Kevin C. Cox

Cards one game from World Series

Tim Lincecum was shaky in the first inning as the Cardinals went on to beat the Giants, 8-3, to take a commanding lead in the National League Championship Series.

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Wainwright pitches Cards to 8-1 win, big NLCS lead

Adam Wainwright pitched seven solid innings, while Tim Lincecum got knocked out in the fifth. The Cardinals just kept on scoring, and finished with an 8-3 victory that pushes the Giants to the brink in the NLCS.


Cardinals score twice in 7th, now up 8-1 in 8th

Time is growing short for the San Francisco Giants. Not just in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. In the National League Championship Series, period.

In the top of the seventh, St. Louis Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright retired the Giants in order; since Hunter Pence's solo homer in the second inning, San Francisco's gotten only three runners aboard and all three were stranded. With Wainwright having thrown 96 pitches, he's finally coming out of the game. But with closer Jason Motte looming in the ninth, the Giants are now walking a fine line between hanging around in this game and being out of it.

In the bottom of the seventh, with Guillermo Mota back on the mound and the Giants down 6-1, Allen Craig led off with a grounder down the third-base line. Pablo Sandoval made an incredible diving stop, but his throw to first base was low and off target, giving Craig his first hit in this series. Yadier Molina followed with another screamer down the line, and this time past the pouncing Panda. Craig scored easily when left fielder Gregor Blanco had some issues, and Molina had his first extra-base hit in this postseason.

Molina did strike out David Frees, who gave way to Jeremy Affeldt, who retired Daniel Descalso before giving up an RBI single to Pete Kozma. Affeldt did strike out pinch-hitter Shane Robinson to finally stop the bleeding. But the Cardinals now lead 8-1, and the Giants are on life support. In this game, and in this series.


Cards add on against Giants' bullpen

Through the first three games of the National League Championship Series, the Giants' bullpen has been the best component of the team, combining for 8⅔ scoreless innings and limiting the Cardinals to just a hit and two walks.

But somewhere in the dugout, there was a rope hanging from the ceiling, and a clearly marked sign reading "REGRESSION", and some idiot done got too curious and gave it a tug. That's not how regression works, but I'm sticking with my story. In the sixth inning, the Cardinals blew open Game 4 of the NLCS, scoring twice against a trio of relievers, and giving them a commanding lead in a game that would give them a commanding lead in the series.

The inning opened with George Kontos on the mound and the bottom of the Cardinals' order up. Ah, but the bottom of the Cardinals' order consists of Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma, who have licked some sort of clutch-secreting toad. Both of them singled, and they were moved to second and third with a Adam Wainwright bunt. With one out, Jon Jay drove a double to right-center, scoring both runners.

The Cardinals are up 6-1, and the Giants are down to their final nine outs of Game 4.


Cardinals knock out Lincecum, take 4-1 lead in 5th

In the bottom of the fifth inning, the Cardinals came home to roost.

Tim Lincecum hadn't given up a hit since the first inning, when he gave up two runs. But there had been some hard-hit balls and some deep drives, so it wasn't like Lincecum was blowing the Cardinals away. They just hadn't been hitting them to the right spots.

In the fifth, they found the spots. Jon Jay led off and grounded out, but Matt Carpenter jumped on a 2-and-0 fastball, drove it over center fielder Ángel Pagán's head, and missed a home run by ... well, see for yourself:


Matt Holliday came up next and smacked Lincecum's second offering into center field, but not as deep. Carpenter had to see if Pagan was going to catch it; when Pagan came up short but made a fine stop, Carpenter tried to score. He shouldn't have, but he did ...


when catcher Hector Sánchez couldn't squeeze the ball, which arrived in plenty of time to nail Carpenter.

But instead Carpenter was safe, with Holliday moving to second.

Lincecum battled back to strike out Craig, but his night was over when Yadier Molina grounded a single up the middle, with Holliday sprinting home to make it 4-1.

George Kontos, the Giants' semi-official long man, trotted in from the bullpen and, as he has so often in the last couple of weeks, put the fire out by retiring David Freese on a grounder to second.

Plenty of damage had been done. Adam Wainwright's been outstanding, and after five innings it's Cardinals 4, Giants 1.


Wainwright cruising, Cards still up 2-1

Adam Wainwright faced the Giants twice in the regular season. On May 17, he allowed five runs and walked four in a Cardinals loss. On Aug. 9, he allowed a run in seven strong innings for a Cardinals win. After a shaky start against the Nationals in the NLDS, the Giants were hoping they'd get the earlier version of Carpenter.

Nope. They got dominant Carpenter. Through five innings, Carpenter has allowed two hits: a home run to Hunter Pence, and a two-out triple to Angel Pagan. The Cardinals' right-hander has thrown 67 pitches, with 49 of them for strikes, and he's struck out four without allowing a walk.

Most impressive for Carpenter is his curveball. He's throwing it early, and he's throwing it often, using it not only to set up left-handers and right-handers, but also to put them away. It's been an impressive start and a nice rebound for Carpenter after getting bludgeoned by the Nationals in Game 5 of the NLDS.


Lincecum settles down in 3rd, still 2-1 Cardinals

How long is Tim Lincecum going to last in Game 4?

He threw 25 pitches in the first inning, and gave up two runs.

He threw 19 pitches in the second inning, and -- thanks to a questionable stolen-base attempt that became the first out in the inning -- escaped without giving up another run.

He threw eight pitches in the third inning, and set down the Cardinals in order; granted, the second out came when Angel Pagan made a leaping catch of Yadier Molina's drive in deep center field.

But at least it's a positive trend for Lincecum. Yes, it's Cardinals 2, Giants 1 after three innings. But at least it looks like Lincecum might leave only three or four innings for the bullpen.


Pence homer cuts Cards' lead in half

Well, I guess if players could pick when they got their hits, everyone would have 100 RBI. Of course, Hunter Pence did have 100 RBI during the regular season this year ... somehow. He sure wasn't hitting in the right spots in the playoffs so far -- he left five runners on base in Game 3 on Wednesday, and manager Bruce Bochy responded by moving him down to the #6 spot in the order.

In the second inning, there was success:

According to Jayson Stark, the homer was tied for the longest at Busch this year, at 451 feet, and it cut the Cardinals' lead to 2-1.

In the bottom of the second, Tim Lincecum got into a little trouble after a Pablo Sandoval error to open up the frame. Sandoval couldn't pick up a ball hit by Pete Kozma, setting up the sacrifice from Adam Wainwright. But Kozma was gunned down stealing, which was an important play because Wainwright ended up walking. After a Jon Jay fly ball, Lincecum walked Matt Carpenter as well, but Matt Holliday flied out to the warning track for the last out of the inning.

If you walk Adam Wainwright and Matt Carpenter to get to Holliday, it feels like the umpire should get to award a run to the other team just because. Instead, it's still 2-1 Cards through two innings.


Cardinals get to Lincecum, grab 2-0 lead in 1st

Game 4 of the National League Championship Series was hailed as a match-up of marquee starting pitchers, and there's really no disputing that; San Francisco's Tim Lincecum won Cy Young Awards in 2008 and '9, while St. Louis's Adam Wainwright finished third in 2009 Cy Young balloting and second in '10.

But Wainwright missed all of 2011 before returning with a solid 2012; in Game 5 of the Cardinals' Division Series game against the Nationals, Wainwright gave up six runs and got knocked out in the third inning. Meanwhile, Lincecum, after posting a 5.18 ERA in the regular season, wasn't even in the Giants' Division Series rotation. But three strong relief outings -- two against the Nationals, then another in Game 1 of this NLCS -- earned Lincecum the start in Game 4.

In the first inning, Wainwright retired the Giants in order.

Lincecum wouldn't have nearly so easy a time.

Leadoff man Jon Jay whacked Lincecum's third pitch into center field for a single. Matt Carpenter walked on four pitches. Matt Holliday shot a single into center, with Jay scoring easily and Carpenter going to third.

Already in a big jam, Lincecum slipped two quick strikes past Allen Craig, only to nibble and run the count the full. Craig then drove a pitch to center field that Angel Pagan snared just a few inches from the grass. Lincecum finally had an out, but Carpenter trotted home easily.

After Yadier Molina flied out, David Freese singled to left field. Bigger jam.

But somehow Lincecum recovered to strike out Daniel Descalso on three pitches to end the inning.

During the regular season, Lincecum gave up 28 runs in the first innings of his starts.

We can tack on another two. Maybe it was a blip. But he threw 25 pitches in Game 4's first inning, and didn't seem to know where most of them were going. Stay tuned, but heading into the second inning it's Cardinals 2, Giants 0.

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