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10/22/10 12:50 AM ET

Fair or foul? Bunt diverts Giants' momentum

SAN FRANCISCO -- An unconventional and eventful third inning unraveled the Giants in their 4-2 loss in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series against the Phillies at AT&T Park on Thursday night.

Thanks to a controversial call by home-plate umpire Jeff Nelson and two botched defensive plays by Pablo Sandoval and Aubrey Huff, it was an inning that spoiled an otherwise splendid outing from Tim Lincecum and set an ugly early tone in what turned out to be a heartbreaking defeat for the home team and its fans, who were hoping to see the Giants clinch a World Series berth.

The Phillies had two on and none out, with the Giants up 1-0. Raul Ibanez had led off with a single, and Lincecum had plunked Carlos Ruiz with a pitch. Roy Halladay was at the plate, and it was clear a sacrifice bunt attempt was coming.

Halladay put the bunt down, and catcher Buster Posey picked it up and fired to third. For a moment, there was confusion on the field, as Halladay didn't even start running to first. He saw what television replays would later reveal -- the ball appeared to land to the right of the plate, in foul territory.

But that's not what Nelson saw. Perhaps because his view was blocked by Posey, he immediately ruled the ball fair, and this led to trouble for the Giants.

Was it fair or foul? Posey didn't know for sure.

"I just picked it up," he said. "You go with it until you hear it's foul."

Posey's throw went to third baseman Sandoval, who had charged in on the bunt and tried to stretch out to get his right foot on the bag to retire Ibanez, but failed. Sandoval had to settle for retiring Halladay at first, and he was only able to do so because Halladay didn't immediately run to first.

Yes, Nelson's call was a bit of a break for the Phillies, but the Giants still blew the opportunity to turn two.

"We're inches away from getting a double play, and the bunt was right in front of home plate," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "At that point, the third baseman goes back to the bag and we had a force there, and [Halladay] wasn't running. So that's a missed opportunity for us not getting the double play, and it came back to haunt us."

Sandoval spent a long time after this loss sitting at his locker, looking upset with himself.

"I tried to get back quickly to the bag," he said. "I missed the base. It's one of those mistakes you don't want to make. You practice that every day."

With that, the Phillies had two runners in scoring position and one out. Lincecum had his work cut out for him, and, to his credit, he induced a grounder to first off the bat of Shane Victorino. It went right to Huff.

"I wish it wasn't right at him," Victorino said.

But he wouldn't have to wish that for long, because Huff booted the ball. It was just the fourth error committed by Huff this season and his first this postseason, but it was a big one. As the ball rolled into right-center, not only did Ibanez and Ruiz both score to give the Phillies a 2-1 lead, but Victorino made the heads-up move of advancing to second.

"I was just trying to rush it," Huff said. "I tried to get it in my glove and throw it. I just didn't get it down."

When Placido Polanco ripped a line-drive single to left, Victorino streaked home, and it was 3-1.

"This team is going to scrap," Ibanez said of the Phillies. "It's going to grind and fight and give everything it has to make things happen. That's the kind of club that we are."

Lincecum got out of the inning without further harm, but, as it turned out, the damage had been done.

"It was tough luck," said Lincecum, who was brilliant the rest of the way in his seven innings of work. "I take it on myself. I should have made better quality pitches to the next two batters to keep it a 2-1 lead."

Instead, that one inning, quirky as it might have been, turned out to be enough to seal the Giants' fate and send this series back to Philly.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.