After winning three of the first four games in the 2012 National League Championship Series, the St. Louis Cardinals were just one victory away from advancing to their second World Series in as many years.
After losing three of the first four games in the 2012 National League Championship Series, the San Francisco Giants were just one loss away from not advancing to their second World Series in three years.
The Cardinals have not advanced, and the Giants have not not advanced. Because after evening the NLCS by winning Games 5 and 6, the Giants won Game 7 going away, 9-0, before a rabid home crowd in San Francisco. And the Cardinals can only wonder what happened to their hitting, as they scored just one run in the series' last three games.
The Giants, meanwhile, are only the second team since 1969, when divisional play began, to win six elimination games in one postseason. The Kansas City Royals did it in 1985, coming back from 3-1 deficits in both the American League Championship Series (against the Blue Jays) and the World Series (against the Cardinals). And now the Giants have done it, first against the Reds and now against the Cardinals.
There, though! Solace for Cardinals fans! It could be worse! There was the '85 World Series, and there was also the '96 NLCS, when they had a 3-1 lead and were outscored 32-1 by the Braves in the last three games!
Or maybe not. The memory of 2011 is not doubt fresher than those of 1996 and 1985; it's not likely that many Cardinals fans, just a few days ago, figured the season would end like this. But it did end like this, with the Giants somehow winning, for the first time in their franchise's ancient history, the seventh game of a postseason series.
Early in this Game 7, it seemed that Kyle Lohse just didn't have his best stuff. Thanks to a couple of base hits and a weak grounder, the Giants went ahead 1-0 in the bottom of the first inning. In the second, they turned two more singles and one more ground-out into another run. And then in the third, the dam broke.
Marco Scutaro led off the third with yet another single, and went to third on Pablo Sandoval's double. Buster Posey walked, the bases were loaded, and Mike Matheny yanked Lohse after just two-plus innings. Hard-throwing Joe Kelly came in, but his luck was no better than Lohse's.
Worse, actually. How else do you explain what happened next, other than luck? Hunter Pence had been slumping throughout the postseason, and Kelly sawed off Pence's bat with an inside fastball. But thanks to the wonders of Fox Sports' super-duper-slow-motion camera, we all saw the ball contact Pence's bat not just once, or twice, but three times. The resulting spin utterly flummoxed St. Louis shortstop Pete Kozma, who broke the wrong way to field what would probably have otherwise been a key double play. Instead, though? The strangest hit you're ever likely to see.
The ball squirted into center field, and the bases cleared when center fielder Jon Jay overran the ball. That made the score 5-0, and two fielder's-choice grounders later in the frame would make it 7-0.
Bruce Bochy pulled Giants starter Matt Cain in the sixth, with the score still 7-0, but not before Cain nailed Matt Holliday in the shoulder with fastball, perhaps in retaliation for Holliday's barrel role into Scutaro at second base in Game 1=2. The Cardinals did mount a small threat in that inning, and again in the eighth. But just as in Games 5 and 6, they never could get that big hit.
Meanwhile, the Giants made it 8-0 in the seventh, and 9-0 in the eighth when Brandon Belt unloaded a home run.
In the top of the ninth, the heavy rains arrived -- three hours too late for the Cardinals, of course -- and still they played on. As the rains turned into a monsoon without the wind, Lopez sandwiched a fielder's-choice grounder and a strikeout between a couple of walks. The second walk brought Bruce Bochy out of the bullpen, and he summoned closer Sergio Romo to face Holliday.
With no retribution in order, Romo focused on somehow throwing good pitches between the raindrops. Romo got ahead of Holliday with two quick strikes before unleashing a wild pitch. Finally, Romo threw a little breaking ball that veered into the strike zone, Holliday took a cut and lifted a high pop fly to ... Marco Scutaro, of course. Scutaro made the catch that sent the Giants to their 19th World Series. Moments later, Scutaro was named Most Valuable Player of the NLCS, on the strength of his 14 hits -- tying the all-time record for an LCS -- and maybe, just a little, his grittiness.
There has to be some non-statistical reason for the Giants getting to the World Series.