(BaseballStL) — Michael Wacha was tapped for his first action in 20 days when he was tasked with handling the bottom of the ninth.
Sandoval led off and singled to start the inning, but Wacha got Pence to fly to right field. He began the frame touching 98 with his fastball, and it appeared he may be able to escape without damage.
However, as his appearance wore on, the command issues that plagued him at the end of the season reappeared.
He walked Brandon Belt on four straight pitches, then fell behind Travis Ishikawa 2-0. On the third pitch of the at-bat, a fastball found it’s way into the zone. The left fielder turned on it, and sent a three-run homer soaring over the right field wall.
The fireworks went up as the Giants stormed out of the clubhouse, winners of the NLCS. The Cardinals headed back to their dugout, eliminated from October.
A chance missed
Pablo Sandoval once again saved disaster for the Giants in the ninth, preventing a run with a dive.
After a leadoff out, Matt Adams drew a walk. Randal Grichuk followed with a single which moved Adams to second and into scoring position. Mike Matheny pinch ran Daniel Descalso for Adams, and Kolten Wong stepped in looking to continue his heroics.
He took a ball the other way, hitting it sharply toward the hole at short. Sandoval laid out, barely nipping the ball with the end of his mitt. His dive changed the trajectory enough to send it scooting toward Crawford at short, who turned and threw to second base for the second out.
Descalso was forced to stop at third, and Wong beat out the double play throw to put men at the corners. Tony Cruz stepped in and worked another walk, loading the bases and forcing Matheny to choose between Bourjos and Oscar Taveras.
The manager called the defensive replacement back in favor of the big-swinging rookie. Bruce Bochy brought in lefty Jeremy Affeldt to face Taveras and it worked, as the rookie hit a harmless chopper back to the pitcher to strand the bases loaded.
A lead erased
Wainwright would finish seven strong innings, completing his final out with a picture-perfect stretch on the back at first, catching a flip from Matt Adams to end the frame.
The Cardinals pulled a double switch, putting Peter Bourjos in center and removing Holliday to slide Jay over. Pat Neshek took the mound, and didn’t make it one batter before the game was tied.
Michael Morse took the third pitch from the sidearmer out to left, tying the game 3-3 with a homer. It was a deflating moment for the Cardinals, who had just seen Wainwright exhaust himself in an effort to hold the lead.
Neshek closed the rest of the inning without a runner, but the damage was done.
Wainwright dialed in
Wainwright and Bumgarner both settled in with the big lefty setting down six in a row and the St. Louis ace working a 10-pitch fifth.
The biggest test of the night for Wainwright came in the sixth, when he faced the heart of the San Francisco order for the third time.
The 33-year-old went to another level, striking out the side on 13 pitches. Posey, Sandoval and Pence made it five out of the previous seven batters that went down on strikes. It was the most dominant Wainwright has looked since his shutout of the Brewers in late September.
Wainwright finished the sixth with four hits, two runs, two walks and six strikeouts.
A bullet dodged
The Giants nearly got a rally of their own going in the bottom half of the fourth, but it unraveled with a line drive from Brandon Belt.
Sandoval doubled on a seemingly unhittable curveball way outside to lead off, and Hunter Pence joined him on the bases with a walk. San Francisco had the makings of a big inning, but when Belt ripped a liner, Wong was standing right in its way.
He caught it, flipped to second to double off Sandoval and the wind was sucked out of AT&T Park. Travis Ishikawa drew a walk to replenish the lost runner, but Wainwright went right after Brandon Crawford. After getting ahead 0-2, he worked around two foul balls to finish the shortstop with looping curve and close the inning.
Big swing baseball
Matt Adams evened up the game in the very first St. Louis at bat. The big first baseman took a 1-2 curveball and sent it soaring out of the park to right field, erasing some of the sting from the sixth inning of Game 4. It was the first homer Bumgarner allowed to a lefty since April 11. The Cardinals weren’t done, however.
Randal Grichuk and Kolten Wong went down without a fight, but backup catcher Tony Cruz made his name a bit better known when he crushed a go-ahead homer into the left field seats. It was his second home run all year, and his first hit off Bumgarner. Just like that, the Birds held a 3-2 lead.
No time to Panik
The Giants answered in their half of the third, when rookie Joe Panik put San Francisco on top with a two-run shot.
After getting two swift outs, Wainwright surrendered his second hit to Blanco on the night. With the leadoff man aboard, Panik hit a high home run to right field, giving the Giants their first of the NLCS and their most recent since the game winner in the 18-inning marathon with the Nationals.
Panik had only one homer all year, but his second gave his club the edge before the inning ended with a grounder to third.
Cards score first
Tony Cruz used his first at bat to give the Cardinals a baserunner, working a six-pitch walk to lead off the inning. Wainwright moved him to second when he laid down a perfect bunt on 0-2, setting up Matt Carpenter for a potential RBI in his second at bat.
The third baseman played chess with Bumgarner over seven pitches, getting ahead 2-0 before fouling off two fastballs. The two traded pitches, and Carpenter trotted down to first when he held up on check swing to work a seven-pitch walk.
Jon Jay took care of the RBI, hitting a slicing liner into left. Travis Ishikawa, a converted first baseman, misplayed the ball badly and it tailed back over his mitt to the wall. Cruz came around to score, and Carpenter stood at third after the double.
Matt Holliday flew out to short center, keeping both runners at their bags and setting up Peralta with two one once again. The St. Louis shortstop worked a full count, but flew to deep left to end the volley.
Both pitchers exerted more control in the second, with Bumgarner striking out Matt Adams and Randal Grichuk before Kolten Wong flew out to right.
Wainwright went 1-2-3 as well, getting his first strikeout curtesy of Brandon Belt. He finished two innings in 27 pitches, while Bumgarner outpaced him slightly at 20. Both teams had a runner get to second base, but neither moved them farther than that. The Cards are out hitting the Giants 2-1 through two innings.
Wainwright hangs tough
Wainwright closed his half of the first without a run, working around a leadoff single to retire the next three hitters.
After Gregor Blanco reached, Joe Panik flew out to center for the first out. With Blanco attempting to steal, Buster Posey grounded to short. Peralta made an impressive backhand grab, throwing to first for the second out.
Pablo Sandoval worked a 3-2 count, seemingly taking strike three to load the count. On pitch number seven, he grounded out to second to end the threat. His at bat accounted for half of Wainwright’s 14 pitches.
Cards swinging easy
Thursday’s crack at Madison Bumgarner went very differently for the Cardinals, at least early.
Matt Carpenter fell into a two-strike hole, but ripped a liner to fight off the K. It went straight to short for the first out, but Jon Jay found a soft landing zone in left field for his. Matt Holliday scorched a ball into right to put two on with one out, setting up Jhonny Peralta in the cleanup spot.
Peralta got every bit of a fastball, turning on the second pitch to send it screaming down the line toward third. Pablo Sandoval made a leaping grab, catching the liner before it could fly down the line for an RBI. Jay came off second in anticipation of having to hustle home, and was doubled off when he dove back to the bag. The inning closed without a run, but the Cardinals appeared to have a better read on the Giants lefty.