ST. LOUIS – Hunter Strickland pumps 100 mph gas. As they say, sometimes the pitchers supply the power.
As if the St. Louis Cardinals need help in that department this postseason.
A team that hit the fewest home runs in the NL this season continued to display more October clout than a Chicago alderman. Pinch hitter Oscar Taveras hit a tying shot off Jean Machi in the sweet-spot seventh inning, then the Cardinals extended their magic hour to the eighth when Matt Adams sent a Strickland fastball through the low clouds and into the right field seats.
And after the Giants tied it with another two-out-in-the-ninth run that could only be anointed by the heavens, the Cardinals crushed some more. Kolten Wong sang the fastest recessional hymn in history as the bottom of the ninth lasted all of two pitches. The second one was a changeup from Sergio Romo, and Wong drove it over the right field fence as the Cardinals used four solo shots to take a 5-4 victory over the Giants in Game 2 of the NLCS at Busch Stadium Sunday night.
The Cardinals hit an NL-fewest 105 home runs in the regular season. They’ve hit 11 in six postseason games.
The Giants were seven outs away from joining the Kansas City Royals in tucking a commanding 2-to-none lead in their wheeled upright as they head home in their League Championship Series. Instead, the Cardinals powered their way square.
Machi threw a 2-1 splitter, his best pitch, and it traveled off Taveras’ bat and curled around the right field pole. In the eighth, Strickland followed up three curveballs, two called for strikes, with straight fuel to Adams, who already cut off Clayton Kershaw at the knees once this postseason.
It was Strickland’s fourth home run allowed this postseason. Adams was the 16th batter he faced.
The Giants were down to their last strike in the ninth when Joe Panik took four consecutive balls, the last of which was a wild pitch from Trevor Rosenthal that scored pinch runner Matt Duffy from second base as the crowd reacted in silent horror.
They didn’t stay silent for long.
The Cardinals’ victory came at a price, though, as inspirational and integral catcher Yadier Molina stood in the batter’s box in pain after grounding into a double play in the sixth inning. Molina was diagnosed with a strained oblique – the same injury that kept Michael Morse out for more than a month.
Starting pitching report
In six previous postseason starts, Jake Peavy had never completed six innings. So Bochy knew how to manage him this October: run him rich and be ready with the jerry cans.
Peavy was his ignitable self on the mound, but when you constantly pitch from behind in the count, the knocks and pings become inevitable after a time. He was able to escape a two-on, one-out situation in the second inning when Wong flied out and Randal Grichuk grounded to third base. That challenge proved tougher the next time around.
And although Peavy benefited from two loud outs to the warning track in right field early on, there is no such thing as a friendly BABIP on home run balls. Matt Carpenter put the Cardinals up in the third inning when his solo home run traveled more than 400 feet and landed in the right field stands.
Peavy continued to pitch himself into trouble. Adams drew a walk and Jhonny Peralta hit a first-pitch single to start the fourth to put Peavy back in the stretch. With the right-hander desperately trying to snap off decent strikes, it was a curious decision at the time when Molina – acting on his own, perhaps -- put down a sacrifice bunt on a 1-0 pitch.
Earlier in the game, Molina collected his 89th hit to break a tie with Albert Pujols for the franchise record in the postseason. So when he gave the Giants an out, they happily took it and responded by intentionally walking Wong to pitch to Grichuk, the No. 8 hitter.
The Cardinals got the better of that matchup when Grichuk lined an RBI single to take a 2-0 lead. But Lynn followed, and for some reason, was allowed to swing the bat with one out and the bases loaded. He flied out to shallow right field, and it was the Cardinals’ good fortune that he didn’t roll into two to prevent Carpenter a shot with no place to put him.
Then it was Bochy’s turn to make a decision. He had Javier Lopez loose in the bullpen but perhaps a combination of faith in Peavy and Carpenter’s left-on-left heroics this postseason convinced the manager to maintain a Rodin pose on the dugout steps. He let Peavy face one more batter, and Carpenter popped up a hittable pitch to end the inning.
Peavy was lifted for a pinch hitter in the fifth. He hasn’t retired a batter in the fifth inning in three of his last five playoff starts.
Peavy threw 40 of 76 pitches for strikes, yielding two runs on four hits and three walks (one intentional) while striking out two in four innings.
One more factoid: Carpenter’s shot was the first allowed by Peavy in the postseason, since Pujols, then a Cardinal, hit one off him at Petco Park in Game 1 of the 2006 NLDS.
Jeremy Affeldt pitched the fifth and the sixth, getting five ground ball outs – two of them off Molina’s bat. The Gold Glove catcher did not take one step out of the box after making contact, putting hands on his knees and walking gingerly off the field.
The Cardinals did have a third catcher, A.J. Pierzynski, on the roster so even if Molina cannot play again in this series, they might not have to replace him – a move that otherwise would’ve make him ineligible for the World Series, should the Cardinals advance.
Machi was next in the seventh and he retired one hitter before Taveras, a lefty batter, was announced. Taveras had no discernable platoon split (.240 vs. right-handers, .238 vs. left-handers) as a rookie against major league pitching this season. Still, Bochy had Lopez warm and there were two left-handed hitters behind him.
Bochy stayed with Machi and Taveras tied the game.
Lopez entered after that and allowed a single to Jay, the first hit he’s allowed in the postseason since the 2010 NLCS against the Phillies. But Strickland entered to face Matt Holliday and picked Jay off first base to end the inning.
Romo, with the left-handers used up, had to face Wong to start the ninth. It was his first postseason home run allowed since the Braves’ Eric Hinske, who is a coach now, took him deep in the 2010 NLDS at Atlanta.
At the plate
The Giants could not get to Lance Lynn early, as had become their October habit. But they did find a way to rally in the fifth and sixth innings.
Brandon Belt singled and stopped at third base when Travis Ishikawa’s double to left center squirted out of Jay’s glove following an extended sprint and a dive. The Cardinals played the infield back, and pinch hitter Joaquin Arias obliged with an RBI ground out to make it 2-1.
They completed the comeback in the sixth after Pablo Sandoval snorted a two-out double down the left field line. The Giants had been hitting .172 with runners in scoring position this postseason to that point, but Pence came through with an RBI single to right field that knocked Lynn from the game.
The Giants took a 3-2 lead in the seventh. Brandon Crawford drew a leadoff walk and Michael Morse, making his first postseason appearance, broke his bat on an infield single against hard-throwing Carlos Martinez – his first hit since Aug. 30. Bochy sent up Juan Perez to bunt in the pitcher’s spot, and despite a pitch at his navel, he completed the task. Then Gregor Blanco, who had been 3 for 30 in the postseason, singled through the right side of a drawn-in infield to score Crawford.
Suddenly down to their final out in the ninth, the Giants found a way to crack Rosenthal a pitcher who had allowed just one run (0.39 ERA) in 20 career postseason appearances.
Andrew Susac hit a pinch single and Perez chopped another up the middle. Gregor Blanco lined to shortstop for the second out, and with the crowd on its feet, Panik, who had to be geared up for a 100 mph fastball, somehow did not bite on four consecutive 0-2 pitches. The last of them skipped in the dirt – a pitch Molina is renowned to smother – and off Cruz’s glove. Pinch runner Matt Duffy never stopped running and scored all the way from second base.
The Giants could not pull ahead, though. Buster Posey walked to load the bases, Seth Maness entered and Sandoval grounded out back to the mound.
Pence didn’t strike an Air Jordan pose this time, but he got a tremendous jump to take an extra-base hit away from Jay in the first inning. Grichuk, his opposite number in right field, did the same on Buster Posey in the top of the inning.
The Cardinals announced 46,262, and they appear to be OK with the cost-cutting move from live Clydesdales to the video board version.
The Giants and Cardinals resume the NLCS with Game 3 on Tuesday at AT&T Park. Tim Hudson (0-0, 1.23 ERA) is scheduled to oppose Cardinals right-hander John Lackey (1-0, 1.29). First pitch is scheduled for 1:07 p.m. PDT.