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ST. LOUIS -- In the end, nobody got what they wanted, everybody went home unhappy, and the cruel slog of the National League Championship Series got measurably crueler, and sloggier too.
The St. Louis Cardinals won Game 2, 5-4, and lost far more than that when Yadier Molina froze at home plate with a strained oblique muscle that looks like a six-to eight-week healer. He hit a sharp double-play grounder to second in the sixth, immediately bent over and didn’t move without help again.
Kolten Wong hit the last of the Cardinals’ four home runs (something they did twice all season), but walking off to a cold, grim clubhouse was scant comfort indeed. It was win that felt like a walk-off loss.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Giants lose Game 2 on Wong's walk-off]
On the other hand, the San Francisco Giants actually did lose the game and now return home with the worst kind of split, their bullpen strengths are now borderline weaknesses, and they cannot hit a fly ball well under any circumstances.
Oh, they perfected a new way of scoring without actually disturbing the bat rack, but what is a charming fetish in good times is a source of consternation in lean ones. And even their good news is more about the Cardinals, in that indomitable closer Trevor Rosenthal was a hot mess Sunday night, all but re-blowing a game the Cardinals kept trying to return.
And their own bullpen is to be questioned now as well. After allowing only 35 homers in roughly 1800 plate appearances in the regular season, they have now allowed seven in 92 in the postseason, going from 1 for every 51 batters faced to 1 for every 13.
All at the worst time of the year.
But wait, there’s less. Hunter Strickland, who was going to be the de facto third lefthanded reliever, the one with the 100-mph fastball who could level the playing field against lefties so that the Giants could feel comfortable with Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez as the only actual ones, got smoked again by a left-hander with power, this time Matt Adams with one out in the eighth to give St. Louis a 4-3 lead.
Manager Bruce Bochy, who is currently catching hell for the two home runs Strickland served to Bryce Harper and a third to Asdrubal Cabrera in the Division Series against Washington, is now stuck trying to guess the level of his rookie’s makeup at a time when nobody is allowed to be a rookie.
“He’s a tough kid,” Bochy said as he cradled a profoundly unsatisfying beer at his desk. “But he’s going to have to be.”
Bochy gave no hint whether he thought he might have to protect Strickland in some situations as the series heads to San Francisco, because that is currently something being shared between him and his deity of choice, then later with pitching coaches Dave Righetti and Mark Gardner, plus general manager Brian Sabean. And then, we’ll have to divine the rest by the way he is used from this point on.
As for the rest of the pen, Affeldt and Lopez provided proper service but both Jean Machi and Sergio Romo were gashed, Romo with the game-winner. Romo, who occasionally would duck loser scrums, stuck out the crowd until there was none any longer, saying as many times as he was asked, “It was a change, over the plate. My mistake.”
Strickland did not speak, but the expression on his face suggested he would not have been terribly eloquent given the circumstances.
And all this bullpen focus ignores Jake Peavy’s troublesome start in which, “I couldn’t get comfortable for some reason, it was just a struggle placing the ball where I wanted it to go.”
And the hitting was again pop-less. They have managed only 10 extra base hits in seven games, only two of them homers (Brandon Crawford in the wild card game against Pittsburgh and Brandon Belt in the Game 2 doubleheader in Washington). The Giants entered the series with the superior hitting CV, and now they have to find it yet again against John Lackey Tuesday and Shelby Miller Wednesday.
On the other hand, the Cardinals still don’t have Yadier Molina, and they are righteously bummed about it. This is no longer a cute series where the improbable is routine and the impossible is in the on-deck circle. Now it gets grimy for all involved – a real big-kids series now, in the time-honored way.