Cards stumble at small ball, now trail 2-1 in NLCS -

Cards stumble at small ball, now trail 2-1 in NLCS

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By John Bailey By John Bailey

(BaseballStL) — Before the playoffs began, the Cardinals talked about needing to do the little things right. Success was going to be determined by moving runners, taking good at bats and making plays. For all the big swings and moments of heroism, it was the littlest of things -a bunt- that turned the NLCS in San Francisco’s favor. 

In the 10th inning, Randy Choate found himself working his third batter of the day in a 4-4 game. Pat Neshek and Seth Maness had thrown clean innings heading into extras, and because the pitcher’s spot led off the top of the 10th, Choate was tapped to work his way through the 8,9 and 1 hitters. 

A walk to Brandon Crawford and a failed-bunt-turned-single by Juan Perez put the Cardinals in a precarious position, with leadoff man Gregor Blanco walking toward the batter’s box. 

“I'm not sure if I assume something is going to happen, but couldn't have worked out better,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said afterward. “Perez, he couldn't get a bunt down and gets a base hit. Now you're playing with house money I guess.”

San Francisco’s chip stack grew taller with the second pitch of Blanco’s at bat, when his second attempt at a bunt succeeded in a soft roller in front of the mound. Choate charged off the rubber, gloved the ball, whirled and threw. 

Wide. Wide enough to fly past a diving Kolten Wong at first and down the right field line into the bullpen. Crawford scored and Game 3 ended with the Cardinals walking sullenly to the clubhouse, Sunday’s euphoria a distant memory. 

“That's the ball right back to him. He makes that play. He's a good fielder,” Matheny said. ‘Errors happen. That's it.”

Errors do happen. But when they happen in early October, the team that commits them tends to spend late October on their couch watching the World Series. 

A little thing was done poorly, and a series is now shifted. In response to whether he recognizes momentum shifts in a series, Matheny said it was too early to think about pivot points. 

“Yeah, I think about that when it's over and go back and then look at maybe where things did switch.  But right now, that's not-- it doesn't help us do what we need to do,” he said. “We go out and just pitch by pitch, keep it very simple. It's a simple approach, and it leads to consistent outcomes. Later on we'll sit and talk about where things turn either for or against, but right now is not the time.”

With Madison Bumgarner waiting around the bend, Game 4 becomes a make-or-break win for St. Louis. Shelby Miller will face the biggest start of his career (his second ever in the postseason), and his effort could determine whether the Giants cash out their house money or lose it back to the Cardinals. 

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