ST. LOUIS -- Nothing is really normal, exactly, in the postseason. Players try their best to make sure they stick to routines and just do their jobs, but everything is a little different, from the schedule to the media demands to the crowds.
And then there's what Lance Lynn faced in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. The second-year right-hander was not only making his first Major League postseason start, he was pitching without benefit of the starter's usual between-game regimen.
When Lynn pitched on Sunday in San Francisco, he had appeared three days earlier in relief. He had pitched three times in four days prior to those two days' rest, including a three-inning relief stint in Game 2 of the NL Division Series against Washington. In Game 1 against the Giants, Lynn was pressed into service due to an injury to Jaime Garcia, and while he gave it what he had, the result was an inefficient and ineffective 3 2/3-inning stint.
Key stat: Zito lasted only 2 2/3 innings in his first start this postseason, allowing two runs on four hits.
Key stat: Lynn went 3 2/3 innings in his Game 1 start, allowing four runs on five hits.
At Busch Stadium
2012: 1 GS, 1-0, 2.70 ERA Career: 4 GS, 1-3, 8.20 ERA
2012: 12 GS, 9-4, 3.28 ERA Career: 13 GS, 9-5, 3.13 ERA
Against this opponent
2012: 1 GS, 1-0. 2.70 ERA Career: 9 GS, 2-6, 4.89 ERA
2012: 1 GS, 0-1, 6.00 ERA Career: 2 GS, 0-2, 7.15 ERA
Loves to face: Carlos Beltran: 10-for-44, 9 K Hates to face: Allen Craig: 4-for-10, 1 2B, 3 HR, 4 RBIs
Loves to face: Marco Scutaro: 2-for-8 Hates to face: Hunter Pence: 3-for-8
Why he'll win: Zito won his only start against the Cardinals this season, allowing only two homers to Allen Craig and six other hits in 6 2/3 innings.
Why he'll win: Lynn was significantly better at Busch Stadium this season than on the road, posting a 9-4 record and 3.28 ERA at home.
Pitcher beware: After ending the regular season with five wins in as many starts, Zito walked four batters and allowed four hits and two runs in 2 2/3 innings in NLDS Game 4.
Pitcher beware: In his Game 1 Start, Lynn's pitch count rose quickly. He finished with 85 pitches in those 3 2/3 innings and allowed two extra-base hits.
Bottom line: After being considered for the Game 4 start that went to Tim Lincecum, Zito gets his second postseason outing of 2012 at a pivotal juncture in the series.
Bottom line: Lynn didn't allow the Giants to break through until the fourth inning in Game 1. If he can recapture that early-game brilliance, the Cards will be in solid shape.
The Cardinals won the game, but it's not the kind of performance Lynn would like to repeat. He cruised through the first three innings before struggling in the fourth, and he didn't last to see the fifth. Lynn insisted he's in top shape at the end of his first year as a big league starter, and he expects the next time around to go better.
"I'm as strong as I've ever been all year, and the playoff start, [it] was good to get one," Lynn said. "Wish I could have done better the first time, but I got a lot to learn from that one. I'm looking forward to the next one."
The next one will be a different kind of challenge in its own right. Lynn will be pitching with the chance to send his team to the World Series. The Cards lead the NLCS, 3-1, heading into Game 5 in St. Louis (7 p.m. CT on FOX).
Win and the Cardinals get to rest, recover from some injuries and set their rotation in order. Lose Friday and they're headed back to San Francisco. Even if they were to clinch in that scenario, the degree of difficulty in the next round would be increased. The goal is absolutely to get things done at home.
Lynn doesn't plan to change a thing.
"It's just a game," he said. "You've got to go out and execute and do what you're supposed to do. Any game at this time of the year is going to have a lot riding on it. It's going to be an exciting game. They're going to come fight. They don't want to be done, and we want to move on, so it's going to be an exciting game."
It's been a strange year for Lynn. He came to camp as a leading candidate for a key late-inning relief job. When Chris Carpenter was injured, Lynn moved into the starting rotation, where he thrived for much of the year. But he seemed to hit a wall after the All-Star break and was moved back to the bullpen. When injuries once again required his service in the rotation, Lynn stepped back in and looked as good as he had in the first half.
Lynn is one of the biggest reasons the Cards are where they are. So despite his rocky Game 1, manager Mike Matheny said there was no hesitation to use the University of Mississippi product for a second start.
"We all know that he's a very durable pitcher, and fully anticipate him going deeper into [Game 1]," Matheny said. "But we needed him out of the 'pen [in the NLDS], and he did a great job for us. Now he's a little more into his routine, and hopefully that will translate into him being more comfortable when he gets out there in the first."
Lynn will be pitching on the regular four days' rest. He got to throw a bullpen session between starts. Lynn got to go through the regular game planning. Everything should be lined up for him to have a better shot at success. It's the biggest start of Lynn's career. But the idea will be to make it like any other -- even though it's not.
"Whenever you get the opportunity to pitch, you enjoy it, no matter what the situation is or what you're doing," Lynn said. "We're in the playoffs. It doesn't matter when you pitch or where you'll pitch, as long as they feel that you can get the job done and they call your name. It's enjoyable, no matter what the situation or the time of it."