SAN FRANCISCO -- Ryan Vogelsong's first pitch -- the first of many biting two-seam fastballs -- sparked a three-strikeout inning and sent a message to the Cardinals that they were in for a long night. St. Louis became just the fourth team ever to take a 3-1 LCS lead and go on to allow a Game 7.
The strange part about it? They've done it before.
Sixteen years ago in 1996, the Cardinals jumped out to a 3-1 series lead over the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS, but John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and the Braves chopped their way back to steal the series.
After their 3-1 loss in that year's Game 6, the Cardinals were done. They barely showed up for Game 7, which they lost by a score of 15-0 after the Braves scored six times in the opening frame.
This year, it was a 6-1 loss that forced Game 7, and it wasn't Maddux who delivered the gem -- it was Ryan Vogelsong.
"They have a good team over there," Yadier Molina said, "a good lineup."
Vogelsong pitched Sunday as if he felt the opposite of the Cardinals. He took a no-hitter into the fifth inning and struck out six of nine his first time through the lineup en route to a career-high nine strikeouts. He has St. Louis' full attention.
"Sometimes pitching gets the better of you," Jon Jay said after an 0-for-4 night in the leadoff spot. "Vogelsong did a good job tonight. You have to turn the page."
"He was in complete control of what he wanted to do tonight," Matt Carpenter acknowledged.
"He worked his fastball on both sides of the plate," Pete Kozma said. "He had good breaking pitches. He did a good job tonight."
Yadier Molina's scouting report was similar: "He was moving the ball pretty good. He was sinking and moving it. It was the same (as Game 2)."
Molina's prognosis was on point.
Vogelsong completed seven innings, allowing one earned run on four hits, just as he did in the Giants' Game 2 victory at AT&T Park.
"It hurts," said Kozma, whose error contributed to the Giants' four-run second inning.
His double play partner -- who took a ground ball off the cheek later in the game -- turned the page toward the decisive Game 7.
"We've got to be ready for anything," Daniel Descalso said. "We've just got to play our game. We are not going to come out here and roll over."
The Cardinals have already survived two elimination games this year, ousting the Braves in the NL Wild Card game and eliminating the Nationals after trailing Game 5 of the NLDS 6-0 through three innings.
"Tomorrow is going to be a great game," Jay said. "They have their ace and we have our guy."
Matt Cain vs. Kyle Lohse for a berth in the 2012 MLB World Series at 5:07 p.m.
For the fifth time Sunday night, the Giants staved off elimination with a win, when a loss would have ended their season. But for the first time, they treated their hometown crowd to the show, as all four previous elimination wins came on the road.
It was the first time in MLB history a team won four consecutive elimination games on the road.
The Giants look to stave off elimination for a sixth time Monday night in Game 7.
History is on their side. Since 1975, 14 home teams have won a Game 6 to force Game 7 and all but one of those teams went on to win Game 7.
Channeling the '96 Braves for six first-inning runs wouldn't hurt.
Since the seven-game LCS format was introduced in 1985.