ST. LOUIS — These energy bursts, either out of survival or necessity, have become hard to explain for the men who continue to play because of them. The
San Francisco Giants have turned the elimination game into an adrenaline shot, shaking early series setbacks and somehow, some way, still breathing.
Some left them for dead in the National League Division Series after they dropped two games at AT&T Park to the Cincinnati Reds. But then they won three consecutive contests on the road.
Some figured they had a less-than-slight chance Friday, down 3-1 in the National League Championship Series vs. the Cardinals in St. Louis, with left-hander Barry Zito starting. Then San Francisco sent most of the 47,075 fans at Busch Stadium home disappointed.
The Giants are back in the Bay Area for Game 6 of the NLCS on Sunday night, still defying odds and refusing to panic.
They'll try to earn the second of three consecutive victories necessary to clinch the franchise's 22nd NL pennant. They did the same less than two weeks ago vs. the Reds. The Giants will have to rally against a team that knows a bit about October magic — and they find excitement in the challenge.
"Can you explain it?" Giants outfielder Hunter Pence said to reporters on Friday amid shouts and singing coming from a shower area nearby in the clubhouse. "I don't know if you can really explain it. I hope you guys enjoy the games. We love to play them."
At this point, why wouldn't they love to play this way?
San Francisco has won four consecutive elimination games by a combined score of 21-8. They have done it with a variety of arms: Sergio Romo and Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Zito all earned victories with the season at stake. They play calmly in situations where most would expect them to perform tightly, scrap when most expect them to fold.
These Giants have become the postseason's version of a cockroach — hard to contain, even harder to kill. In Games 4 and 5 of the NLDS, the Reds cracked a combined 21 hits, with only seven runs to show for it. In Game 5 of the NLCS, the Cardinals stranded seven runners and failed to produce a single run.
When the Giants' backs are against a wall they play their best. A turbulent regular season prepared them for this moment.
"Everyone counted us out four or five times this year already," San Francisco right-hander and Game 6 starter Ryan Vogelsong said. "First, when (closer Brian) Wilson went down, people said we couldn't do it. Then we lost (outfielder) Melky (Cabrera), unfortunately. People said we couldn't do it. The Dodgers made the big trade. People said we weren't going to do it. We go down two in Cincinnati. ... They said we're not going to do it.
"I think the perseverance through the whole season is where we draw the confidence that it's not over until the last out is made."
That's something the Cardinals would be wise to note as they try to advance to their second consecutive World Series. They will start Chris Carpenter in Game 6, hoping for a better result than the seasoned right-hander was able to produce in Game 2. Last Monday, the 15-year veteran was chased after four innings in which he allowed five runs and six hits in an eventual 7-1 defeat.
Meanwhile, that same night, Vogelsong mastered a potent St. Louis lineup and helped the Giants avoid a 2-0 series hole. He threw seven innings and surrendered one run and four hits. The 35-year-old has been a model of consistency in the postseason, yielding two runs on seven hits, while striking out nine in 12 innings.
"We're still in the driver's seat here," Cardinals second baseman Daniel Descalso said. "We're up 3-2, and we've just got to go out there and get one win. ... We try to stay level. We've done a good job of bouncing back all year."
Added Cardinals manager Mike Matheny: "We go out and we play the game. The team that can take the distractions and put them aside and just go out and do your job is the team that's going to have a higher likelihood of winning. This team has that ability."
St. Louis has shown that ability, but the Cardinals find themselves in a role reversal of sorts back on the West Coast. Usually they are the postseason survivors. Usually they are speaking about perseverance. Usually they are drawing motivation from doubts.
But after Game 5, the plastic and champagne remained stocked, the series remained competitive and the Giants remained confident in their ability to stage another rally in this unpredictable month.
Before dispersing for the night, a small crowd of media gathered near San Francisco shortstop Brandon Crawford. He stood before his stall sharing the message of the Giants' resilience. This series had life, he was proud to say, even if some outside these walls assumed the end was near.
"We've won three in the postseason before," he said. "So that's kind of a goal, just to get back home and win the next two."