In what must seem like déjà vu for two perennial postseason contenders, the Giants and Cardinals will clash in a critical four-game series starting Thursday night at AT&T Park.
With just over two weeks left in the regular season, San Francisco and St. Louis are neck-and-neck in the National League Wild Card standings, and their showdown this week will have all the feel of a postseason matchup.
After all, these two teams have been there before. Both franchises have won multiple World Series since 2000 -- the Giants three, the Cardinals two -- and on several occasions, their routes through October have put them on a collision course.
The Giants and Cards have met in the NL Championship Series three times this millennium, in 2002, '12 and '14. Each time, San Francisco came out on top in a dramatic series.
The Giants won the 2014 NLCS in five games, but two of their wins were walk-offs, including in the deciding Game 5, when they rallied to win in the ninth inning on Travis Ishikawa's series-ending three-run homer.
In 2012, the series was much closer. It went the full seven games, and San Francisco fought back from the brink of elimination, a 3-1 deficit, to win the final three games and advance to the World Series.
And then there was 2002, the first time the two teams met in the postseason during the Wild Card era.
The 2002 Giants were led by Barry Bonds, who had just won his second of four straight NL MVP Awards, batting .370 with 46 home runs the year after his record-setting 73-homer campaign. Bonds and Jeff Kent formed a fearsome one-two punch in the heart of San Francisco's order.
But the Cardinals were no picnic. Where the Giants had Kent and Bonds, the Cards had Jim Edmonds and a young Albert Pujols, who finished second to Bonds in the NL MVP Award voting after hitting .314 with 34 home runs.
The Giants were the NL Wild Card entry in '02, but they upset the powerhouse Braves in the NL Division Series, then jumped out to a 3-1 lead over the Cardinals in the NLCS. In Game 5, though, with a chance to clinch the series at home, they were being shut down by Cards All-Star Matt Morris. San Francisco trailed, 1-0, entering the eighth inning, and with Morris rolling, it looked like the series would be going back to St. Louis for a sixth game.
But the Giants battled back, scratching out the tying run off Morris in the eighth on a Bonds sacrifice fly. In the top of the ninth, San Francisco brought in reliever Tim Worrell, who kept the game tied with a scoreless frame.
In the bottom of the ninth, Morris got two quick outs. But then the Giants rallied again. David Bell singled, and 39-year-old Shawon Dunston, in the final season of his 18-year career, knocked Morris from the game with a single of his own. That brought up leadoff man Kenny Lofton to face reliever Steve Kline with the series-winning run on second base.
With the crowd roaring, Lofton lined the first pitch he saw into right field, scoring Bell -- who dove into home plate headfirst to send San Francisco to the World Series. The Giants flooded out of their dugout, Bonds leading the way, high-stepping across the diamond to mob Lofton near first base as fireworks erupted over McCovey Cove.
And it was all just a taste of things to come.
David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.