Cards eye World Series berth, as NLCS shifts back to San Francisco

Facing elimination, the San Francisco Giants return home to face the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series at AT&T Park.

San Francisco kept St. Louis' champagne on ice Friday, as Barry Zito tossed 7 2/3 scoreless innings to help the Giants stay alive in a 5-0 win.

Zito (1-0) scattered six hits and a walk while striking out six in turning in another clutch late-season performance that trimmed the Giants' deficit to 3-2 in this series. The battle-tested lefty also contributed on the offensive end, dropping in an RBI bunt single that capped a four-run fourth inning.

Brandon Crawford knocked in two runs and Pablo Sandoval went 2-for-4 with a solo homer and scored twice to help San Francisco, which also had to battle back to win its last three games to get past Cincinnati in the best-of-five NLDS.

"I don't know how many times we needed to win this year, he found a way to get it done for us," said San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy.

Cardinals starter Lance Lynn (1-2) wasn't as effective and failed to make it out of the fourth inning for a second straight NLCS start. Lynn, an 18-game winner during the regular season, surrendered four runs -- though all were unearned due to a costly throwing error of his own doing -- on four hits and a pair of walks along with six strikeouts.

Lynn also lasted just 3 2/3 innings and allowed four runs in St. Louis' 6-4 road win over the Giants in Game 1.

Yadier Molina accounted for two of seven total hits for the reigning world champion Cardinals, who are vying for their second straight and 19th NL pennant overall.

"We never were thinking for a second that these guys are going to go away," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said of the Giants. "They're a good team and they're going to keep fighting, we know that. It just comes down to execution. They executed today better than we did."

History is still on the Cardinals' side. Since the LCS moved to a seven-game format in 1985, 14 teams have taken a 3-1 lead in the NLCS, and only two have failed to advance to the World Series. Additionally, of the 12 that did advance after taking a 3-1 lead, six of them lost Game 5 but still won the series, most recently the Giants in 2010.

The Giants, though, have won four straight elimination games.

Hoping to extend that streak for San Francisco on Sunday will be right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, who became the first Giants starter to make it through six innings this postseason when he went seven solid innings in his Game 2 victory. He surrendered four hits and one run in that one for his first career postseason win.

He is 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in two starts in these playoffs.

"We all kind of feel like we've been in this situation before with Cincinnati," Vogelsong said. "And it's not over until the last out. I think both teams that are playing right now have proved that in the first round."

St. Louis, meanwhile, will counter with righty Chris Carpenter, who pitched two clinching wins for the Cardinals last season. Carpenter, though, lost to Vogelsong and the Giants in Game 2, as he allowed five runs (2 earned) and six hits in only four innings.

"The last time out, my stuff went backwards a little bit," Carpenter said. "And then my command wasn't very good, and I was trying everything I could to get outs, but it just unfortunately didn't work. So I had some nice work in between that start and this start and I feel good, and I'm looking forward to going back out there."

In two postseason starts he has pitched to a 1.86 ERA and is 10-3 lifetime in the playoffs.

Sunday will mark the fifth time in Carpenter's career that he's started with a chance for his team to clinch a playoff series. In those games, he and the Cardinals are 3-1.

"We want to win it as soon as we can," said Carpenter, who has pitched to a 1.93 ERA in those outings. "We wanted to do it last night. We have to get one win before they get two. We'll do whatever we can. If it's not tomorrow night, we'll come in and do it again."

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 7 of this series will be played on Monday at AT&T Park.