The math is simple. San Francisco must win three games in a row to avoid elimination. The Giants hit this trifecta in the Division Series against Cincinnati. But the defending World Series champion Cardinals are clearly a more challenging foe, as their balanced Game 4 performance indicated. St. Louis right-hander Adam Wainwright outclassed his Giants counterpart, Tim Lincecum, and each Cardinals starting position player hit safely.
Moreover, of the 33 teams in either league to take a 3-1 lead since the LCS adopted the seven-game format in 1985, 27 advanced to the World Series.
The Giants will rely upon left-hander Barry Zito, whose last 12 starts have resulted in victories, to preserve their season in Friday's Game 5.
"The thing is, you just have to simplify it. Just go out there and enjoy the moment," right fielder Hunter Pence said. "We worked hard to get here. We played really well to get here. That's how I'm going to look at it. Our backs are against the wall. It definitely has a different feel when you have your back against the wall, but try to have it bring out the best. ... The way I look at it is, Zito's been tremendous for us. We have to find a way to win tomorrow. If we go home to Vogelsong and Cain, we're feeling pretty confident."
The Giants did what they could to avoid another win-or-go-home situation. Manager Bruce Bochy tinkered with the lineup, switching No. 3 hitter Pablo Sandoval and cleanup man Buster Posey with each other in the batting order and dropping the slump-ridden Pence one notch to sixth. Pence responded with a gargantuan second-inning home run, but Wainwright surrendered just three other hits in seven innings.
Sandoval belted a two-run homer, but delivered it in the ninth inning when the margin was lopsided. Posey went 0-for-4, dropping his NLCS batting average to .143 (2-for-14) and his postseason average to .182 (6-for-33). Representing the potential tying run in the sixth inning with two runners aboard and one out, Posey lined out sharply to right field.
"The bar is set so high for Buster," Bochy said, acknowledging that questions arise whenever the Most Valuable Player candidate goes hitless for a game or two.
"He's fine," Bochy added. "They're making good pitches. They're being careful with him."
The Giants called upon Lincecum to sustain their hopes, though they didn't expect the wizardry of his Cy Young Award-winning years. They would have settled for anything approaching the excellence he sustained in three relief appearances earlier this postseason. But Lincecum displayed the unsteadiness that characterized his regular season, allowing four runs and six hits while walking three in 4 2/3 innings.
Twelve pitches into his ill-fated outing, Lincecum already had allowed a run and received a visit from pitching coach Dave Righetti, who was doubtlessly concerned after Jon Jay singled, Matt Carpenter walked and Matt Holliday grounded an RBI single up the middle. Allen Craig followed with a sacrifice fly.
Unfortunately for Lincecum, that was nothing new, given the Major League-high 28 first-inning runs he yielded this season. But the four Cardinals who reached base safely in the first inning equaled the number of baserunners Lincecum permitted in the 8 1/3 innings he had pitched during this postseason.
"There wasn't a lack of confidence in any of my pitches. I just didn't hit the spots I needed to," Lincecum said. "Right now, I'm obviously upset with myself. ... I don't want to go out there and with our bullpen situation use them the way we have been using them. That's the frustrating part."
Lincecum no-hit St. Louis for the next three innings, though he issued two walks in the second inning and benefited from Angel Pagan's superb leaping catch of Yadier Molina's third-inning drive to the top of the center-field barrier.
The Cardinals chased Lincecum with another pair of runs in the fifth inning. Carpenter, the Game 3 standout with a two-run homer off the bench, doubled with one out. Holliday hit a line drive that sliced away from Pagan, who still made a slick play by short-hopping the ball as he dove for it. Pagan relayed the ball to shortstop Brandon Crawford, whose one-hop throw beat Carpenter to the plate. But the ball caromed off catcher Hector Sanchez's glove, enabling Carpenter to score. Holliday advanced to second on the play and scored on Molina's single, which finished Lincecum.
"We know he's coming off pitching well in the 'pen lately," Carpenter said. "But at the same time, we know there was a little bit of a doubt with his command lately. We wanted to make sure that we did a good job of making him throw strikes and getting our pitch to hit. I think we did a great job of that."
St. Louis settled matters by again scoring twice in the sixth and seventh innings. Meanwhile, Wainwright continued to subdue the Giants with his curveball and cutter.
"I think Wainwright today was as good as you're going to see," Pence said. "He was spot-on with his location. Obviously you can hit it, but you also have to find a hole."
The hole which the Giants already have located is the one they've dug for themselves.