By ALEX PAVLOVIC
SAN FRANCISCO -- Before last week's wild-card game in Pittsburgh, Giants closer Santiago Casilla saw Mike Krukow in the PNC Park dugout and pointed at the World Series ring on the broadcaster's finger.
"One more," Casilla said firmly, a steely look in his eyes.
Casilla pitched the San Francisco Giants a step closer to that goal Tuesday, closing out a 3-2 win over the Washington Nationals that ended a wild National League Division Series as the Giants seek a third title in five seasons.
The Giants scored on a bases-loaded walk, a groundout and a wild pitch and held on from there, advancing to face a St. Louis Cardinals team that beat the National League West-winning Los Angeles Dodgers in four games. The Giants and Cardinals, the two most stable franchises in the National League, locked horns in 2012, with the Giants winning in seven games. Ryan Vogelsong dominated the second and sixth games of that series, and he was just as sharp Tuesday.
In his first inning since Sept. 26, Vogelsong was noticeably amped up, hitting 95 mph for the first time in two years. Vogelsong struck out Denard Span looking to start the game and worked around a walk of Jayson Werth during a 22-pitch first inning. The start kept the crowd in a lather, and Buster Posey and Hunter Pence got things rolling in the bottom of the first with hard-hit singles off Gio Gonzalez. Pablo Sandoval flied out to end the inning.
Vogelsong got his pitch count under control with a seven-pitch second, and the Nationals melted down in the bottom of the inning, handing the Giants a 2-0 lead. Brandon Crawford hit .320 against left-handers during the regular season and he got the rally going with a one-out liner to left. Juan Perez tapped one back to the mound, but Gonzalez whiffed on the grab, deflecting the ball toward first base as Perez reached safely. Vogelsong tried to bunt both runners over and also reached when Gonzalez and third baseman Anthony Rendon called each other off on a perfect bunt down the third-base line.
With the bases loaded, Gonzalez walked Gregor Blanco on four pitches. Crawford jogged home as Blanco stood at the plate for a second, clapping his hands in the direction of a boisterous Giants dugout. Joe Panik fell behind 0-2 but managed to roll one over to the right side, scoring a second run. The Giants jumped ahead 2-0 while getting just one ball out of the infield the entire inning.
Both pitchers settled in, with Vogelsong carrying a no-hitter into the fifth. Ian Desmond led off that inning with a single, and Vogelsong and Bryce Harper dug in for a tense matchup. Vogelsong just missed the outside corner with a 2-2 slider and then went back to the same location the next pitch. Harper scorched a double inside the third-base bag, and Desmond scored easily.
Vogelsong was noticeably gassed as the inning wore on, his fastball dropping from the 94-95 mph range to 89-90. But he got Wilson Ramos to pop out and Asdrubal Cabrera to ground to short before walking pinch-hitter Nate Schierholtz, a former teammate. Vogelsong stuck with the soft stuff to Span, getting ahead with two curveballs and then throwing another on 2-2 to get an inning-ending grounder to first.
The Giants looked poised to add on when Blanco and Panik opened the bottom of the inning with singles. They would load the bases with one out, but Tanner Roark got Pablo Sandoval to pop up, and lefty specialist Jerry Blevins struck out Brandon Belt.
Vogelsong was all guts and guile in his final inning, and he got a big boost from Pence. The right fielder made one of his better catches as a Giant, slamming back first against the right-field fence to rob Jayson Werth of extra bases. Vogelsong cheered from the mound and then gave way to Javier Lopez, who got the final out of the inning. Vogelsong was charged with just one run and two hits in 52.2 innings. In five career postseason starts for the Giants, he has a 1.19 ERA.
The Giants lost the lead an inning later when Harper won a rematch of a Game 1 battle with Hunter Strickland that ended with Harper putting one in the upper deck at Nationals Park. Strickland challenged Harper again Tuesday, and the budding superstar hit a 97 mph fastball high over the foul pole and into McCovey Cove.
Panik singled with one out in the bottom of the inning, and Posey moved him over with a single. After a walk of Pence, the Giants took the lead on a wild pitch by Aaron Barrett. The right-hander then tried to intentionally walk Sandoval but threw the ball to the backstop. Posey tried to score from third and was thrown out at the plate, but it wouldn't matter. The third run was all the Giants would need.