SAN FRANCISCO –- It is difficult to win a pennant without hitting home runs. But it is impossible to stand atop the hill when you’re rolling in the slop.
The Giants followed every one of their October codicils in a 6-4 comeback victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 4 of the NLCS on Wednesday night, and it has them one win away from their third World Series appearance in five years.
Rule No. 1: Play a clean baseball game.
Rule No. 2: When your opponents break Rule No. 1, rub their noses in it.
The Cardinals cracked after six innings of relentless pressure, and first baseman Matt Adams commissioned himself a bust in a museum wing that includes likenesses of Brooks Conrad, Scott Rolen, Vlad Guerrero, Gio Gonzalez and a freshly sculpted Randy Choate.
Adams followed a fundamental mistake with a total breakdown as the Giants tied it and took the lead on consecutive scoring plays that didn’t involve a hit in the sixth inning.
Juan Perez scored when Gregor Blanco grounded to first base and Adams’ throw to the plate splashed in the dirt. Then Joe Panik hit a carbon copy grounder and Adams, after taking the forceout, inexplicably lobbed it to second base to try for Blanco. He had no hope or chance, and Brandon Crawford dashed home to give the Giants their first lead of the game.
It was the 10th run the Giants have scored without a hit in their last five postseason games, including the NLDS clincher over the Washington Nationals.
Buster Posey hit a pair of two-out, RBI singles along with a sacrifice fly and Yusmeiro Petit proved his value again, pitching the first three of six shutout innings by Giants relievers, as Bruce Bochy’s team took a 3-to-1 edge in the series with a chance to close it out behind Madison Bumgarner at AT&T Park on Thursday.
Starting pitching report
Ryan Vogelsong had a chance to match Curt Schilling as the only starting pitchers in major league history to allow one run or fewer in six consecutive starts.
His bid didn’t last long.
Vogelsong was not sharp, and every one of his three innings was Olympic-level bear wrestling. Each of them began with a lead-off double that came around to score.
Matt Carpenter started the game with a double and Matt Adams lined a one-out, RBI single. After the Giants tied it, the Cards pulled back ahead in the second inning. Kolten Wong hit a deep but catchable fly ball to center field that glanced off Gregor Blanco’s glove for a double, and A.J. Pierzynski singled him in.
The Cardinals made it a 4-1 lead in the third. Matt Holliday hit a leadoff double , Adams singled to put runners at the corners and Vogelsong at least minimized the damage by getting Jhonny Peralta to ground into his second double play of the night.
With the pitcher’s spot due up first in the bottom of the third, Manager Bruce Bochy hoped to coax Vogelsong through the inning. He did, but not before Wong swatted a solo home run –- his seventh hit of the series, all of them going for extra bases.
Vogelsong was lifted for pinch hitter Joaquin Arias in the bottom of the third. He allowed four runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out one in three innings. He threw 36 of 60 pitches for strikes.
It was the shortest outing by a Giant in the postseason since Barry Zito was pulled in the third inning of the 2012 NLDS vs. Cincinnati.
Petit made his first appearance since his hero turn in Game 2 of the NLDS at Washington, when he tossed six shutout innings in an 18-inning victory. He was a sealed gasket once again, limiting the Cardinals to one hit in three shutout innings.
Petit in the postseason has thrown the equivalent of a two-hit shutout with four walks and 11 strikeouts.
Jeremy Affeldt remained unscored upon in his last 17 postseason outings while retiring two batters, and Javier Lopez put in his piece by retiring Adams on a ground ball to strand two runners in the seventh. Sergio Romo pitched around a single in a scoreless eighth that included a comebacker from Wong, who hit the walk-off home run against him to win Game 2 at Busch Stadium.
Santiago Casilla entered and made quick work of pinch hitter Daniel Descalso and Carpenter, dusting off the latter with a couple of filthy sliders.
Jay managed a line single up the middle -– the first hit Casilla had allowed since Sept. 11. (Batters had been 0-for-35 against him over his last 11 outings.) But Casilla came back with a 95 mph fastball on the outer edge that froze a complaining Matt Holliday to end it.
At the plate
Tim Hudson said it best in the interview room after Game 3: “Anybody can score on base hits, you know.”
The Giants still have not homered in this series. They entered Game 4 with a streak of 192 plate appearances since their last home run, off Brandon Belt’s bat to win the 18-inning game in Washington.
But the Cardinals featured a series of pitchers ready to crumble, and the Giants kept coming at them like waves on a beachhead.
They took advantage of a misplay in the first inning, as Blanco doubled off Jay’s glove in center field for a double, Joe Panik singled and Posey hit a tying sacrifice fly.
They began their comeback from a 4-1 deficit in a two-run third inning. Arias started it with a pinch single, advanced on a sharp ground out and scored on Posey’s clutch, two-out single to left field. Pablo Sandoval extended the inning against Shelby Miller, as well as his own franchise record of reaching base in 22 consecutive postseason games, by drawing a walk. Then with left-hander Randy Choate just starting to peel off his hoodie in the bullpen, Hunter Pence drilled a first-pitch, RBI single to make it a 4-3 deficit.
Brandon Belt flied out against Miller to strand two, and the Giants left two more on base against Miller and Choate in the fourth –- with Choate, whose errant throw concluded Game 3, running Panik’s comebacker halfway across the infield to decrease the degree of difficulty this time.
Carlos Martinez worked around two walks in the fifth, with Sandoval’s double-play grounder the key to escaping. But the Giants kept churning out baserunners in the sixth, and they finally broke through. Or, rather, the Cardinals broke down.
Juan Perez pinch-hit for Travis Ishikawa against left-hander Marco Gonzales and Brandon Crawford continued his yearlong assault on lefties by lining a single for his first hit of the series. Matt Duffy came off the bench to put down a sacrifice bunt and move the tying and go-ahead runs into scoring position.
Then the Giants took Hudson’s advice. Who needs hits?
Blanco hit a grounder to first base and Adams fired home, but his throw skipped in the dirt and Perez easily slid around A.J. Pierzynski’s empty-gloved tag to tie the game. Then Panik followed with another grounder to first and Adams had a total fundamental breakdown. He recorded the force and barely looked back Crawford, who had wheeled around third base, before throwing a lob in an effort to get Blanco at second. The throw had no chance, Crawford dashed home, and the Giants had their first lead of the night.
Posey followed with yet another two-out, RBI single –- his 12th hit of the series, none of them for extra bases -– to extend the lead.
Through five innings, when their pitching was wobbly, the Giants recorded 40 percent of their outs on double-play grounders. Sandoval threw from his knees to start one on Peralta in the third inning.
The Giants announced 43,147 paid, and chants of “Choate, Choate” echoed through the ballpark while the left-hander was on the mound.
The Giants and Cardinals meet in Game 5 of the NLCS on Thursday at AT&T Park. Madison Bumgarner (2-1, 0.76 ERA) is scheduled to oppose Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright (0-1, 8.00). First pitch is scheduled for 5:07 p.m. PDT.