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Bryce Harper steps up as Nationals stay alive vs. Giants in NLDS

For six innings, Madison Bumgarner and Doug Fister were locked in a scoreless pitchers' duel, but then Bumgarner threw it away. His costly throwing error on a bunt opened the door to a three-run seventh inning that allowed the Nationals to avoid being swept by the Giants in the Division Series via a 4-1 win.

Through the first six innings, Bumgarner looked nearly as strong as he did during last Wednesday's wild-card matchup, striking out six without walking a hitter, scattering four singles but never letting a runner past second base over the course of his 76 pitches. In doing so, he ran his postseason scoreless streak to 22 innings, the sixth-longest in history, and extended the Nats' scoreless futility to 21 innings.

Bumgarner dug himself a hole to start the seventh, though, yielding a single to Ian Desmond and a five-pitch walk to Bryce Harper, so when Wilson Ramos put down a two-strike sacrifice bunt, the Giants' ace got a bit greedy. He threw to third base to get the force play, but his throw sailed past Pablo Sandoval (who fell down after getting tangled with Desmond) and into foul territory while both runners scampered home.

Ramos took second on the play, and two pitches later, scored via an RBI single by Asdrubal Cabrera, giving the Nationals a 3-0 lead and matching their total of runs through the series' first 33 innings.

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Fister, who settled down after a 27-pitch second inning, gave up a leadoff single to Brandon Belt in the bottom of the seventh. Belt took second on a Brandon Crawford groundout, and might have scored had Harper not made an impressive diving catch on a Travis Ishikawa drive in left-center:

Fister’s day ended with seven shutout innings. He allowed four hits and three walks while striking out three. Meanwhile, Harper's great day continued. Leading off the top of the ninth, he sent a 94 mph fastball from Jean Machi almost to McCovey Cove, a blast that was estimated at 421 feet:

It was Harper's second homer of the series and the third postseason homer of his young career, the latter of which places him in select company. Only three other players have accumulated three postseason homers before turning 22: Miguel Cabrera, Andruw Jones and Mickey Mantle. For the series, Harper is slugging .643, his teammates .211.

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Even after the homer, the Nationals still needed three more outs to secure the victory. Manager Matt Williams turned to Drew Storen, who had blown the save in Game 2 after arriving in what may yet stand as the 2014 postseason's most controversial managerial decision (you're off the hook, Ned Yost). He turned this one into an adventure, albeit a smaller-scale one, allowing a bloop single by Sandoval and a double by Hunter Pence before putting the next three Giants down in order. Crawford plated Sandoval via a one-out sacrifice fly.

So the Nationals have life left in them, though they still have to win another game at AT&T Park before taking the series back to Washington in an attempt to become just the ninth team to climb out of a 2-0 hole in a postseason best-of-5 series. On Tuesday they'll send lefty Gio Gonzalez to the mound against a lefty-heavy lineup, while the Giants counter with Ryan Vogelsong.