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SF@ATL: Crawford hits homer after fouling one off leg

ATLANTA -- Brandon Crawford wasn't exactly the last man standing for the Giants. But they desperately needed him to remain on two feet Wednesday night.

One pitch after fouling a ball off his right knee, Crawford yanked a three-run homer that broke an 11th-inning tie and propelled the Giants to their fifth consecutive victory, a 9-4 decision over the Atlanta Braves.

Gregor Blanco added another three-run homer later in the 11th that sealed the Giants' second straight victory at Turner Field, where they hadn't won back-to-back games since Aug. 17-18, 2008.

This four-hour, eight-minute contest included an odd pair of bookends -- first, a one-hour, 16-minute delay at the start of the game, then a dizzying sequence of events that unfolded with the score tied, 1-1, after nine innings.

The Giants were understandably giddy afterward. Caught watching video of his home run, Crawford explained himself by saying, "It's been a while."

But at least one serious issue loomed over the first-place Giants, who maintained their three-game lead over Los Angeles in the National League West. Santiago Casilla blew his fifth save in his last eight opportunities when Brian McCann launched a two-run homer in the 10th inning, erasing San Francisco's 3-1 lead. Manager Bruce Bochy declined to say whether Casilla would be replaced as the team's closer, but he acknowledged that he will discuss the matter witih pitching coach Dave Righetti.

"He was too good tonight to do this," Bochy said, citing the two outs Casilla easily recorded before Freddie Freeman doubled to set up McCann's round-tripper. "We need him. Whether or not we make an adjustment, I can't answer that now. There comes a time with every player when you have to change it up. But I don't want him to lose his confidence."

The Giants' collective confidence might have been shaken when Crawford slammed the first pitch he saw from Braves reliever Chad Durbin just below his kneecap with Eli Whiteside on second base, Brandon Belt on first, one out in the 11th and the score tied, 3-3. Waves of pain washed over Crawford, but Bochy had no obvious replacement for him, having used all of his position players. Bochy considered the prospect of using Matt Cain as an outfielder, moving Justin Christian from right field to third base and shifting Joaquin Arias into the vacancy at shortstop.

Bochy was spared from executing these maneuvers when Crawford rose and returned to the batter's box. Asked if he felt any extra urgency to stay in the game since the Giants were out of players, Crawford said, "I was thinking about it a little bit when I was on the ground."

Crawford also contemplated the cutter that Durbin threw him and reasoned that the right-hander might try the same pitch, due to its devastating effect. Durbin indeed came back with another cutter.

"I wasn't cheating to get there, but I was looking for it a little bit, I guess," Crawford said.

The result: Crawford's second homer of the season on a drive deep into the right-field seats.

"I wasn't trying to pull it," he said. "My hands just got out there, finally."

Said Durbin, "It was the same pitch almost. It was just a cutter that stays right on the plate. For lefties, it runs right into their swing. After the cutter in that he fouled off his leg, I tried to run it in a little closer to him instead of leaving it on the plate. It didn't quite get there."

The Giants thought they had reached the finish line one inning earlier, when they scored twice to snap a 1-1 deadlock. The uprising was highlighted as Arias tripled then scored on third baseman Chipper Jones' shocking throwing error, an underhanded toss far over catcher McCann's head. Melky Cabrera, who homered in the sixth to open San Francisco's scoring, singled home the inning's other run.

"It takes too much time to come back and throw overhand," Jones said. "It's one of those do-or-die plays and I knew [Arias] was fast. I possibly could have sidearmed it, but he was running on the inside. So that kind of takes the angle away from it. I figured I tried to flip it as hard as I could, put a little more on the flip. It turned out that it cost me."

Jones' miscue was lost in the wake of McCann's homer off Casilla. Until then, the Giants pitched admirably. Ryan Vogelsong worked six innings, faltering only when he yielded Juan Francisco's third-inning homer. Jeremy Affeldt pitched a season-high 2 1/3 innings before Javier Lopez inherited a ninth-inning jam from Sergio Romo and struck out Michael Bourn to leave the bases loaded.

"We could have folded up shop after Casilla gave up the homer," Lopez said.

But they didn't.

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