Rounding Third: Do or die for Cardinals, Giants
Philadelphia, PA – 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.
Everyone seems to be throwing bouquets the Cardinals' way for their resiliency this postseason, but how about the never-say-die attitude of the Giants? They improved to 5-0 in elimination games on Sunday behind seven solid innings from Ryan Vogelsong and two hits and two RBI from Marco Scutaro in a 6-1 win to save its season.
"He was on top of his game again," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Vogelsong said. "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 has evened this set with two consecutive wins, beginning with a 5-0 triumph in St. Louis in Friday's Game 5.
The Giants, who lost to the Cardinals in a winner-take-all Game 7 in the 1987 NLCS, 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.
"We've had our backs to the wall, both teams have, and you're seeing a great series here," Bochy said. "That's good for baseball, a seventh game. You look at the first series, all the games went five games. This is what makes this game even more exciting."
History could be on the side of San Francisco 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.
"It's one game, winner take all. Whatever happened today is going to have no effect on what happens tomorrow," Cardinals second baseman Daniel Descalso said after Game 6. "We won a one-game playoff in Atlanta. We won a big Game 5 in Washington. And now before we move on, we have to win a Game 7 here."
But, the Giants have never won a Game 7 of any kind, most recently falling to the Angels in the 2002 World Series.
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."
No matter who wins on Monday, the real winner may be the Detroit Tigers, who have been idle since Friday and will have ace Justin Verlander raring to go on Wednesday when the 108th Fall Classic gets underway.
Hoping to give the Giants their first-ever Game 7 win will be right-hander Matt Cain, who has lost two of his three starts this postseason, including his Game 3 start against the Cardinals.
"I wouldn't say we like it, but it seems like guys are playing really well when we get in this situation," said Cain. "Guys are just kind of letting it all hang out and it seems to be working out really well."
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."
Cain, a 16-game winner with a perfect game to his credit this season, will be opposed by St. Louis' Kyle Lohse, who is 2-0 with a 1.96 ERA this season. 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 be without outfielder Matt Holliday, who was scratched from the lineup on Sunday with tightness in his back.
"It's been bothering him for a while, and we talked today and he said it felt better," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said shortly before first pitch. "He's adamant that he can play, but I was watching him take BP, and he's really having a hard time finishing (his swing)."
If Holliday, a 222 hitter with one home run and seven RBI this postseason, is unable to go, Matheny will likely employ the same lineup he used on Sunday with Allen Craig moving to left field and hitting fourth, and Matt Carpenter playing first and batting second. Right-fielder Carlos Beltran would then hit third in that scenario.
"We'll see," Matheny said, "when we get here tomorrow."
PREDICTION: SAN FRANCISCO, 8-3