Published October 22, 2012
It all comes down to this. The San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals will play a deciding Game 7 in the National League Championship Series on Monday at AT&T Park.
San Francisco improved to 5-0 in elimination games this postseason on Sunday, as Ryan Vogelsong stifled St. Louis over seven splendid innings, while Marco Scutaro went 2-for-3 with two RBI to help the Giants extend the series with a 6-1 win.
Vogelsong (2-0), who limited the Cardinals to one run on four hits over seven innings in last 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."
San Francisco, of course, 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.
The Giants are trying to become just the third team in NLCS history to rally from a 3-1 series deficit to advance to the World Series.
"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."
Pablo Sandoval added two hits, including an RBI single, and Brandon Belt finished 2-for-4 with two runs scored for the Giants, who are trying to get back to the Fall Classic for the second time in three years.
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.
History could be on the side of the Giants on Monday, as going back to 1976, a home team has won Game 6 of a best-of-seven series, forcing a Game 7, on 12 occasions. The home team has then gone on to win Game 7 as well in 11 of those instances.
However, the only exception to that rule was the Cardinals in the 2006 NLCS, as they lost Game 6 at Shea Stadium and then won Game 7 against the Mets. That was also the last time the NLCS was decided by a seventh game.
Unfortunately for St. Louis, no team has won Game 7 of an LCS on the road after losing the previous contest. The last time any team won Game 7 of a postseason series after losing Game 6 was in the historic 1975 World Series, when the Cincinnati Reds overcame a game-winning homer by Carlton Fisk in Game 6 to defeat the Boston Red Sox in the final game.
But, the Giants have never won a Game 7 of any kind, most recently falling to the Angels in the 2002 World Series. Hoping to reverse that trend will be Cain, who has lost two of his three starts this postseason, including his Game 3 start against the Cardinals.
Cain gave up three runs and six hits in 6 2/3 innings of that one and has pitched to a 4.67 ERA in these playoffs.
"You almost have to revert back to when you were in Little League, because the game is about having fun," Cain said. "Sometimes when you put too much on it, it kind of ruins the moment for you. You don't end up playing as well as you'd like to if you put too much pressure on yourself."
St. Louis, meanwhile, will counter with Lohse, who is 2-0 this postseason with a 1.96 ERA. Lohse beat Cain and the Giants in Game 3, holding San Francisco to a run and seven hits in 5 2/3 frames. He also walked five batters in the win.
"I don't think we look at that as pressure," Lohse said. "I don't think we care about that, to be honest with you. We're focused on right now, what can we do to get back there? History doesn't play any part of it for us. They obviously have got a good crew over there. They've shown that they can play pretty well with their backs up against the wall, too. I don't think we're too worried about anybody's past, because we've both shown we can be pretty resilient when our backs are up against the wall."
St. Louis may also be without outfielder Matt Holliday, who was scratched from the lineup on Sunday with tightness in his back.
The Cardinals will be playing in their major league record 16th Game 7 and own an 11-4 record in such contests. Of course, the Cardinals won their 11th World Series title a year ago by besting Texas in a Game 7. They've also won their last three Game 7s since losing to Atlanta in the 1996 NLCS.
"I don't think you're going to see a choke factor," St. Louis veteran Lance Berkman said. "I think you'll see two teams competing at a high level."
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.
Monday's winner will host AL champion Detroit in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday.