF Giants mount game-winning rally without a hit to beat Braves, after nearly blowing it in the 8th

Walk-off? SF Giants mount game-winning rally without a hit to beat Braves, after nearly blowing it in the 8th

ATLANTA — Disaster struck with the Giants four outs from victory for a second straight day, but in a reversal from Saturday night’s heartbreaking loss, they responded on a hot and humid Sunday afternoon to eke out a win and avoid being swept by the MLB-best Braves.

They didn’t need to do much besides stand in the batter’s box: Joc Pederson drew the game-winning walk after Braves All-Star reliever Kirby Yates walked the first batter he faced and hit the next two to load the bases.

Not quite a walk-off in the traditional sense, but a walk-off nonetheless. Final score: 4-3.

“It wasn’t the prettiest, but we’ll all take it and get on the plane happy,” manager Gabe Kapler said afterward.

As the Giants head to Philadelphia for a three-game series against the team leading them by three games in the wild card standings, they snapped a three-game losing streak, winning for only the fourth time in their past 14 games to maintain their slim lead on the second of three wild card spots.

They were very nearly swept, after Taylor Rogers walked the first two batters of the bottom of the eighth and Patrick Bailey airmailed a throw into left field allowing Atlanta to tie the score, but just as easily could have emerged from the three-game series with two wins. It took a two-run homer from Eddie Rosario with two outs in the eighth inning to hand them a late loss Saturday night.

“That’s the nitty, gritty (type of) wins that got us into the position we are now,” Pederson said. “The Braves are pretty easily the best team in baseball right now, and I mean, I truly believe we should’ve won the series. Two out of three we were winning late in ballgames. … I think that’s very encouraging moving forward.”

Rogers was tasked with protecting a 3-2 lead when he entered in the eighth, but the Giants should have known they were in trouble when he gave Ronald Acuña Jr. a free pass to first base, putting the majors’ most aggressive runner on the base paths as the would-be tying run, and put him on second with a second consecutive walk to Rosario, the hero of Saturday’s game.

That prompted manager Kapler to turn to Camilo Doval for a five-out save. Doval won a nine-pitch battle with Austin Riley for the second out of the inning, but with Matt Olson up allowed Acuña to get a massive jump, likely negating even the best throw from Bailey. The steal was Acuña’s 56th of the season, easily the most in the majors, while the throwing error was a rare mistake from Bailey, who has thrown out more runners than any other catcher since being called up in May.

“It’s worth calling out that Pat Bailey has been absolutely dominant with runners on the bases,” Kapler said. “In that moment, you almost want Acuña to run to have a chance to throw him out at third base. The throw just got away from him a little bit. That was a tough moment for us, obviously, but man, we trust him back there.”

Thairo Estrada, who just returned from a monthlong absence with a broken hand caused by a hit-by-pitch, was the recipient of one of Yates’ errant pitches in the ninth. Kapler said it was “pretty gritty” for him to remain in the game and that he was set to get scans before they pencil him into the lineup Monday in Philadelphia.

Wilmer Flores was other hit batsman in the ninth, reaching base for the third time after slugging his 17th home run of the season in the third inning that looked to be decisive, putting the Giants ahead 3-2, until the Braves tied it in the eighth inning.

It took an eight-pitch walk from Michael Conforto, though, to start the hitless ninth-inning rally, which Kapler called “especially grindy and a huge moment in the game for us.” Down in the count 1-2, Conforto took two balls outside the strike zone and fouled off two more before Yates buried a splitter in the dirt.

“It was huge, all those at-bats, even the hit-by-pitches,” Pederson said. “That’s a tough pitcher. All-Star closer. Pat Bailey’s made some of the best plays in baseball defensively and the ball got a little bit away from him on that. That was kind of a deflating moment, like oh, man, we’re gonna lose again. And then to have Conforto come up and get a rally going against a really good pitcher is huge momentum for us.”

Facing the 2022 NL Cy Young runner-up, the Giants ran up Max Fried’s pitch count and forced him from the game after 5⅔ innings and 103 pitches (68 in the first three innings). Meanwhile their amalgamation of arms — Jakob Junis, Alex Wood, Tristan Beck doing the bulk of the work — quieted Atlanta’s dangerous lineup more effectively than Logan Webb or Alex Cobb managed to in losses in the first two games of the series.

After being held out of the lineup at Triple-A Sacramento on Saturday night, prompting the River Cats to start a pitcher in the outfield, Luis Matos flew cross-country and was activated shortly before first pitch, when Brandon Crawford (left forearm strain) went on the injured list for the third time this season.

In his first game back in the majors (after only a three-game stay at Triple-A), Matos announced his arrival with the furthest-hit ball of his career in his first at-bat (a 425-foot home run that gave the Giants an early 1-0 lead) and the hardest-hit ball of his career in his second trip to the plate (a 108.4 mph single that followed Flores’ two-run shot).

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Beck, acquired long ago from Atlanta in the Mark Melancon trade, took over to begin the fourth and tossed three shutout innings, striking out three and allowing only two baserunners, in perhaps the most impressive showing of his big-league career.

In one of the more bizarre moments of the season, the game was delayed for almost 10 minutes in the bottom of the fourth as about half a dozen members of the grounds crew hurried to repair the pitching mound. It was Beck who raised their attention after landing funny on his first pitch of the game, at first prompting trainer Dave Groescher to come check on him. Beck assured him that he was fine, and promptly proved as much over the next three innings.

“It was just concrete,” Beck said. “Unfortunately on that first pitch I kind of caught my ankle a little bit. Nothing too bad, but they did a great job coming and fixing it up.”