SAN FRANCISCO — For the first three-plus games of the National League Championship Series, Matt Adams picked throw after throw at first base to save his teammates numerous errors.
But in the sixth inning of Game 4 on Wednesday night, Adams made two misplays and the Giants made him and the Cardinals pay.
San Francisco scored the tying and go-ahead runs on errant throws by the burly first baseman on the way to a 6-4 victory that puts the Cardinals one loss from the end of their season.
But win Thursday night in a rematch of Game 1 aces Adam Wainwright and Madison Bumgarner (who had a 4.03 ERA at home) and the series will head back to Busch Stadium for Game 6 on Saturday night.
While the Cardinals have made comeback victories a staple of the past four postseasons, this time they let the Giants rally from a 4-1 deficit. San Francisco had cut the lead to 4-3 against an ineffective Shelby Miller, and going into the decisive bottom of the sixth they took full advantage of their opponents’ miscues a night after they won on a walk-off error by Randy Choate.
Lefty reliever Marco Gonzales started the inning by issuing his second walk of the postseason, to pinch-hitter Juan Perez on a full count. The Cardinals’ rookie then gave up a single to left-handed-hitting Brandon Crawford to put runners on first and second. A sacrifice bunt moved both runners into scoring position with another lefty, leadoff hitter Gregor Blanco, coming up.
The Cardinals brought their infield in and Gonzales got Blanco to hit a grounder to first that Adams backhanded cleanly. But he made a weak throw home that didn’t come close to getting Perez, who was running on contact.
"I was throwing on the run, off balance," Adams said. "Fast runner but no excuse. I threw the ball into the dirt. If I make a good throw, there’s a good chance to get an out."
Now with the score tied and runners on first and third, lefty hitter Joe Panik hit another grounder at Adams. Again, he fielded it cleanly and stepped on first for the second out. But then he made another mistake. Instead of checking on Crawford on third, Adams threw to second in an attempt to double up Blanco. This throw was wide of the base as Adams said he tried to avoid Blanco going to second. As soon as Adams threw, Crawford headed for home and by the time Jhonny Peralta caught the throw, he didn’t even have time to go home.
"It’s the right play touching the base," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "He’s just got to check home at that point. The runner wasn’t going. They took off once he released the ball to second base. That’s not the play we want."
Adams agreed. "I should have checked Crawford, but it didn’t happen," he said.
The scene inside the visitors’ clubhouse at AT&T Park was much different from Sunday night in St. Louis when Adams met the media in a joyful postgame presser after his homer tied the game the Cardinals won that evened the series. But there were no smiles after this one. With more than a dozen media types crowding his locker, Adams spoke barely above a whisper.
Asked if he had the right grip on the ball on both throws, he did not disagree. "Both are fast runners, so I was trying to get the ball out as quickly as possible," he said.
Asked if the first play still was on his mind when he made the second, he said, "No. You forget and move on."
Asked about all the action he saw in the field, he said, "They have a lot of lefties in the lineup and they have the ability to pull the ball. You gotta be ready to play."
Adams wasn’t the only Cardinal who was unable to make a play. The Giants scored in the first when center fielder Jon Jay did not hold onto a long fly by Blanco that landed for a double and turned into a run two hitters later.
The Giants returned that favor in the next inning when Kolten Wong hit a long fly to center that hit Blanco’s glove and came out, resulting in a double and then a run when A.J. Pierzynski singled on the next pitch.
But the Giants tightened up and after the Cardinals knocked out Ryan Vogelsong after three innings, they were unable to score despite having runners on in five of the last six innings. And when Adams made his miscues in the sixth, the Giants pounced.
"That’s what good teams do," Adams said. "They capitalize on mistakes."
As the Cardinals have learned the hard way the past two nights.