ST. LOUIS – It was the seventh inning. The crowd stirred. The ace left-hander on the mound stood in the stretch, under a rare bit of duress, squinting for a sign.
The Cardinals dismantled Clayton Kershaw twice under these conditions. Against Madison Bumgarner, they got knocked to the dirt.
Bumgarner barely gave the home fans a reason to cheer, and when they finally saw a shaft of light, he squashed the Cardinals like pill bugs. He beat Kolten Wong to first base, offering a cold shoulder along with a tag, and then blew a fastball past pinch-hitter Tony Cruz as the Giants opened the NLCS with a 3-0 victory at Busch Stadium on Saturday.
Bumgarner pitched into the eighth, held the Cardinals to four hits and ran his postseason road shutout streak to 26-plus innings and counting – a major league record – and the Giants were opportunistic enough against a flagging Adam Wainwright.
Travis Ishikawa hit an RBI single, Brandon Belt contributed a sacrifice fly and the Cardinals paid for two mistakes on the infield in the second and third innings. This time, they could not cover them up with late thunder.
Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla retired the final four batters in order.
Starting pitching report
When Bumgarner opened the 2012 NLCS against the Cardinals, he gave up a pair of home runs, walked off the mound trailing 6-0 in the fourth inning and subsequently lost his turn in the rotation for a spell.
He said there was no point to look back on that start, since he was so out of whack that “a Double-A team would’ve hit me around.” Besides, the two home run hitters that day, David Freese and Carlos Beltran, have moved on. This current crop of Cardinals had combined for a .178 average against him.
So he took the mound with confidence, mixed his harder fastball agains this cutter and curve, leaned on his outfield defense and remained close to unbeatable as a road pitcher in October.
Matt Holliday made the hardest contact of the night against Bumgarner, when he crushed a drive that Gregor Blanco raced to catch on the warning track in right-center. That play set a tone for the night.
Bumgarner settled down quickly and moved his fastball in and out, resulting in reach-out swings and jammed fly balls. He recorded 11 outs in the air, four on the ground (plus one sacrifice bunt) and struck out seven.
The Cardinals only managed four hits against him and didn’t get a runner into scoring position until the fifth, after a hit batter and a fielder’s choice.
The crowd didn’t have reason to stir until the seventh, when Yadier Molina and Jon Jay recorded consecutive one-out singles. Kolten Wong followed with a grounder to first baseman Brandon Belt, and Bumgarner accepted the feed while turning his shoulder like a strong safety denying the pylon to a diving receiver.
Bumgarner applied the tag before the body bump, but the Cardinals challenged anyway and it took barely 50 seconds to confirm the call on the field. Wong was out, and as the scoreboard showed the replay over and over, the reputedly savvy crowd – perhaps unfamiliar with the sport’s basic rules? -- reacted with moans of disapproval.
The Cardinals had a beef, though, when Bumgarner appeared to balk with runners at second and third and pinch hitter Tony Cruz at the plate. It’s not a reviewable play even if Matheny had retained his challenge, though, and with a 2-2 count, Bumgarner pumped a 92 mph no-messin’-around fastball past Cruz’s bat to end the inning.
Bumgarner retired the first two hitters in the eighth, including Carpenter, that notorious Kershaw wrecker, but Bruce Bochy didn’t care to see another Holliday matchup. With Bumgarner at 112 pitches, he matched up with Sergio Romo.
Romo converted his matchup and Casilla continued to prove himself capable in the ninth inning, getting a pair of grounders and a fly out.
The Cardinals, who took a risk by putting just 11 pitchers on the roster, had to use four relievers for 4 1/3 innings.
At the plate
Adam Wainwright swore up and down that his elbow issue, which affected him as he labored through 4.1 innings in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, was entirely overblown.
He was right. He lasted 4.2 innings this time.
The Giants did not treat the 21-game winner with reverence. They saw him for what he was: a right-hander struggling to put hitters away with his fastball, pitching backwards as a result and hoping to mix patterns well enough to muddle his way through.
After a 1-2-3 first inning, the Giants proceeded to work deep and patient plate appearances while going 5 for 9 with a walk. Two errors cost the Cardinals on both the scoreboard and the pitch clicker. And Wainwright did not get the benefit of a critical call, or even a manager’s challenge, to start the second inning.
Pablo Sandoval lofted a deep drive to right field that ended up in the webbing of Randall Grichuk’s glove. It appeared Grichuk had possession long enough, even though the ball was dislodged when he hit the wall. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny did not challenge and Sandoval had a leadoff double.
Hunter Pence walked, Brandon Belt singled to load the bases and Travis Ishikawa hit a blooper that fell down the left field line for an RBI single. Madison Bumgarner lined out and Belt had to react quickly to keep from getting doubled off, which would have ended the inning.
The Cardinals extended the inning even further, and spotted the Giants a second run, when third baseman Matt Carpenter got handcuffed on Gregor Blanco’s grounder for an error.
Another mistake cost the Cardinals in the third inning. Buster Posey and Sandoval led off with singles before Pence followed with a ground ball to second base. It should’ve been an easy double play, even with Pence running, but Kolten Wong fumbled it and the Cardinals only managed the forceout at second base. With one out instead of two, Belt hit a sacrifice fly that plated Posey and made it 3-0.
It got cleaner but not much easier for Wainwright, who had thrown 51 pitches after two innings and couldn’t recover. He issued two walks in the fifth, and Matheny, who took a risk by leaving a 12th pitcher off his NLCS roster, had to get his ace after 98 pitches.
Wainwright completed five innings in all but two of his 32 regular-season starts. He has yet to escape the fifth inning in his two postseason starts.
The Giants did well but did not cut the Cardinals deeply. They left the bases loaded in the second inning, stranded two on the fifth and left them moaded again in the seventh. Brandon Crawford ended two of those innings and struck out amid the other one.
Sandoval, who had his club record postseason hitting streak halted at 14 games in the NLDS clincher over Washington, went overkill while beginning a new one. He was 3 for 3 with a walk.
Blanco’s catch on Holliday was the first of several smooth catches in the outfield. The Giants even received one from Travis Ishikawa, who was making his eighth career start in left field, and showed enough with the glove to keep Michael Morse on the bench.
Ishikawa left his feet to catch Molina’s sinking line drive to end the fourth inning. Juan Perez later replaced Ishikawa in the sixth. You know you’re living right when you put in a defensive replacement for a guy who made a diving catch.
The Cardinals announced 47,201 paid, and the fans booed Bumgarner off the mound.
The Giants and Cardinals play Game 2 of the NLCS at Busch Stadium on Sunday. Jake Peavy (1-0, 0.00 ERA in the postseason) takes on Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn (0-0, 3.00). First pitch is scheduled for 5:07 p.m. PDT.