SF Giants edge Atlanta Braves to reach NLCS

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Cody Ross belted a solo home run and added an RBI single as the San Francisco Giants edged the Atlanta Braves 3-2 to clinch the best-of-five National League Division Series 3-1 on Monday.

In a tense series that saw all four games decided by a single run, it was no surprise that the Giants would not secure their first trip to the NL Championship Series since 2002 and a meeting with the Philadelphia Phillies until after closer Brian Wilson's final pitch.

Before the Giants broke into full party mode, the team stopped and applauded as Atlanta manager Bobby Cox, retiring after 25 seasons guiding the Braves, stepped out of the dugout and accepted a final ovation from the home crowd.

"I can't say enough about our pitching, they just kept us in there the whole time," Ross told reporters. "We just have to score a few and we did tonight and it was a big one.

"To come in here and take two is huge."

Giants starter Madison Bumgarner, taking the hill for the first time since September 30, struggled early, loading the bases in the second inning. But he got out of jam when Braves starter Derek Lowe flied out to right to end the threat.

In the third inning, Bumgarner was again in trouble with men on the corners and one out but this time he would not escape, as Brian McCann pounding a sacrifice fly to deep right field, scoring Omar Infante for 1-0 lead.

Infante was inserted into the Braves lineup for Brooks Conrad who was benched after committing three errors in Game Three, including a costly blunder with two out in the ninth that gifted the Giants a 3-2 victory and a 2-1 series lead.

Ross broke open Lowe's no-hitter in the sixth inning when he lined a solo shot into the first row of the left field bleachers.

But McCann, who led the Braves in homers this season, quickly put Atlanta back in front with a lead-off shot to open their half of sixth, taking the first offering from Bumgarner and crushing it over the right field wall.

Lowe, making his second start of the series on short rest, ran out of steam in the seventh as the Giants loaded the bases, chasing the right-hander from the game.

San Francisco tied the score when Aubrey Huff scored on an Alex Gonzalez throwing error before Ross lined a single that scored Buster Posey to give the Giants a 3-2 lead.

Wilson, baseball's top closer this season with 48 saves, was called on in the ninth to get the final three outs but the resilient Braves mounted one final rally.

After getting the first out, the Giants' bushy bearded closer issued back-to-back walks to Rick Ankiel and Eric Hinske, bringing the capacity crowd at Turner Field to its feet.

Wilson would buckle down, however, striking out Infante before getting Melky Cabrera to ground out to seal the victory.

Bumgarner (1-0) got the win, yielding two runs on six hits in six innings while Lowe (0-2) absorbed the loss, allowing three runs, two earned, on two hits with eight strike outs.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, Editing by Steve Ginsburg)