SAN FRANCISCO — One club has won six elimination games in succession, four of them this year. The other has won five straight elimination games, all this year.
The Cardinals, the first-named club, and the San Francisco Giants, will meet in Game 7 of the National League championship series on Monday night at AT&T Park. One of them, for sure, will be eliminated, ending a streak.
Most seven-game series take on a classic quality about them at some point. But not this one. There hasn’t been a one-run game. After Sunday night’s 6-1 San Francisco win in Game 6, the runs difference between victory and defeat have been, in order, 2, 6, 2, 5, 5, 5.
The potential tying run has come to bat only once in the ninth inning for any team trailing.
For the Cardinals to win Game 7, they will have to have better starting pitching than they got from Chris Carpenter on Sunday, some form of hitting, but, perhaps, most important, they can’t give runs away.
In six games, the Cardinals, who permitted only 45 unearned runs all season long, have yielded 10, all those coming in three games, actually, including three on Sunday night.
Third-base coach and infield instructor Jose Oquendo said 10 unearned runs “is a little too much. But we need to come out and swing the bat better and be more disciplined at the plate.
“We’ve been in these situations before. We need to sit back and think about what we need to do and come out swinging.”
The three unearned runs given up on Sunday came via an error by rookie shortstop Pete Kozma, and there was another play by third baseman David Freese that wasn’t made.
Losing pitcher Chris Carpenter walked Marco Scutaro, the Giants’ best player in this series, with one out in the first and then Pablo Sandoval doubled over the head of Jon Jay in center.
Scutaro was stopped at third and the Cardinals were expected to walk dangerous Buster Posey with a base open.
But, after throwing ball one outside, Carpenter got Posey, who hadn’t hurt the Cardinals in the series, to ground to Freese, who backhanded the ball near the third-base bag. But Freese appeared not to have a good grip on the ball and after looking home, where he would have had to throw over Scutaro, he took the sure out at first, conceding the run.
Freese said, “My instincts said, ‘Go to first.’ Scutaro was right in line, kind of inside the baseline. First inning. One run. I could have thrown it off his shoulder and it would turn into a four-run inning. My instinct was to get the out at first and limit the damage.”
Brandon Belt, who had been hitting .148, tripled off the top of the right-field wall in the second but, with the infield in, Carpenter stiffened and fanned Gregor Blanco on a curveball.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny ordered eighth-place hitter Brandon Crawford walked intentionally but the Giants got tricky.
Manager Bruce Bochy started Crawford on the first ptich to Vogelsong, who shortened to bunt and then swung away, hitting a roller toward short. Kozma rushed in to try to make the grab. Belt was going to score easily and Crawford was going to make second but Vogelsong had eased up on his step and would have been an easy out at first but Kozma booted the ball and Vogelsong was safe, too
“I just messed it up,” said Kozma. “I thought I had a handle on it and the ball just popped up.”
Carpenter fanned Angel Pagan for what would have been the final out in the inning. But, with the rally alive, Scutaro doubled into the left-field corner for two runs and Sandoval singled out of the reach of diving second baseman Daniel Descalso to make the score 5-0.
“It happens,” said Kozma of the key error he made. “And they capitalized. If they make a mistake, we’ll probably capitalize.
“The more outs you give them, the more they can hurt you.”
The first seven unearned runs the Cardinals had offered up in the series had scored as the result of errors by pitchers. Carpenter made a throwing error, which led to three runs in Game 2 and Lynn tossed errantly, creating four runs in one inning in Game 5.
“What did we make? One error tonight? It’s a part of baseball,” Descalso said. “Nobody’s perfect.
“In the games, we’ve won, we’ve played good defense.”
Freese said, “Errors definitely happen. The key is how many unearned runs you allow. If you make an error, then you have to step up. Your pitcher picks you up or the defense comes back and helps the pitcher get out of that inning. At no point are unearned runs good.”
Descalso was hit in the face by the ball when he sprawled to try to corral a broken-bat grounder by Belt in the eighth. Descalso’s glove got nothing. His right cheek did, deflecting the ball into short right field although the hustling Descalso slid after the ball and fired behind Belt at first, almost nipping the Giants’ runner.
Though no error was assessed, that run scored, too, after a two-out single by 2011 Cardinal Ryan Theriot, who was pinch hitting.
Descalso said “the ball wasn’t hit very hard. With the broken bat, I didn’t see it very well and it ended up hitting me in the face. What are you going to do?”
The Cardinals finished the night having scored two runs or fewer in all five of their postseason losses this season. In six of their seven postseason wins, they have scored six runs or more.
“Well, we’re alive,” said Kat DeWitt, wife of Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr, as the Cardinals’ executive group filed out of the stadium. “We’re the envy of 27 teams.”
Point taken. Three of the 30 big league teams still are playing.
After Monday night, it will be two. But in a loser-go-home game, if the Cardinals are ousted, they would do well not to eliminate themselves.
©2012 St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Visit the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at www.stltoday.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services