ATLANTA -- The sign lining Turner Field's outfield wall reads, in bold, white letters, "This is Braves Country." But this was -- in every way -- San Francisco's night.As they did in 2002, the Giants punched their ticket to baseball's final four on the Braves' home field. It came via a come-from-behind 3-2 win on Monday and set off a celebration that was interrupted only by a brief salute to Atlanta manager Bobby Cox, who was sent off into retirement with a standing ovation from the crowd and Giants players who were celebrating on the field. But moments later, the celebration resumed in the clubhouse. Corks were popped. Beer was poured. Hugs and high fives were shared. Emotions were let loose, as were the sighs of relief. "To be able to win the West was amazing," said closer Brian Wilson, who worked around a pair of walks to close the door in the ninth. "To be able to come here and grind it out with an incredible team and basically pull it off, I don't really know what kind of words describe it. Pandemonium. Things are getting kind of crazy right now, and I kind of like it." Sixteen of the Giants' 25 players had never appeared in the playoffs until this season, and they have now experienced two champagne-soaked baths in the last nine days.
A club that spent only 37 days in first place all season -- the fewest of any of the eight playoff teams -- now stands four wins away from the franchise's first World Series berth since 2002."It's unbelievable," said first-time postseason participant Freddy Sanchez. "Unbelievable. It's so exciting to be here enjoying it with our team. We have the best group of guys you could have." Plenty of players saluted the Braves for a series that featured dominant pitching and late clutch hits. Such a formula was plenty familiar to the Giants, however, as it was such a road that they followed to get here. No team in the Majors played more games decided by three or fewer runs than this one, and San Francisco followed up a 28-24 record in one-run games during the season with a 3-1 mark in the last five days. "It was a torture," said Tim Lincecum, who will match up against Phillies ace Roy Halladay in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. "We're going to play those close ones, but it makes it that much more meaningful. It makes it special. Just enjoying it now and soaking up this win." "Once I got here, I knew we had a good chance of doing it, because I knew what this team was capable of," said Cody Ross, who drove in two, including the game-winner. "It's been an amazing ride, but we have more business to take care of." That, of course, involves the Phillies, who wrapped up a sweep of the Reds on Sunday. The Giants and Phillies split their six-game season series, with both teams winning two of three at home. "Their pitching staff is unbelievable," Sanchez said, referring to the Phillies. "Obviously, their offense is just as good. We're going to have a tough task. We'll be ready, though. We've got a great pitching staff here." San Francisco left no doubt about that. The Giants' starting pitchers combined to allow only three earned runs in 29 innings. Philadelphia's staff was also dominant, allowing three runs in 23 innings. "We have a really good pitching staff, and they have a really good pitching staff," Ross said. "They've got a lineup that can really swing it. We have some guys who can swing it, too. These games are going to be close. They're going to be nail-biters. We're looking forward to it." But first, there was a celebration to finish, one that surely carried onto the charter flight home and one that was mirrored in the streets of San Francisco. "It was a great series, I think," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "If you're a baseball fan, you had to love this series."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.