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SF@LAD: Sandoval hits a single to take the lead

LOS ANGELES -- To summarize the Giants' current excellence, try tweaking the title of a well-known Journey song that's played on the public-address system in the late innings at AT&T Park to inspire fans.

With these Giants, the theme isn't "Don't Stop Believin'." Rather, start believing.

Though San Francisco's season is just 38 games old, it's permissible to regard this club as a legitimate postseason contender. Sunday's 7-4, 10-inning victory over the Dodgers punctuated a superb road trip for the Giants, who posted a 7-3 record while visiting three postseason participants from 2013 -- the Braves, Pirates and Dodgers.

"I can't say it surprised me," manager Bruce Bochy said of his team's performance, "because I think they're that good."

The Giants had to be good in multiple facets of the game to win their fifth consecutive series against the Dodgers dating back to last season and improve to 7-3 in 2014 against their arch-rivals.

Pick a category, any category.

Start with pitching, the game's heartbeat. Though Tim Hudson fell short of seven innings for the first time in eight starts, he left with a mere one-run deficit and became eligible for a winning decision when Brandon Hicks belted a two-run homer off Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw in the seventh inning.

Closer Sergio Romo blew his first save opportunity in 13 chances this season by surrendering Hanley Ramirez's two-run homer in ninth inning, forcing extra innings. But Romo's lapse was bracketed by effective relief, most notably Jean Machi's shutout inning in the 10th for his first big league save. Machi stranded two runners to help the Giants hike their record in extra-inning contests to 6-1.

The Giants' upgraded defense hastened their success once more. Hicks, ostensibly a second baseman, recorded a couple of assists while stationed in overshifted positions. Catcher Buster Posey lunged for a wide throw from Hicks and tagged Andre Ethier in virtually the same motion to record an out at home plate in the fifth inning. Brandon Crawford, who began the afternoon getting a rest, entered the game in the seventh inning and made a pair of typically breathtaking plays from deep in the shortstop hole.

Center fielder Angel Pagan, perhaps the most indispensable Giant, again demonstrated his versatility. In addition to scoring three runs, Pagan unleashed a powerful one-hop throw home on Justin Turner's single in the sixth inning to apprehend Adrian Gonzalez at the plate. Pagan delivered that peg in the middle of Los Angeles' two-run uprising, thus preventing a moderate rally from escalating.

The offense looked promising despite having scored three runs or fewer in seven of the trip's previous nine games, and though Bochy fielded a lineup that featured five consecutive position players batting less than .200, starting from the cleanup spot.

That No. 4 hitter, Pablo Sandoval, whacked three hits, including a double in the first inning that ended a 20-game streak without an RBI. Sandoval also singled in front of Hicks' homer and grounded another single with the bases loaded and nobody out in the 10th inning off Dodgers relief ace Kenley Jansen to break a 4-4 tie.

"I didn't worry about it," Sandoval said of his run-production drought. "I try to do the best I can and try to stay positive."

"He seems like he's got some confidence going," Bochy said of Sandoval, who has remained in a season-long slump. "He's got a little bit of a swagger going, and he has to keep that."

The Giants gave themselves reason to swagger out of Chavez Ravine. For once they weren't dominated by Kershaw, who entered the game with a 1.38 career ERA against them. That was the lowest figure compiled against the Giants, from New York to San Francisco, by any pitcher they've faced for at least 75 innings.

Kershaw yielded three runs, marking only the second time he has allowed that many in 22 starts against the Giants. His formidable curveball didn't fool Hicks, who pounded an 0-2 bender into the left-field seats. Hicks, who also homered off Kershaw this March in Cactus League action, is batting .200 yet has a .463 slugging percentage. That's because 11 of his 19 hits have gone for extra bases.

The Giants rewarded themselves for their efforts in the 10th. Jansen walked Pagan, yielded Hunter Pence's single and, after a wild pitch, intentionally walked Posey. Up came Sandoval, who grounded Jansen's first pitch into left field through a drawn-in infield.

Pinch-hitter Hector Sanchez added an RBI single. Of Sanchez's 16 RBIs, six have come in bases-loaded, extra-inning situations. A wild pitch by J.P. Howell enabled Posey to score.

"It wasn't there today," Jansen said. "I'm just going to keep going out there and fight and compete."

The Giants seem to have mastered those skills.

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