Giants fend off elimination, push NLCS to limit

October 21st, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants can't wait for Monday.

"I hope I can sleep tonight," center fielder Angel Pagan said.

First, they allowed themselves to revel in Sunday.

"This night probably will never be forgotten by a lot of people," right fielder Hunter Pence said.

That's because it put the Giants in position to complete the ascent that seemed so arduous a few days ago.

They evened the National League Championship Series at three games apiece with their 6-1 triumph in Game 6 at AT&T Park. Ryan Vogelsong struck out a career-high nine batters in seven innings and Marco Scutaro lined a two-run double in a four-run, second-inning uprising.

The Giants can achieve a rare feat by winning Monday's Game 7. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, just 11 of the previous 76 teams that trailed 3-1 in a best-of-seven confrontation, as San Francisco did, surged back to capture the series. The Giants would be only the fifth NL team to achieve this feat, joining Pittsburgh (1925 and 1979 World Series), Atlanta (1996 LCS) and Florida (2003 LCS).

San Francisco already earned a place in postseason lore by overcoming a 2-0 deficit to outlast Cincinnati in the best-of-five Division Series. The Giants would join the 1985 Kansas City Royals, who erased 3-1 deficits in both the ALCS and World Series, as the only winners of six consecutive elimination games in a single postseason.

"We really don't want to go home," right-hander Sergio Romo said, repeating the mantra chanted by numerous Giants during this postseason. "I know [the Cardinals] don't want to go home, either. So I expect a really, really hard-fought game."

The Giants also can exorcise a longtime postseason demon. They have lost all five of the Game 7 clinchers they've played, dropping the deciding contests in the 1912, 1924, 1962 and 2002 World Series and the 1987 NLCS. The Giants did win Game 7 of the 1921 World Series, but that was in a best-of-nine format.

Think of it: Those still pained by the memory of Willie McCovey's line drive to Bobby Richardson can find a measure of release. Jose Oquendo's home run off Atlee Hammaker won't sting as much. And the dominance of John Lackey and Garret Anderson might cease to cause nightmares.

But the Giants must defeat St. Louis once more to slay these figurative dragons.

"Having a lot of guys that are used to competing in that situation is a benefit," sidelined Cardinals star Lance Berkman said. "[The Giants] have guys that have done it, too. They have a lot of experience. I think that's one of the things that makes tomorrow night intriguing. I don't think you're going to see a choke job. I think you're going to see two teams competing at a high level."

History favors the Giants. Twelve times, dating back to 1976, a home team has won Game 6 of a best-of-seven series to force a seventh game. Those home teams proceeded to win Game 7 on 11 of those occasions.

Vogelsong gave the Giants an opportunity to join this select group. He no-hit St. Louis for 4 2/3 innings before Daniel Descalso singled for the first of only four hits the right-hander allowed.

Vogelsong asserted his presence -- some might say dominance -- while throwing 12 consecutive fastballs to start the game. He said he followed the example set by Barry Zito, who threw 7 2/3 shutout innings in Game 5.

"I saw how our team was feeding off of that," Vogelsong said. "And I just knew that I had to keep them off the board early and give us a chance to do something offensively."

Vogelsong struck out five of the first six Cardinals he faced and six of the first nine. He struck out at least one batter in each inning but the sixth, when the Cardinals scored their lone run off him. Carlos Beltran lined a two-out double to prolong the inning and scored on Allen Craig's single.


By then, the Giants already had built a 5-0 lead, re-establishing a familiar pattern. They scored first in all but one of their six victories during this postseason.

San Francisco jumped ahead in the first inning against Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter, who made only his sixth competitive appearance of the year after missing most of the regular season with thoracic outlet syndrome. Scutaro drew a one-out walk, went to third on Pablo Sandoval's double and scored on Buster Posey's groundout. Third baseman David Freese fielded Posey's grounder and briefly considered throwing home. But Freese not only appeared to lack a good angle for throwing past Scutaro, he also lost his grip on the ball briefly, prompting him to get the sure out at first base.

Two more tendencies persisted during the Giants' big second inning: Scutaro's hot hitting and St. Louis' defensive lapses, which have generated 10 unearned runs for San Francisco in this series.

Brandon Belt tripled off the third archway in right-center field to open the inning. One out later, Brandon Crawford drew an intentional walk with Vogelsong due up next. With the infield playing in to cut off Belt at the plate, Vogelsong faked a bunt and swung away, dribbling a grounder to shortstop Pete Kozma. The rookie fielded the ball cleanly before fumbling it, enabling Belt to score and Vogelsong to reach first.

Kozma denied rushing to make the play.

"I just missed it," he said. "I thought I had a handle on it and the ball just popped out."

Up came Scutaro, who demonstrated why he's San Francisco's leading hitter in the NLCS with a .458 average (11-for-24). His two-out double to left field landed out of Craig's reach, delivering Crawford and Vogelsong. Sandoval, who also has thrived in the postseason by hitting .394 (13-for-33) in his last eight games, singled home Scutaro.

Ryan Theriot's pinch-hit RBI single ended the scoring and began the anticipation for Monday's game, weather permitting.

"It's going to be another story to be told," Pence said.