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Giants’ defense makes all the big plays in Game 3

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Madison Bumgarner looked even better with Freddy Sanchez flipping and twisting behind him.

Sanchez shined at second base, catcher Buster Posey showed off his strong arm, and Bumgarner got into the act by deftly deflecting Josh Hamilton’s liner and turning it into an out.

How about this dazzling defense for a San Francisco Giants team best known for its pitching? That fielding might help them win a World Series.

“A lot of great plays,” Bumgarner said. “I needed them tonight.”

Sanchez started a pair of double plays and made a leaping stop of a line drive that put him on his back. Posey threw out Josh Hamilton stealing. And Cody Ross slid after making a shoestring catch in Sunday night’s 4-0 win over the Rangers in Game 4.

The Giants’ handiwork behind Bumgarner moved them within one victory of the city’s elusive World Series crown. They can do it Monday in the Metroplex.

San Francisco’s dependable D has been second all season to its standout pitching staff. Not in this one, even if Bumgarner was at his best on his biggest stage yet.

“When we thought we might get something done, he gets the ball down on the ground and they get a double play,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said of Bumgarner.

San Francisco made one mistake all night, when third baseman Juan Uribe misplayed Hamilton’s seventh-inning chopper for a fielding error.

Sanchez set the tone from the start. The postseason first-timer finishing up his ninth big league season followed up his big day with the bat in Game 1 with an equally impressive outing at second base.

If the Giants go on to capture the franchise’s first championship in 56 years, and first since the club moved West from New York in 1958, Sanchez’s defense will be a big reason.

“That was all Freddy,” first baseman Travis Ishikawa said. “He was tremendous over there, going left, going right. He definitely made a lot of key plays for us tonight.”

Sanchez’s gutsy grab on Jeff Francoeur’s sharp liner ended the second inning with a Rangers runner on first base. Sanchez wound up on his back making the play, holding his glove in the air with half the ball showing.

“When you have good pitching like Bumgarner today, you have to play good defense,” Renteria said. “We talked about that. We knew we had to play good defense and we did it.”

Manager Bruce Bochy benched slumping left fielder Pat Burrell and went with Ross in his place, while Nate Schierholtz earned his first postseason start in right, and Ishikawa made his first start in these playoffs at first base. Huff was the designated hitter, and he connected for his first homer of the postseason in 51 at-bats with a two-run drive in the third.

“That was a big part of it, defense,” Bochy said of writing out his lineup.

Ross caught Ian Kinsler’s liner for the second out of the fifth.

“I just sold out. As soon as it came off the bat — he had some topspin on it — I said I’m going to go for it, and luckily it held up for a little while,” Ross said. “As soon as he hit it, I just went for it.”

For the 32-year-old Sanchez, this deep run and his solid play is a huge relief. He was a disappointment after joining the Giants in a 2009 trade deadline deal from Pittsburgh.

A three-time All-Star and the 2006 NL batting champion for the Pirates, he was limited to 25 games for San Francisco because of injuries after the trade.

He had left knee surgery late last season, then underwent a procedure on his non-throwing left shoulder Dec. 23 that landed him on the disabled list to start the year.

Still, the Giants had faith Sanchez would recover, giving him a $12 million, two-year contract after the 2009 season.

Sanchez said he was embarrassed not to be able to help the Giants down the stretch last year, and San Francisco missed the playoffs for a sixth straight season.

Now, no one will argue he has made good.

Sanchez had four hits with three doubles and drove in three runs in the World Series opener last Wednesday. This time, his defense was spot on.

Aside from that catch on Francoeur’s ball, he started inning-ending double plays in the first and sixth and nearly took a hit away from Michael Young leading off the fourth. Sanchez lunged to his left to field the grounder but couldn’t quite control the ball and barely missed throwing out Young for what became Texas’ first hit off Bumgarner.

“It’s nothing new,” Schierholtz said of Sanchez. “It seems like it’s been pretty common all year. Snagging that line drive, from right field it looked pretty good.”

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