With their backs to the wall, Ryan Vogelsong and the San Francisco Giants rose to the occasion once again.
Vogelsong stifled the St. Louis Cardinals over seven splendid innings and Marco Scutaro went 2-for-3 with two RBI as the never-say-die Giants forced a deciding Game 7 of the National League Championship Series with a 6-1 decision at AT&T Park.
The victory was the fifth of the postseason when San Francisco has faced elimination. The Giants fought back from a 2-0 deficit to overtake Cincinnati in the best-of-five NLDS and have evened this set with two consecutive wins, beginning with a 5-0 triumph in St. Louis in Friday's Game 5.
"I wouldn't say we like it, but it seems like guys are playing really well when we get in this situation," said Matt Cain, who will take the mound for San Francisco opposite Kyle Lohse in Monday's finale. "Guys are just kind of letting it all hang out and it seems to be working out really well."
Vogelsong (2-0), who limited the Cardinals to one run on four hits over seven innings in Monday's Game 2, duplicated the feat to keep San Francisco's season alive. The journeyman righty also established a career high with nine strikeouts while lowering his earned run average to 1.42 in three starts this postseason.
"He was on top of his game again," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. "He's got great stuff. When he's locating, he's tough, and [he] had it going on again tonight and really was going in-and-out and had his good off-speed pitches going."
Pablo Sandoval added two hits, including an RBI single, and Brandon Belt finished 2-for-4 with two runs scored as the Giants set up a winner-take-all matchup between the past two World Series champions for the right to face AL representative Detroit in this year's Fall Classic.
Chris Carpenter (1-2), one of the heroes during St. Louis' title run of last season, was tagged for five runs -- two earned -- on six hits over four innings to record the loss.
Vogelsong, who spent four full seasons out of the major leagues before putting together an unexpected 13-win campaign as a 33-year-old in 2011, was brilliant right from the start in the biggest game of his nomadic career. The veteran fanned five of the first seven batters he faced, set down 13 consecutive Cardinals after issuing a first-inning walk and didn't allow a hit until Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma delivered back-to-back singles in the fifth.
"I just kind of saw the way our team reacted the other night when Barry [Zito] came out and kind of took the bull by the horns early and was throwing up zeroes," Vogelsong said. "I saw how our team was feeding off of that. And I just knew that I had to go out there and keep them off the board early and give us a chance to do something offensively."
Vogelsong's only real trouble came in the sixth, when Carlos Beltran doubled and Allen Craig followed with a single to account for St. Louis' first -- and only -- run.
By that time, the outcome had already been more or less decided.
Carpenter, making only his sixth start since returning from thoracic outlet surgery in September, quickly demonstrated he wasn't at peak effectiveness. The former Cy Young Award winner walked Scutaro on five pitches, then fell behind Sandoval before the San Francisco third baseman laced a double to center to put two men in scoring position with one out in the bottom of the first.
A big inning would be prevented when Carpenter got Buster Posey to ground out as Scutaro crossed the plate with the game's initial run, then struck out Hunter Pence with Sandoval stranded at second.
Carpenter couldn't minimize the damage in the Giants' next at-bat, however.
Belt opened the bottom of the second with a triple off the wall in right center, and after an intentional walk to Brandon Crawford, scored on a Vogelsong grounder that St. Louis shortstop Kozma mishandled for an error.
The miscue would prove costly, as Scutaro smacked a two-out double down the left-field line to plate Crawford and Vogelsong for a 4-0 advantage, and Sandoval extended the margin further by ending a 10-pitch battle with Carpenter with a single up the middle that brought home Scutaro.
Relievers Jeremy Affeldt and Santiago Casilla kept it a 5-1 game by keeping the Cardinals off the board in the top of the eighth, and the Giants tacked on another run in their half of the frame. An infield single by Belt and a walk to Crawford from Marc Rzepcynski put two on for pinch-hitter Ryan Theriot, who greeted Edward Mujica with a base hit to drive in Belt.
Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday was scratched prior to the game after experiencing back tightness while warming up. He was replaced by Matt Carpenter, who went 1-for-3 as the first baseman with Craig shifting to left ... St. Louis has now allowed nine unearned runs over the six games, tied for most the 2001 Atlanta Braves for the most permitted in an LCS ... Chris Carpenter is now 10-4 in 18 career postseason starts, with two of the losses coming against Vogelsong in this series ... Monday's clash will be the first Game 7 of an NLCS since the Cardinals bested the New York Mets in 2006.