Cards preparing to punch ticket to World Series
OCT 19, 2012 1:04a ET
"Obviously, that's a great club over there," said St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Matt Carpenter, shortly after his team's 8-3 Game 4 romp Thursday at Busch Stadium, the dirt stain fresh on his left pant leg.
"They're here for a reason. At the same time, I think we know what we're capable of doing when we stick to our game plan. … These first two games (at home), I think we've done a good job of it, and hopefully, we can keep it going."
Keep it going? If so, the rally squirrel will become a ravenous wolf.
Keep it going? If so, the comeback Cardinals will become the raging Redbirds, a tested group rolling on the emotion of another fall squall.
On Thursday, this seesaw series became a swing set with the Giants streaking off their seat down 3-1. St. Louis has taken a two-by-four to San Francisco's chin since the NLCS moved to the Midwest, outscoring the NL West champions 11-4 and outhitting them 18-15 in the last two games.
Friday could mean the end of this ambush. It could mean another National League pennant for St. Louis, which would be its 19th. It could create a rematch of the 2006 World Series, which saw the Cardinals beat the Detroit Tigers in five games.
History favors these playoff zombies. Since 1985, 14 teams have held a 3-1 lead in the NLCS, and all but two have advanced to baseball's greenest pasture (the 1996 Cardinals and 2003 Chicago Cubs were the only two not to move on).
Yes, Friday could mean the end. But hold those hotel reservations: The Giants won three consecutive games at Great American Ball Park to advance past the NLDS a week ago.
They know how to survive like these cardiac Cardinals. They have other ideas.
"We're not done at all," Giants centerfielder Angel Pagan said. "We've been through this before, and we can do it. We've been in this situation before, and it seems like we play tougher like this. Tomorrow, it's a huge game for us. If we can win that tomorrow, we're going home, and anything can happen over there."
Anything can happen, but the Giants have bobbed around Busch Stadium with the life of a sinking buoy. Their bats must show some life, any life Friday, or their flight home will be a solo trek that won't include the Cardinals.
What many thought would be a seven-game series shifted as quickly as an Adam Wainwright fastball. Momentum turned when David Freese scored on Shane Robinson's ground out in the seventh inning of Game 3, giving the Cardinals a 3-1 lead before a three-hour, 28-minute rain delay.
Since that moment, the NLCS has been a St. Louis downpour. San Francisco will turn to left-hander Barry Zito on Friday to keep from being washed away into the offseason – but that's a bit like dialing an estranged uncle for a ride home after a sloppy night out.
Zito finished the regular season with a 15-8 record and a 4.15 ERA. By far, this is the maligned pitcher's best season with the Giants after a mushroom-cloud five-year stretch that went without a winning record: He hasn't dropped a decision since losing to the New York Mets on Aug. 2, and he gave San Francisco 2 2/3 innings that included surrendering two runs and four hits in an eventual NLDS Game 4 victory on Oct. 10.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals will give Lance Lynn the keys to a potential series clincher. San Francisco tagged him for four runs and five hits in Game 1, an eventual St. Louis victory.
So the NLCS has come to this: A proven October winner vs. a floundering favorite. The Cardinals have confidence. The Giants have, well, not much going for them.
"We know that they did it back in Cincinnati," Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina said. "We have to come ready to play our game. We have to play our game, and we'll see what happens."
Has shutting down San Francisco the last two games been a surprise?
"Surprising?" he said with a slight laugh, as if insulted. "We've got a good team. When are you guys going to know that? We've got a good team. We've got a good offense. We've got great pitching. It's not surprising."
The NLCS could end much earlier than many thought.
That's a surprise all right. Yet it would be little shock for a group that has stunned plenty the last two postseasons.
You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at email@example.com.
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