SAN FRANCISCO — Everyone seemed to be of the same mind that Thursday’s series opener between the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants was an important game.
More important, they all agreed, is the series.
The Giants got the jump on the Cardinals with a 6-2 win Thursday night behind Johnny Cueto’s complete game.
Cueto seemed to challenge his teammates after the win, boasting, "Every game I will pitch from now on, I will pitch like a playoff game. That’s the way we need to play, like it’s a playoff game."
The Giants and Cardinals are well versed in playoff-type games, dating back to the Giants’ run at their first of three World Series championships in 2010.
But neither of Friday’s starting pitchers has been a part of it.
The Giants’ Matt Moore, acquired at the trade deadline from the Tampa Bay Rays, and Cardinals’ Luke Weaver, who has only six games of major league experience, will duel in Game 2 of the series.
The night will begin with the Giants (78-68) leading the New York Mets (77-69) by one game and the Cardinals (76-70) by two in the race for the two National League wild-card spots.
Also at stake in the Cardinals-Giants series is home-field advantage in a possible wild-card tie-breaker should they finish the regular season in a tie.
Home field will go to the team that has the better head-to-head record during the regular season. The Giants’ win Thursday evened that count at 2-2.
"I’m not trying to downplay (Thursday’s) game, but we do have time left," losing pitcher Adam Wainwright insisted. "We have plenty of time left to make this thing happen. We just have to play good games and have good starting pitching and play good defense and get timely hits. That’s what we’re going to try to do going forward."
The Giants had all of the above in the opener. Hunter Pence hit a two-run homer off Wainwright, Buster Posey had a four-hit game, and Denard Span, demoted from first to eighth in the batting order, contributed a key two-run single in support of Cueto.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, got a subpar effort from Wainwright (four runs and nine hits in 5 2/3 innings), hit poorly in general (seven 1-2-3 innings), and stranded four baserunners in the two innings in which they scored single runs.
No doubt, the spotlight was on, and the Giants responded best on the first night.
"There was added intensity with who we’re playing," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of the playoff-type atmosphere. "We’re both fighting to get there. We knew we had to go out and play well, and we did that."
The Cardinals welcomed back a potentially key player for their stretch run when former closer Trevor Rosenthal was activated from the disabled list before Thursday’s game.
He could play a role in the series before weekend’s end.