ATLANTA -- This was the only way the Giants could have ended their latest dramatics, clinging to a one-run lead with the tying and winning runs on base.
But they prevailed. And paid homage. Then they partied.
The Giants advanced to a National League Championship Series showdown against Philadelphia by outlasting the Atlanta Braves, 3-2, in Monday night's Game 4 of the Division Series.
"The city's been waiting a long time for something like this," left fielder Pat Burrell said after the Giants triumphantly completed their first postseason series since 2003. "We can't wait to get home."
The Giants also couldn't wait to get to their clubhouse to drench each other in beer and champagne. But they didn't let euphoria cloud their perspective. As the Turner Field crowd delivered one last ovation for Bobby Cox, the Braves' renowned manager whose career ended with this game, virtually every Giant stopped and joined the spectators in applauding him.
"He's such a legend in this game," Giants second baseman Freddy Sanchez said. "It was only right that everybody paid their respect to him."
Stats in the 2010 NLDS for the Giants' four starting pitchers
Said Cox, "That was a nice gesture by the Giants. I love [manager Bruce] Bochy. He's one of the best guys in baseball. If we couldn't win, I'm glad he did."
Having vanquished Atlanta in their best-of-five series, 3-1, the Giants will turn their attention to the two-time defending league champion Phillies in the best-of-seven NLCS beginning Saturday at Philadelphia.
Cody Ross propelled the Giants to the next round by homering to tie the score in the sixth and drilling an RBI single to break a 2-2 tie one inning later. Ross also drove in the lone run in the Giants' Game 1 victory.
"He's the [series] MVP for me," Burrell said.
Each game in this series was decided by one run. Whether the rest of the postseason will be equally nerve-racking is debatable.
"We knew these would be tight ballgames," Bochy said. "Every pitch, every play, every at-bat would count."
Said Burrell, "It was a panic attack. Every time I'd come out of the game, it was hard to watch."
But the Giants were primed for the challenge, having endured more games decided by three or fewer runs (115) than any team in the Major Leagues this year.
"We played a lot of close games in the regular season. Why should it be anything different?" catcher Buster Posey said.
The scene looked familiar as Major League saves leader Brian Wilson stalked to the mound in the ninth. With one out, he walked Rick Ankiel and pinch-hitter Eric Hinske on full-count pitches, but that didn't reflect vulnerability.
"He's staying on the corners," Posey explained. "He's not going to make a mistake. That's the way he pitches. He's not going to give in. There's no fear in that guy."
Wilson proceeded to strike out Omar Infante and retire Melky Cabrera on a grounder to third base. Seconds after the final out was recorded, the Giants rushed from the dugout to engulf Wilson, hug each other and cavort around the diamond.
The Giants earned their second trip to the NLCS since the Wild Card was introduced to the postseason in 1995. They made their only other appearance in 2002, when they topped St. Louis en route to the World Series.
Comparison of the stats for the NLCS combatants' top three starters
San Francisco's 25-man Division Series roster included only nine players with postseason experience. That didn't matter, as Monday night proved.
Rookie left-hander Madison Bumgarner, the youngest Giant to start a postseason game at 21 years and 71 days of age, earned the decision by lasting six innings and surrendering Atlanta's only runs.
"There wasn't a whole lot of pressure," Bumgarner said, adding that Tim Lincecum would have pitched Game 5 on Wednesday in San Francisco had Atlanta won.
Though Bumgarner's poise never has been an issue, his 10-day layoff could have been. But, he said, "I felt fine out there. I felt like it was another game. I was a little up early on, but I don't think the rest had anything to do with it."
Brian McCann accounted for Atlanta's scoring with a third-inning sacrifice fly and a sixth-inning homer. But Ross, who's among San Francisco's postseason first-timers, sent a line drive over the left-field wall to end Derek Lowe's no-hitter with one out in the sixth.
The Giants built their seventh-inning rally by loading the bases with one out against Lowe as Aubrey Huff walked, Posey's swinging bunt toward third base produced an infield single and Burrell walked.
The Braves summoned right-hander Peter Moylan to face Juan Uribe, who was 1-for-13 in the series. Uribe didn't get a hit, but might as well have. He grounded a 2-2 pitch to deep shortstop, where Alex Gonzalez made a diving stop. But Gonzalez's throw to second base, where he had his only play, veered wide. Huff scored; everybody was safe.
Jonny Venters struck out pinch-hitter Aaron Rowand before Ross grounded a 1-0 pitch through the shortstop hole. Posey scored, but left fielder Matt Diaz threw on the fly to apprehend Burrell at the plate.
Santiago Casilla silenced Atlanta for 1 2/3 innings before Javier Lopez struck out Jason Heyward to end the eighth inning and strand a runner. That bridged the gap to Wilson, who shrugged off his pair of walks.
"You just keep pumping positive energy," he said. "It sounds kind of Walt Disney, but it works."
For the Giants, Fantasyland is very much real.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.