This confrontation promised an evening of sparkling baseball. It marked the first time in LCS history that the last two World Series winners collided. The teams did their best to fulfill the matchup's potential. St. Louis jumped to a 6-0 lead, but the dauntless Giants scored four runs in the fourth inning to enliven the AT&T Park throng.
The Cardinals, who have become the upstarts of this postseason as the NL's second Wild Card qualifier, ultimately relied on their formidable bullpen to blank the Giants from the fifth through ninth innings and blunt San Francisco's home-field advantage in the series. The Giants must win Monday to avoid facing a gaping 2-0 deficit as they head for St. Louis.
"We're not feeling bad about anything," Giants center fielder Angel Pagan said. "They played better than us, and we just have to turn the page. It's a long series, and we just have to keep the good attitude that we have right now."
Referring to the 2-0 deficit that Cincinnati handed the Giants in the Division Series, Pagan added, "What happened in the last series, we're not going to go back there. We're going to come out tomorrow and play hard."
Madison Bumgarner's disappointing performance forced the Giants to scramble for almost the entire game. He absorbed his second defeat in as many outings this postseason as he yielded six runs, four coming on two-run homers, in 3 2/3 innings.
The left-hander could not end the struggles of San Francisco's starters, who recorded a 5.16 ERA and allowed 25 hits in 22 2/3 innings during the Division Series against Cincinnati.
"We certainly need some good starts. There's no question about it," manager Bruce Bochy said.
Catcher Buster Posey maintained faith in his batterymates.
"I think it's a little surprising, but I don't think it's anything they can't turn around," he said.
Bumgarner hinted that fatigue might be an issue, noting that he has cut back on his between-starts routine. Asked to evaluate his stuff, he replied, "Not very good. The last few starts I haven't had a whole lot of life on the ball. At the same time, you have to find a way to make pitches. [When] my stuff might not be as sharp, I have to get it where it's supposed to go. I'm just missing over the plate a little bit."
Posey acknowledged noticing some dullness in Bumgarner's deliveries.
"His breaking ball's not getting buried in," Posey said. "It doesn't have quite the same finish on it. I think that's the main thing."
Examples of Bumgarner's ineffectiveness abounded. Twice he yielded base hits on 0-2 pitches, to Yadier Molina in the second inning and John Jay in the fourth. Bumgarner said that he tried to retire both hitters on high fastballs.
"I guess they weren't up enough," he said.
Both preceded home runs by David Freese and Carlos Beltran, respectively. Bumgarner also lapsed in the second inning when he walked St. Louis pitcher Lance Lynn, an .060 hitter with 36 strikeouts in 50 at-bats during the regular season, though that didn't figure in the scoring.
Then again, the Cardinals have remained proficient against left-handers all season. They led the NL with a .276 batting average against lefties and ranked second with a .787 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) against them.
Lynn no-hit the Giants for three innings before crumbling. Marco Scutaro lined a leadoff single for the Giants' first hit. Lynn retired Pablo Sandoval and Posey, which should have halted what little momentum San Francisco had amassed. Then came four consecutive hits: Hunter Pence's single, Brandon Belt's RBI single, Gregor Blanco's two-run triple and Brandon Crawford's run-scoring double.
"It was the second time through [the batting order]," Lynn said. "I threw a lot of fastballs early and then they started jumping on it and got a lot of big hits in a row. Before I knew it, they had four runs. I wasn't able to make as quick an adjustment as they did."
Pinch-hitter Aubrey Huff drew a walk, bringing the possible go-ahead run to the plate. Pagan smacked a grounder that second baseman Daniel Descalso smothered by diving to his right, leading to an inning-ending forceout at second base.
"He made a great play. You've got to give him credit," Pagan said. "... I was just hoping it would get through."
Afterward, the game belonged to the bullpens, which combined for a LCS-record 10 2/3 scoreless innings. Giants relievers no-hit St. Louis for 5 1/3 innings; St. Louis' bullpen yielded two hits over the same span.
"Their bullpen's pretty tough," Pagan said. "That's why we have to score some runs against their starters so we won't have to face the nasty guys."
Said Posey, "It seems like they all throw 97 [mph] or higher."
As has been the case this month, the Giants' most intriguing reliever was Tim Lincecum, who contributed two innings. In three appearances this postseason, Lincecum has surrendered one run and three hits in 8 1/3 innings. Lincecum's success again prompted questions about the possibility of his starting -- in this case, Game 4 on Thursday at St. Louis. Bochy didn't rule out that option: "He's still available if we want in Game 4."
Said Lincecum, "I'm not going to go out there and say that I deserve to be starting or should be starting. I'm going to go out there with the mentality of whenever they need me, I'm going to try to get my outs. That's good enough for me."