The St. Louis Cardinals attempt to get back to the World Series for the second straight season on Friday when they try to eliminate the San Francisco Giants in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium.
St. Louis moved to the brink of another NL pennant on Thursday, as Adam Wainwright tossed seven stellar innings in an 8-3 triumph to give the Cards a 3-1 series advantage.
Wainwright (1-0) was roughed up for six runs in only 2 1/3 innings in his Game 5 NLDS start against the Washington Nationals, but his teammates bailed him out by mounting one of the most improbable comebacks in division series history to advance to the NLCS.
The 31-year-old right-hander redeemed himself on Thursday, limiting the Giants to one run on four hits with five strikeouts and no walks to earn the victory.
"A little part of me wanted to really prove it to myself that I could go out there and pitch great when we need me to," Wainwright said of disappointing start in Game 5 of the NLDS. "I was very confident in my ability and my stuff, I just needed to trust it and go out there and make pitches and tonight I was able to execute."
Jon Jay, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina each registered two RBI, while Allen Craig and Pete Kozma added an RBI apiece for the defending champions, who will be trying for their 19th NL pennant with a win on Friday.
St. Louis was once again without slugger Carlos Beltran, who injured his knee in Game 3. Beltran, though, hopes to be in the lineup on Friday.
"Right now, the plan is to come in tomorrow and do what I have to do in order to be in the lineup," Beltran said. "Today was a better day for me, better than yesterday.
History is certainly on the Cardinals' side. Since the best-of-seven LCS format was introduced, 12 of the 14 teams to hold a 3-1 NLCS advantage have gone to the World Series.
Tim Lincecum (1-1) was knocked around in his first start of the postseason, giving up four runs on six hits and three walks over 4 2/3 frames.
Pablo Sandoval crushed a two-run homer in the ninth and Hunter Pence added a solo shot, but the Giants dropped consecutive road games for the first time since July 7-8 of this season.
On Friday, the Cards turn to righty Lance Lynn, who was an 18-game winner in the regular season, but is just 1-1 with an 8.59 ERA in the postseason. Lynn was roughed up in his Game 1 start against the Giants to the tune of four runs and five hits in 3 2/3 innings, but escaped without a decision.
Lynn had pitched in relief three days earlier and had pitched three times in four in four days prior to those two days' rest, including a three-inning relief stint in Game 2 of the NL Division Series against Washington.
"It's just a game," Lynn said. "You've got to go out and execute and do what you're supposed to do. Any game at this time of the year is going to have a lot riding on it. It's going to be an exciting game. They're going to come fight. They don't want to be done, and we want to move on, so it's going to be an exciting game."
Working in Lynn's favor in Game 5 is the fact that he was significantly better at Busch Stadium this season than on the road, posting a 9-4 record and 3.28 ERA at home.
San Francisco, meanwhile, will counter with lefty Barry Zito, who won his final seven regular season starts, but couldn't get out of the third inning in his lone postseason appearance.
"It was an elimination game the last time I pitched," Zito said. "So it's not like it will be a new experience."
Zito started Game 4 of the NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds, but did not get a decision, despite allowing two runs and four hits with four walks in just 2 2/3 innings of his team's 8-3 win.
He had gone 3-0 with a 2.29 ERA over his first three career road playoff starts before facing Cincinnati. The Giants have also won the last 12 times he has taken the hill.
"We've been winning a whole bunch behind him," said Pence. "I'm looking forward to his start. We have all the confidence in him."
Zito was 15-8 with a 4.15 ERA this season.
San Francisco has played the Cardinals twice before in the playoffs. St. Louis edged the Giants in a thrilling seven-game series in 1987, but San Francisco got its revenge in 2002 with a five-game win in the LCS.
This is the first matchup between the two previous World Series winners since the New York Yankees and Milwaukee Braves dueled in the 1958 Fall Classic.
If necessary, Game 6 of this series will be played on Sunday at AT&T Park.