ST. LOUIS -- The labor-intensive ways that limited the Cardinals' offense during the regular season have given way to an October long-ball attack, which, after carrying the Cards past the Dodgers, sent them soaring to San Francisco with a home split secured with a come-from-behind, 5-4 win over the Giants in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series on Sunday.
On a night when the Cardinals watched their early advantage at Busch Stadium evaporate, their leader (Yadier Molina) hobble off the field with an oblique injury, and the Giants, down to their final strike, tie the game on a Trevor Rosenthal wild pitch, the club answered with another footnote for the history books. With the fourth walk-off home run in Cardinals postseason history, Kolten Wong nailed shut the Cardinals' 35th one-run win of the year with just their second four-homer game of the season.
"To do this at this stage, it's unbelievable," Wong said, after having his jersey shredded by mobbing teammates. "I've never dreamed of this. To be here and do something like that is incredible."
No NL team hit fewer home runs during the regular season. Now, no club this postseason has hit more.
This was about as close to a must-win game as it could have been for the Cardinals, too, as they could hardly afford to drop two games at home before heading to AT&T Park for the next three. It has been 29 years since a club (coincidentally, the Cardinals) climbed out of an 0-2 NLCS hole. But another dose of late-inning offense kept that from being the chore again.
"That was a really emotional game for a lot of reasons," Matt Carpenter said. "The ups and downs consisted of losing leads, getting leads and losing key players. I mean, there was a lot of things that happened that could have made this group quit or feel deflated, but we did a really good job of continually playing and trying to have good at-bats and finding a way to win. This was a big win for us."
HOW THE CARDINALS WON
Four of the Cardinals' five runs -- and now 17 of their 23 runs this postseason -- in Game 2 came via the home run ball, including the game-tying shot by pinch-hitter Oscar Taveras in the seventh, what was poised to be the game-winning clout by Matt Adams an inning later and then a walk-off blast by Wong to lead off the ninth. And long before the Cardinals became the first team in postseason history to homer in the seventh, eighth and ninth, Carpenter connected for his fourth homer of the postseason.
Carpenter's blast was part of some early scoring that built Lance Lynn a two-run lead. But he couldn't hold it, and shortly after Lynn exited a tie game, the Cardinals endured another blow -- Molina, unable to run to first after hitting a ground ball in the sixth, had to be escorted off the field. He was diagnosed with a left oblique strain and replaced behind the plate by Tony Cruz.
"A little quieter than I was hopeful for," manager Mike Matheny said of the mood in the minutes after Molina's exit. "These guys, they care about each other, and that's part of why we see the resiliency that we see."
They needed a final bit of resiliency in the ninth, which featured the usual drama from Rosenthal. With two on, two out and a full count to Joe Panik, Rosenthal bounced a fastball that deflected far enough away from Cruz to allow pinch-runner Matt Duffy to score the tying run from second. Seth Maness extinguished a bases-loaded mess to set up Wong's second game-winning hit of the postseason.
"It's not all about me. It's about this team," Rosenthal said. "Walking off this mound, I felt like we had a good chance with Seth coming in and the lineup. Guys were going to battle, and we were going to win that game."
THE MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Early show of power: Carpenter added another notch to his terrific postseason, blasting his fourth home run of the month to give the Cardinals an early 1-0 lead. With it, Carpenter has hit half as many homers in six playoff games (24 at-bats) as he did in the 162-game regular season (595 at-bats).
Taveras and Adams followed that up with their own impact swings. Taveras, who has yet to start this postseason, became the first Cardinals pinch-hitter to deliver a game-tying blast in the postseason. Adams joined Brian Jordan (1996) as the only Cardinals to hit a pair of go-ahead homers in the seventh inning or later in a single postseason. It was Adams' late homer in Game 4 of the NL Division Series that sunk Clayton Kershaw.
"You know, throughout the season, people were worried about our power," Adams said. "But we knew inside the clubhouse that we didn't lose any power. We just have to go up there and have good at-bats, and we know the home runs will come."
Molina strains oblique: Molina, considered by many to be the Cardinals' most irreplaceable player, may just have to be replaced for the rest of this postseason series. Molina suffered a left oblique strain on a swing that produced a double play in the sixth inning. Molina never took a step toward first base, but instead remained hunched over at home plate until visited by a trainer.
While oblique injuries often tend to linger, the Cardinals are fortunate that they don't have to immediately replace Molina on the roster. Their earlier decision to carry two backup catchers -- Cruz and A.J. Pierzynski -- gives the Cardinals flexibility to hold off on removing Molina from the NLCS roster. Doing so would preclude the Cardinals from also playing Molina in the World Series, should they advance.
"We don't know much more about it right now," Matheny said of the severity. "He's out getting some looks right now from the doctors. But it didn't look real good."
Giants pull even with wild pitch: Unable to get a final strike call on three borderline pitches to Panik, Rosenthal uncorked a 99-mph fastball that spiked in front of home plate and landed Rosenthal his first career postseason blown save. Duffy, running on the pitch, scored easily from second to tie the game as it took Cruz too long to track the ricochet. Rosenthal had faced 308 hitters during the regular season and thrown only one wild pitch.
"Trevor throws hard, we all know that," Cruz said. "The ball bounced pretty far out there. I was trying to do whatever I could to keep it in front. I know I got a glove on it, and I was just trying to find it after that."
Rosenthal worked himself into that ninth-inning mess by allowing consecutive one-out singles. After the walk to Panik, Rosenthal also walked Buster Posey. His night ended there.
Maness puts out fire: The pitcher nicknamed "groundball guy" induced one of the biggest of his career on Sunday to help the Cardinals escape the ninth with the game tied. Summoned into Rosenthal's bases-loaded mess with two out, Maness fell behind four-hole hitter Pablo Sandoval before inducing a comeback on the fifth pitch of the at-bat.
"I got behind 2-0 and was going to make him hit my best pitch, the sinker," Maness said. "He fouled a couple off. Luckily, I made a decent pitch and I was able to get it right back to me."
It was just another day's work for Maness, who led the NL with 65 inherited runners during the regular season.
Hawaiian hero, part II: Six days after declaring his NLDS home run the biggest of his career, Wong trumped it. Hoping to jump-start a ninth-inning rally by getting on base, Wong did even better. Lining a pitch from Sergio Romo just over the wall in right, Wong delivered the seventh walk-off hit in Cardinals postseason history.
"You can't take anything away from them," Romo said. "Is it a shock? We tend to not give up home runs, I guess. It is what it is. But for them to come out swinging the way they did, it's only up for them. I can only speak for myself. I've got to execute."
Wong is the fourth second baseman in Major League history with a postseason walk-off homer, joining Jeff Kent (2004), Alfonso Soriano (2001) and Bill Mazeroski (1960).
THE UNSUNG HERO
Randal Grichuk: Questioned pregame about his decision to stick with Grichuk as his right fielder instead of favoring the left-on-right matchup that Taveras would have provided, Matheny said defensive consideration leaned toward sticking with Grichuk. Turns out, the move would provide immediate payoff.
With a runner on first and one out, Grichuk tracked down Posey's drive to right-center to rob the catcher of an extra-base hit and keep the Giants from taking an early lead. Grichuk later contributed offensively, too, giving the Cardinals a 2-0 lead with his RBI single in the fourth. Grichuk was 2-for-20 coming into that at-bat, which was preceded by the Giants intentionally walking Wong to load the bases.
"I saw them put up the four and knew they were going to intentionally walk him," Grichuk said. "I went up there and told myself, 'That's a mistake on their part. Hopefully I'll come up with a hit.' And I did."
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
• The Cardinals' three previous postseason walk-off homers were hit by Ozzie Smith (Game 4, 1985 NLCS), Jim Edmonds (Game 6, 2004 NLCS) and David Freese (Game 6, 2011 World Series).
• Before Sunday, the Cardinals had four four-homer games in franchise postseason history. The others included Game 2 of the 2012 NLDS (vs. Washington), Game 3 of the 2011 World Series (vs. Texas), Game 2 of the 2004 NLCS (vs. Houston), and Game 1 of the 2004 NLDS (vs. Los Angeles).
• This marked the first time in franchise history that the Cardinals had won Game 2 of an NLCS in which they lost Game 1 at home.
• From the seventh inning on this postseason, the Cardinals are hitting .394 with seven home runs.
• The Cardinals, with 11 home runs in six postseason games, have already equaled their total from the month of May (27 games).
ONE FOR THE HISTORY BOOKS
With his one-out single in the second, Molina became the all-time postseason hits leader for the Cardinals, with 89. He had moved into a tie with Albert Pujols atop that franchise leaderboard in Game 1. Sitting third on the list is Edmonds, with 61 hits.
Molina, 32, is participating in his eighth postseason, all of which have come with St. Louis. Before him, no Cardinals catcher had ever appeared in the playoffs in more than three seasons. He is 5-for-21 through six games in this postseason, though his status is questionable for the rest of the series.
After a day off for both teams, the NLCS will pick back up with Game 3 from AT&T Park in San Francisco on Tuesday (3 p.m. CT on FOX Sports 1). John Lackey will get the ball for the Cardinals against Giants starter Tim Hudson.