SPORTS

MLB roundup: San Francisco and St. Louis win, joining Baltimore and Kansas City in league championships

Time for a deep breath.

Chance to catch up on the DVR.

Baseball's postseason takes a two-day break Wednesday and Thursday after none of the four Division Series went the full five games. The action starts up again Friday night when Kansas City visits Baltimore in the AL Championship Series opener.

"Big Game James" Shields pitches for the wild-card Royals against Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman. The best-of-seven playoff matches surprising squads that have never met in the postseason.

Baltimore seeks its first pennant since 1983. Kansas City is in the playoffs for the first time since winning the 1985 World Series.

Over in the National League, it's San Francisco and St. Louis in a rematch of their 2012 NLCS, won by the Giants after they rallied from a 3-1 series deficit. Game 1 is Saturday night at Busch Stadium.

Those two teams are no strangers to October success. While the Giants are looking to make every other year a pattern after winning the World Series in 2010 and 2012, the Cardinals are in their fourth straight NLCS and ninth in 15 years.

St. Louis advanced Tuesday with a 3-2 win over Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers, bringing cheers from San Francisco fans at AT&T Park who were happy to see rival Los Angeles eliminated.

Hours later, the wild-card Giants won their own Game 4 by an identical score against Washington.

After their summer slide and a September stumble, the San Francisco Giants have that old October swagger back.

Joe Panik scored the go-ahead run in the seventh inning on Aaron Barrett's bases-loaded wild pitch, and Santiago Casilla walked Bryce Harper with two outs in the ninth, then retired Wilson Ramos on a grounder to end it. 

Casilla was mobbed on the mound as fireworks shot off from the center-field scoreboard.

"I just talked about their will. These guys, they're relentless," Bochy said. "They were warriors on the road. We had to win at Pittsburgh, we got two in Washington."

The wild-card Giants, with their cast of rookies and homegrown stars, won the series with three one-run victories, including an excruciating 2-1 Game 2 win that lasted 18 innings.

The Nationals' offense never got on track, lacking the power that carried them to an NL East title and the best record in the league at 96-66.

"It's tender and it's bitter and all of those things, but I'm proud of them," rookie Washington manager Matt Williams said.

After his wild pitch snapped a 2-all tie, Barrett got set to intentionally walk Pablo Sandoval. But the right-hander sailed a toss way over the head of Ramos, who quickly retrieved the ball near the backstop. Ramos threw to Barrett covering the plate, where he tagged out a sliding Buster Posey.

The call was upheld after a replay review of 1 minute, 57 seconds, denying San Francisco an insurance run.

Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez found several ways to hurt himself in the second.

The Giants loaded the bases after Brandon Crawford's one-out single before Gonzalez misplayed Juan Perez's slow dribbler for an error. San Francisco starter Ryan Vogelsong beat out a bunt single that went untouched, and then Gregor Blanco drew a four-pitch walk to force home the first run.

Panik added an RBI groundout.

Hunter Pence produced the play of the night when he slammed his back into an archway on the right-field wall to rob Jayson Werth of extra bases in the sixth. Fans enjoying the game from the outside portwalk witnessed the grab from just behind Pence and broke into frenzied cheers.

San Francisco fans also cheered when the rival Dodgers were eliminated by St. Louis at Busch Stadium earlier earlier in the day, putting the Cardinals in their fourth straight NLCS.

For the second straight time, the lefty generally acknowledged as the best pitcher in baseball was no match for a team that's made a habit of coming alive this time of the year.

Matt Adams' drive sent Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers packing.

While celebrating a 3-2 victory in Game 4 on Tuesday that put the franchise in the NL Championship Series for the fourth straight year, St. Louis Cardinals teammates bathed in champagne said they'd counted on the burly first baseman nicknamed Big City.

"We were jumping around, hitting our heads in the dugout, going crazy," ace Adam Wainwright said. "I just had a feeling the big fellow was going to come through. I called it."

Adams could barely contain his enthusiasm after his first homer against a left-hander since July 7, this one against a pitcher who was 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA. Adams thrust both arms in the air while still in the batter's box and added a couple of big hops that made for an entertaining trot around the bases.

"Definitely the highlight of my career," he said. "I will never, ever forget this."

Before surrendering three straight hits and a two-run lead to open the seventh, Kershaw had shut down St. Louis. Stunned by Adams' drive, he bent at the waist with his hands on his knees.

While the steady Cardinals advanced to their ninth NLCS in 15 years, the defeat was a huge disappointment for the NL West champion Dodgers, who finished the regular season with a $256 million payroll that was $40 million higher than any other team.

Kershaw allowed one homer to left-handed batters in the regular season but gave up two to the Cardinals, with Matt Carpenter connecting in the opener. He's 0-3 with a 9.72 ERA in his last three postseason appearances, all against St. Louis.

Reliever Marco Gonzales earned his second victory of the series after getting treated for a nosebleed. The rookie lefty got Adrian Gonzalez on a groundout to end the seventh and strand two runners.

The Cardinals had an NL-low 105 homers this season and left-handed batters had only eight homers against lefty pitching. But lefties hit five off Dodgers southpaws in four playoff games.

The Dodgers took the lead in the sixth with two hits and a double-play groundout, and made it 2-0 on Juan Uribe's single off Seth Maness. They missed a chance to add on when catcher Yadier Molina quickly recovered a pitch in the dirt and picked off Andre Ethier at third.

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