SAN FRANCISCO -- They've been there, done that, yet there are still nights when they feel like Little Leaguers who just hit their first over-the-fence homer or played their first game that ended after the Dairy Queen closed.
This was one of those, and just before it was over, Joe Panik experienced the longest seconds of his life.
Those came between the time he made contact with a Mike Montgomery fastball and when the ball banged off the right-field wall at AT&T Park, allowing Brandon Crawford to score the game-winning run in the 13th inning of Game 3 of the National League Division Series (Game 4 on Tuesday, 8:30 p.m. ET on FS1).
When Panik could breathe again, the Giants had a 6-5 victory over the Cubs.
"I think that ball hung up a little longer than I wanted it to,'' Panik said. "I knew I hit it well and I knew it was going to at least get off the wall, but it felt like forever for that thing to get off the wall.''
This was a must-win game for the Giants, who have now won 10 consecutive elimination games, and somewhere along the way it took on the timeless quality that the best games have. There were more twists and turns than on Lombard Street, including Conor Gillaspie's eighth-inning triple off Aroldis Chapman and a ninth-inning home run by Kris Bryant, and enough great defensive plays to make even the players shake their heads.
"Good baseball game,'' Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "That's my takeaway. I think that both sides should be somewhat exhilarated. Obviously they win, so they're going to feel a bit better about it, but there's nothing on our side to be ashamed of. I was really proud of our kids, man.''
Because it was the Giants who scored last, the teams return to AT&T Park for Game 4 on Tuesday night. If they can deliver even half of the dramatics they did in this one, this will have turned into the classic series that was expected when the Major Leagues' winningest team was matched against the World Series champions of 2010, '12 and '14.
"If we're breathing,'' Panik said, "we're still fighting.''
Who is going to argue that? The Giants won this one because the left-handed-hitting Gillaspie hung in against a 102-mph fastball from the left-handed Chapman and because the guy who has saved them so many times, Madison Bumgarner, limited the damage on a rare occasion when he had misplaced his fastball.
Outside of Jake Arrieta's three-run homer off Bumgarner and Bryant's two-run homer off Sergio Romo, the Cubs weren't able to take advantage of their chances. They wound up 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position, and that wasn't quite enough to seal the deal.
"That's one of the best, most exciting games I've ever been involved in,'' said Bruce Bochy, the Giants' manager. "They found a way. … The game had everything -- pitching, timely hitting on both sides. It was just a fun game to be involved with. I know it's easy to say because we came out on top, but both sides, you saw two good teams going at it. It's hard to have a better game to watch than what we had tonight.''
Bumgarner, who had been so invincible in recent Octobers, navigated through five innings, allowing runs only on Arrieta's home run into the left-field seats. He threw 37 pitches in the second inning and 101 overall.
"You know, it's one of the guttiest performances I've seen,'' Bochy said. "He didn't have his best stuff but he willed his way through five innings. … That's a lot of pitches he threw, but he kept the score where we had a chance to come back. I thought he did a terrific job, despite not having his best stuff tonight.''
Bumgarner was followed in the game by Derek Law, Hunter Strickland, Romo, Will Smith and Ty Blach, and every time any of those guys really needed an out, they got it. The Cubs were 1-for-28 in a stretch from the fourth inning through the 13th, with Bryant's homer in the ninth inning (following a Dexter Fowler walk) the only hit.
"This is October baseball,'' Arrieta said. "We know games are going to be very closely contested. These guys are no slouch with their pedigree in the playoffs. We have our work cut out for us.''
In the 14 postseason games played so far, winning teams are hitting .398 with runners in scoring position, losing teams .121. This game fit that trend with the Cubs missing early chances to build a big lead. They stranded two men in the second, two in the third and nine overall in the first eight innings.
For the Giants, this game was sort of like Game 3 against the Reds in the 2012 NLDS -- a 2-1 win in 10 innings that avoided a sweep and, as it turned out, started them rolling toward a World Series victory over the Tigers.
But Maddon got it right. There was an exhilaration to this game that goes beyond the grinding, nail-biting nature of outlasting the Reds after being pushed to the brink four years ago. The Cubs may prove to be too strong of an opponent for the Giants to beat two more times, but they've earned the chance to line up against them and find out.
Sometimes baseball can be as much about the effort as the outcome. This game felt like all the players should have gotten snow cones to eat in the car on the way home.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.