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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Wainwright bounces back to beat Giants

Wainwright bounces back to beat Giants

Adam Wainwright had promised himself this time would be better, that he wouldn't squander the second chance afforded by his team's improbable scramble from a pit of his making in last Friday's all-in tilt against the Washington Nationals.
So far this postseason Wainwright had absorbed the loss in Game 1 of the National League division series and experienced the shortest start of his career in Game 5. After lasting only seven outs, Wainwright became a spectator to the biggest comeback ever in a make-or-break postseason game.
There were no apologies needed Thursday night at Busch Stadium, no promises of a future make-good.
This time Wainwright took a recovering offense's largesse and turned it into a personal statement. The Cardinals and an announced crowd of 47,062 afterward celebrated a 8-3 win over the San Francisco Giants in Game 4 of the National League championship series.
The series now leans heavily toward the defending World Series champions. Where it goes from here still isn't certain. But unless the Giants win tonight it won't be returning to the Bay.
The Cardinals hold a commanding 3-1 lead in a series that has seen the Giants score only twice the last two games before a too-late two-run homer in the ninth. After getting by with less, the Cardinals' python offense engaged in a feeding frenzy.
Up and down Thursday's lineup the Cardinals made amends for squeezing just 19 hits from the series' first three games. They started by reaching two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum for four runs in 4 2/3 innings and kept going after a bullpen that allowed two significant sixth-inning runs.
Left fielder Matt Holliday became the night's early offensive centerpiece, driving in the Cardinals' first run before Lincecum secured an out and producing a 3-1 lead with a fifth-inning single. He entered the game one for 11 with runners in scoring position this postseason.
Hitting .167 for the postseason, center fielder Jon Jay scored the night's first run, then followed with a two-run, sixth-inning double that put the Cardinals up 6-1 and, realistically, the game out of reach.
The Cardinals broke out with right fielder Carlos Beltran on the bench with a sore right knee. They asked little of their bullpen the night after closer Jason Motte offered a six-out save. Wainwright lasted only eight innings in his first two postseason starts but this time strong-armed his way through seven innings with minimal suspense.
After escaping a two-game deficit in their division series against the Cincinnati Reds, the Giants now seem a team in checkmate. Tonight they replace their Game 1 starter, Madison Bumgarner, with Barry Zito, a question to even appear when the series opened. Of the 14 teams to take a 3-1 lead in the NLCS since 1985, 12 have reached the World Series. The odds are better against a team that seeks scraps from a lineup that boasts an MVP candidate (Buster Posey) and eight escape valves.
The Cardinals improved to 7-3 in the postseason and 19-7 since Sept. 16. They are within a game of facing the American League champion Detroit Tigers in the World Series and vying to become the first National League team to repeat as Series champions since the 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds.
Right fielder Hunter Pence provided the Giants' early offense when he launched a second-inning home run that halved the Cardinals' lead to 2-1. It was also an anomaly against a pitcher who allowed three home runs with a six-run performance against the Nationals six days before.
Wainwright zoomed through his outing in 96 pitches, including 70 strikes. He allowed four hits but none with a runner in scoring position. He relied less on strikeouts but exhibited improved fastball command, walking no one and constantly working ahead in counts. The Giants gave backup catcher Hector Sanchez his first start of the series, batting him fifth, and received three strikeouts.
Wainwright retired the side in order four times and only once allowed multiple baserunners in an inning. He dodged his most serious threat by retiring Posey on a one-out fly ball, then getting third baseman Pablo Sandoval to ground out weakly to second base. Wainwright left the field with a hop, skip and a fist pump.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy didn't officially name Lincecum his Game 4 starter until Wednesday. Lincecum's first out also scored the Cardinals' second run as Jay, first baseman Matt Carpenter and Holliday reached on two hits and a walk.
Even when the Giants were in it, they appeared to be only on the fringes. Lincecum dodged a second-inning rally derailed by shortstop Pete Kozma's ill-timed steal attempt. An error and two walks brought the Cardinals nothing.
Bochy hoped to coax Lincecum through the fifth inning before pinch-hitting for him to lead off the sixth. The plan fizzled when Carpenter reached base for a third consecutive plate appearance, this one a double high off the center field wall. Holliday, the focal point of a Game 2 controversy, contributed his second RBI with a single to center field. Catcher Yadier Molina entered his at-bat five for 35 for the playoffs and denied extra bases in his previous appearance by center fielder Angel Pagan's leaping catch at the wall. There were no heroics to prevent his two-out single, which scored Holliday and chased Lincecum from a 4-1 game.
The Cardinals continued with back-to-back two-run rallies against the Giants' bullpen. After the middle-infield tandem of Daniel Descalso and Kozma opened the sixth inning with singles, Jay greeted lefthander Jose Mijares with a two-run double.
Molina's double scored right fielder Allen Craig after Craig opened the seventh inning with a single that halted an 0-for-11 series. A wild pitch advanced Molina to third base before Kozma delivered the Cardinals' final run with a two-out single.
The Giants' Sandoval provided final punctuation with a two-run, ninth-inning home run.

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