Pablo Sandoval #48 fails to catch a throw by Madison...

Pablo Sandoval #48 fails to catch a throw by Madison Bumgarner #40 of the San Francisco Giants on a bunt by Wilson Ramos #40 of the Washington Nationals as Ian Desmond #20 slides into third during Game 3 of the National League Division Series at AT&T Park on Oct. 6, 2014 in San Francisco. Credit: Getty Images / Ezra Shaw

From the moment that this National League Division Series began, all the pressure sat squarely on the shoulders of the Nationals.

They owned the best record in the league. They held the edge in talent. They wore the label of October underachievers. They needed something, anything, to turn the tables on the Giants.

They found their answer: a bunt.

Wilson Ramos squared around, tapping Madison Bumgarner's pitch back to the mound. Bumgarner threw wide of third base. Chaos ensued. When the dust settled and the ball was finished rattling around the ballpark, the Giants had crumbled when dared to face pressure.

Because of it, the Nationals escaped to play another day, surviving a win-or-go-home Game 3 Monday with a 4-1 victory that made these Giants look human.

"It's a dire situation,'' Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "We've got to try to score a run.''

How dire? The Nationals hadn't scored in 21 consecutive innings, and faced with an 0-2 series deficit, they had shown no signs of life. The game was still scoreless in the seventh.

Only then did the Nationals begin to stir. Ian Desmond singled and Bryce Harper walked. Up came Ramos, the slow-footed catcher who hadn't sacrificed since 2011.

"In my mind, I was like, 'I had to do it. I have to do it,' '' he said. "I did it well. And for me, it changed the whole game.''

After Ramos squared twice and pulled back, the Nationals kept the bunt sign on with two strikes, and he made good on his third attempt. Bumgarner fielded it cleanly, then threw to third base at the insistence of catcher Buster Posey. The wide throw went past a diving Pablo Sandoval, caromed off the side wall and trickled through a busy Giants bullpen.

"I told him to throw to third. Just with the way it was bunted out, I thought we might have a chance,'' Posey said. "But Desmond's a fast runner. We probably should have just taken the out at first.''

Making only his sixth career start in leftfield, Travis Ishikawa gave chase as the ball rolled farther down the leftfield line in foul territory. Desmond scored from second and Harper came sliding in behind him, his helmet flying as he hit the dirt.

The crowd at AT&T Park sat stunned, unable to twirl the orange towels they had been given at the gates.

"I just threw it away,'' Bumgarner said. "I felt good about it. I'm comfortable throwing to bases. It just got away from me.''

Asdrubal Cabrera then singled to left to drive in Ramos.

The Giants, being who they are, tried to turn the tide. Emboldened, the Nationals stifled them.

Harper made a sliding catch to take a hit away from Ishikawa in the seventh, then added a splashy flourish with a long homer in the ninth. The ball nearly carried into McCovey Cove.

Closer Drew Storen allowed a run but survived a shaky ninth to cap an improbable victory.

Postseason triumph has come naturally to these Giants, who had won 10 straight playoff and World Series games. Only the Murderers' Row Yankees of the 1920s and the Yankees dynasty of the 1990s have done better.

Until Monday afternoon, the Nationals, for all their talent, hadn't shown a speck of that championship DNA. Then a big moment arrived. The Nationals shifted the pressure away from themselves. And the Giants blinked.

"I don't know if shock's the word,'' Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "It's such an intense game, and I know they want to get that out at third base . . . We made a mistake.''

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