NLCS: Cards Knocked Down, But They Get Up Again
Score: Cardinals 5 – Giants 4
Series: Series tied 1-1
Game Hero: Kolten Wong, walk-off homer
Game Summary: In a game with more twists and turns than Highway 1 in California, the St. Louis Cardinals overcame a blown save in the top of the ninth to walk-off winners, 5-4, over the San Francisco Giants. St. Louis hit four solo homeruns, including Kolten Wong’s walk-off blast, in a game they had to win. The Cardinals and Giants now head back to San Francisco with the series tied at a game a piece.
The Giants’ bullpen has been outstanding throughout the post-season, but it was the Cardinals that won a game that relied heavily on bullpens on Sunday night. Neither starter made it through six innings, with Giants’ starter Jake Peavy lasting only four and Cardinals’ starter Lance Lynn leaving after 5.2 innings.
Early on, it looked like the Cardinals would jump out to a comfortable lead. Peavy allowed a one-out walk and a one-out single in the bottom of the second, but St. Louis left both runners stranded. In the third, Matt Carpenter launched a one-out homer to right on 90 MPH fastball that cut through the heart of the plate. Carpenter homered three times in the NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, but the Giants held him to an 0-for-4 in Game One of the NLCS.
In the fourth, the Cardinals had a chance to blow the game wide open. Matt Adams led-off with a walk and he moved to second on a Jhonny Peralta single. Yadier Molina bunted the runners to second and third, a curious decision with the pitcher coming up three batters later. The Giants intentionally walked Wong to get to struggling rookie Randal Grichuk. Grichuk fell behind 1-2, but he was able to line a hard single to left. That scored a run and all of the runners moved up a base. Lynn, a career .065 hitter, came up next. He managed to hit a flyball but it wasn’t deep enough to score a run. That brought up Carpenter with two-outs. San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy elected to leave Peavy in to face Carpenter, and the call turned out to be the right one when Peavy retired Carpenter on a flyball to center. The Cardinals had a 2-0 lead, but it felt like they should have had a bigger advantage.
The Giants began to chip away in the fifth. Brandon Belt led-off the inning with a single and he moved to third with one-out when Travis Ishikawa hit a flyball double to left-center that Jon Jay made a diving effort for but couldn’t corral. Pinch-hitter Joaquin Arias hit for Peavy and drove-in the Giants’ first run with a slow grounder to second. San Francisco would tie the game in the sixth. With two outs, Pablo Sandoval hit a ground-rule double. Hunter Pence then battled the count full and lined a single to center that scored Sandoval.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Cardinals didn’t score and they lost arguably their most important player when Molina had to leave the game with what was announced as a strained left oblique. Molina crumpled in pain after hitting a groundball that turned into a double-play. He never left the batter’s box and had to be assisted off of the field. He was replaced by Tony Cruz behind the plate.
With the game tied in the seventh, the Cardinals turned to veteran left-hander Randy Choate to face the left-handed hitting Brandon Crawford. Crawford walked. Michael Morse – activated for the NLCS after missing the first two rounds of the playoffs with a strained oblique – pinch-hit for Ishikawa. He faced Carlos Martinez, who replaced Choate. During the at-bat, Cruz couldn’t handle a Martinez pitch and the passed ball moved Crawford to second. Morse then hit a hard grounder deep in the hole between short and third. Peralta fielded the ball but had no play, leaving runners at first and second. Juan Perez sacrificed both runners over and Gregor Blanco bounced a single to right that scored Crawford and gave the Giants their first lead of the game. San Francisco wasn’t able to capitalize on the rally further when Joe Panik and Buster Posey stranded the runners at first and third.
Stranding those runners proved costly for the Giants, as the Cardinals would knot the game at 3 in the bottom of the seventh. With one-out, Oscar Taveras pinch-hit in the pitcher’s spot. One of baseball’s top prospects, Taveras had a down year but he showed why many believe he will be a superstar in his at-bat against Giants’ reliever Jean Machi. Taveras took a 2-1 off-speed pitch from Machi deep into the stands in right, tying the game with one swing.
After Pat Neshek threw a dominating one-two-three inning in the top of the eighth, Adams delivered what looked to be the death blow in the bottom of the frame. Facing hard-throwing rookie Hunter Strickland, Adams launched a 97 MPH fastball from Strickland over the fence in right to give St. Louis a 4-3 lead. The homer was the fourth allowed by Strickland this post-season. Strickland was a September call-up for the Giants and has just nine innings of major-league experience during the regular season.
St. Louis sent closer Trevor Rosenthal to the hill in the top of the ninth to close out the game. His command looked off from the start, as he fell behind the lead-off hitter Crawford 3-0 before battling back to strike him out. Rosenthal then allowed back-to-back singles to pinch-hitter Andrew Susac and Perez. Blanco followed with a blistering line-drive that Peralta speared at shortstop. Matt Duffy, in the game to pinch-run for Susac, read the line-drive well and scampered back to second, avoiding the game-ending double-play. That gave the Giants another chance and they took advantage. Panik fell behind the count early, but battled back to get to 3-2. With the runners on the move, Rosenthal bounced a pitch well in front of homeplate. Cruz attempted to pick the short-hop and it hit off his glove and bounced away. Cruz couldn’t find the ball right away. Duffy again read the situation well and he never stopped running, scoring the tying run from second on a ball-four, wild pitch.
That would bring Posey to the plate with runners at first and third. He walked, loading the bases for Sandoval, who is a career .327 hitter in the post-season. Cardinals’ manager Mike Matheny had right-hander Seth Maness and left-hander Marco Gonzales throwing in the bullpen. Sandoval, a switch-hitter, hit only .199 versus left-handers this season, but Matheny went with the more veteran Maness. Maness came through, inducing Sandoval to hit a grounder back to the mound after falling behind in the count.
Going into the bottom of the ninth, the momentum seemed to be on the Giants’ side. San Francisco called on reliever Sergio Romo, who hadn’t allowed a run in 4.1 innings this post-season. Wong came to the plate just looking to get on-base, but he did that and more. On an 0-1 pitch, Wong took an 84 MPH breaking ball from Romo out to right for the walk-off win. All four of the Cardinals’ homers landed in the right-field seats on Sunday.
Wong’s homerun was arguably a season-saver for the Cardinals, who were facing an 0-2 deficit and a roadtrip to San Francisco had they not pulled out the win. The loss broke San Francisco’s eight-game road winning streak in the post-season.